NEW YORK — Producers at CBS are making four separate episodes of “60 Minutes” for Sunday, trying to fit in three stories that include two top-of-the-news interviews — with Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump.
Charlie Rose traveled to Moscow for the two-hour meeting with the Russian leader, who talks about Syria, the Ukraine and his image in America. The Putin interview will lead the season-opening broadcast of the venerable newsmagazine, followed by Scott Pelley’s attempt to pin down Trump on issues.
Both interviews came together about the same time, and “60 Minutes” Executive Producer Jeff Fager said he didn’t want to hold anything back. “The combination is irresistible,” he said.
The network has given “60 Minutes” extra time, which is both a blessing and a burden. The newsmagazine is making a two-hour episode, to air from 7 p.m.-9 p.m. for West Coast viewers. Since it’s impossible to predict when the football game that precedes “60 Minutes” will end, separate hour-long, 75-minute and 90-minute episodes are being made for other time zones.
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A third story, about Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman’s escape, may or may not air Sunday outside of the West.
Rose has pursued Putin for a few years. Fager said Putin and Russia appear to be feeling the effects of U.S. sanctions and the Russian leader believes the time is right to address the American people on the eve of a United Nations appearance.
“He was sarcastic, he was witty, he was himself — we think,” said Fager, who went to Moscow with Rose. “We’re not sure he leveled with us every time, but it’s a big interview.”
Putin denies that he’s effectively another Russian czar. And he interrupts Rose with a wry smile when asked about his image in America: “Maybe they have nothing else to do in America but talk about me,” he says.
Earlier this week, Rose taped intros for the piece in a CBS studio, his apparent weariness making him trip over a few phrases he probably wouldn’t otherwise. Fager and Rose huddled together to shorten the scripts.
Rose said that in the interview, he felt Putin “wanted to convey to us exactly how he saw the world without any posturing.”
Putin’s last interview with “60 Minutes” a decade ago was one of Mike Wallace’s last pieces for the show. With other broadcast newsmagazines turning more thematic, particularly with crime stories, it puts the CBS show in a better place to get news-making interviews, Fager said. But he said he doesn’t want the show’s balance to tip too much in favor of interviews at the expense of investigations or other pieces.
Trump has been like a drug to ratings-starved television shows as he burst ahead of the Republican presidential field. This week was another close-to-home example: Stephen Colbert of CBS’ “Late Show” reached his largest audience since his premiere on the night that Trump was a guest.
“60 Minutes” cannot resist, either, and Pelley uses the opportunity to press the candidate for specifics on issues like taxes, education, defense and immigration, Fager said. The show’s editing alone makes it a different experience than the call-in interviews he does with many other networks.
“He’s a very interesting man, and he’s taken off for a reason,” Fager said. “It’s because he says what he thinks, and that’s refreshing to a lot of people. But in a ’60 Minutes’ interview, we ask difficult questions and he either answers them or he doesn’t, and it’s revealing in both ways.”
Follow David Bauder at twitter.com/dbauder. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/david-bauder