'60 Minutes' keeps on the news and is rewarded by viewers

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FILE - "60 Minutes" correspondent Lesley Stahl poses for a photo in her office at the "60 Minutes" offices, in New York on Sept. 12, 2017. CBS' pioneering newsmagazine is consistently one of the most-watched programs on television and its viewership is up 9 percent over last year, the Nielsen company said. That's not only more than any other prime-time program on ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox, it's also one of only four on those networks to show a year-to-year increase. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

NEW YORK – One of television's hottest shows is also among its oldest.

It's not the first time that's been said about “60 Minutes” since its 1968 debut. In the frenzied news year of 2020, however, the success is a tribute to both durability and adaptability.

CBS' pioneering newsmagazine is consistently one of the most-watched programs on television and its viewership is up 9% over last year, the Nielsen company said. That's more than any other prime-time program on ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox, and also one of only four to show a year-to-year increase.

All that, and a well-publicized dust-up with President Donald Trump, too.

After executive producer Bill Owens turned the show primarily over to COVID-19 coverage last spring, “60 Minutes” has returned to its traditional format while being focused on being timely.

“We're being encouraged, and we do, to look for stories that relate to the week,” said veteran correspondent Lesley Stahl. "Certainly for the last few years, every week has been unpredictable. You have to be prepared to jump.

“It's part of the reason that we have continued to be successful, and continue to get a new stream of young people to come in and watch,” she said. “I also think that people find a certain kind of comfort in the fact that we do it in the same way we've always done it. It looks the same, the sensibility is the same, the DNA is the same.”

Anderson Cooper's report on lingering COVID-19 symptoms received a strong response this fall, and there have been other pandemic-related stories about vaccine development and problems producing protective equipment. Reporters almost always return from coronavirus stories with ideas for others, Owens said.