News conceived Eyewitness to History to cover U.S. presidential
diplomacy and the Soviet Union during the last five months of 1959.
Before the series settled into its Friday 10:30 to 11:00 P.M. period
in September 1960, 16 of 28 programs were brought to the public
before 8:30 P.M., with only two breaking from coverage of President
Eisenhower, Premier Khrushchev, President De Gaulle, and the summits
in Paris. In September 1961 the series returned as Eyewitness, with
the narrow, original focus gone, but the same need to cover late
breaking national and international news. For four seasons Eyewitness
to History stood as the center of growth at CBS News, and made
a thirty-minute daily news program feasible in the eyes of network
the Spring of 1963, Eyewitness was canceled after the news
division was given permission for a thirty-minute nightly newscast.
It was canceled not just to return time to the network schedule,
but to shift Executive Producer Leslie Midgley and many of his producers
to work on the CBS Evening News, assisting Don Hewitt, Executive
Producer of the new program.
took pride in airing on Friday with stories that would appear in
the national news magazines on Monday. The series pioneered construction
of a program with combinations of live telecast, videotape, and
film, and broke through many self-imposed limitations of news reporting.
For the first time video cameras were shipped and used overseas,
covering President Eisenhower. Unfortunately, the bulky nature of
these cameras, difficult to move once optimally positioned, posed
problems when crowds did not cooperate. In the United States video
cameras were used extensively to cover Khrushchev's visit in 1959,
but use of cameras in crowds again disrupted coverage on such historic
programs as "Khrushchev on the Farm." The series also struggled
with the early uses of two-inch videotape. The tape was fed to New
York with specific time cues signaling when to start and stop. Unable
at that time to edit two-inch tape electronically, film editors
would actually cut two-inch tape, compiling the necessary sections.
Initially, according to the producers, what made the series as historic
as the events themselves was the use of a jet airplane to ship back
tape and film of Eisenhower in Italy, India, Brazil, West Germany,
England, Paris, Iran, Greece, Japan and Paris.
As the series pushed for coverage of events with multi-dimensional
background stories, the production crew developed appropriate strategies.
Editors cut negative film and projected it directly over the air
by reversing the polarity in the control room. Certain stories aired
only because the unit employed a two-projector system, switching
between one projector, the studio camera, the other projector, and,
sometimes, the video projector. Realizing the historical value of
the two-inch tape, Midgley asked Sig Mickelson, CBS News President,
to start a tape archive. He refused, preferring to reuse the tape--and
part of the video record of significant historical, social, and
cultural events was lost.
the second season the series quickly gained a reputation for changing
the announced topic, sometimes as late as Friday morning. Midgley
began to send "field producers," a term that included unit members
with other official titles, to different locations, sometimes holding
open the possibility of any one of five stories. The series production
relied heavily on news judgments of the field producers, who included
Bernie Birnbaum, Russ Bensley, John Sharnick, Av Westin, and Philip
Scheffler, individuals who would go on to major roles in the television
news industry. Their decisions led to crucial alterations in plans
and schedules. Twice, for example, in the second season, last minute
developments growing out of tension over school integration in New
Orleans were given precedence over already developing stories. Similarly,
when the production unit was taping John F. Kennedy's announcement
and introduction of Cabinet appointments on the day two jet airliners
crashed over New York City, Midgley decided to cover the crash.
The resulting journalism illustrated the production unit's expert
response to such events--they were faster than units in news divisions
in New York. Even late breaking international stories received the
unit's attention. They covered Yuri Gagarin orbiting the earth,
causing cancellation of two shows on the Eichmann trial in Israel,
and another on the events surrounding the Bay of Pigs and the return
of prisoners. When anti-government factions seized the cruise ship
Santa Maria off the coast of Brazil, Charles Kuralt was dispatched
on another ship to intercept and film the incident, providing coverage
for two weeks. If events surrounding a story halted, as they did
during negotiations with the hijackers of Santa Maria, or
if two events were simultaneously breaking, the series sometimes
aired two fifteen-minute segments. After the second year, the CBS
Television Network illustrated to potential advertisers the timeliness
of the program by citing listings of the stories the series was
preparing to cover.
the title changed, Eyewitness remained committed to covering
presidential trips and diplomacy, keeping the production unit on
tight deadlines according to the president's schedule. Certain shows,
such as "Spring Arrives in Paris" and "The Big Ski Boom," were prepared
over a two or three week period and were aired based on the happenstance
of events unfolding and the logistics needed to cover the president.
After the title change, coverage of diplomacy changed only slightly
by placing the flow of events in something of a larger context,
such as "Enroute to Vienna," and "The President in Mexico". But
this shift was made possible by the developing expertise of the
the first year, Eyewitness to History highlighted corespondents
Robert Pierpoint, Alexander Kendrik, Robert Trout, David Schoenbrun,
Lou Cioffi, Ernest Leiser, and, especially Charles Collingwood,
assigned to accompany the president. With Walter Cronkite as anchor
in New York, two or three additional correspondents appeared in
programs, from Washington D.C., and different parts of the world
according to an event's implications. This structure remained constant
throughout the series for coverage of presidential trips as well
as for international incidents such as "The Showdown in Laos" and
"India at War." Midgley utilized CBS reporters around the world,
even those assigned to the CBS Evening News, setting the
stage for the series' own cancellation, and the unit's re-assignment
as a support mechanism for Walter Cronkite's thirty-minute broadcast.
politics at this time occasioned a period of instability with regard
to the anchor seat. Charles Kuralt was named anchor for the second
season of Eyewitness to History. Midgley and others inside
CBS perceived Kuralt as following in the footsteps of Edward R.
Murrow. But James Aubrey, President, CBS Television, disliked Kuralt's
on camera appearance, and convinced Midgley to return Cronkite as
anchor in January 1961. Cronkite's role as New York correspondent
provided a scope of credibility absent from his other projects.
When Cronkite went to the CBS Evening News on 16 April 1962, Charles
Collingwood became anchor of Eyewitness.
the series start, a critical dimension was added to the objective
task of presenting news with Howard K. Smith's commentary on programs
focused on diplomacy. In covering certain issues the distinct perspectives
and arguments between producer and reporter became evident, as in
the case of "Diem's War--Or Ours," and other reports on Vietnam.
and the public were engaged by the urgency and depth Eyewitness
brought to contemporary issues. Even when considering the new
trend in jazz music, Bossa Nova, the producers presented a "critical
look" at jazz. Even so the announcement of the program "Who Killed
Marilyn Monroe" brought such an outcry from Hollywood, that Midgley
changed it to "Marilyn Monroe, Why?"
three years Eyewitness to History aggressively pursued such
events as changes in the labor movement, government fiscal policy,
the medical establishment and U.S. foreign relations. It was the
training and proving ground for television journalists whose careers
span most of the second half of the century they covered. And the
series signaled CBS's turn to prominence in network television journalism.
Charles Kuralt 1960-1961
Walter Cronkite 1961-1962
Charles Collingwood 1962-1963
August 1959-December 1959 Irregular
Schedule of Specials
9:00-9:30 September 1960-June 1961 Friday
10:30-11:00 September 1961-August 1963
Val. "Exchange Visits Get TV Sponsor." The New York Times,
2 August 1959.
and Midgley: 'I Love Luce-id.'" Variety (Los Angeles), 3
John. "The Journey." New York Herald Tribune, 23 December
Barbara. "CBS Had a Full Roster of Marilyn Experts." Newsday
(Hempstead, New York), 13 August 1962.
Gary Paul. Air Time: The Inside Story of CBS News. New York:
Harper & Row, 1978.
Frederick. "Video Turns to Current History: Eyewitness--Foot
Loose Scribe." Christian Science Monitor (Boston, Massachusetts),
5 October 1960.
Leslie. How Many Words Do You Want? New York: Birch Lane, 1989.
"Midgley's 'Take 5, Use 1.'" Variety (Los Angeles), 5 April
Jo. "Eyewitness to History to Get Shorter Title in Fall." Radio
TV Daily (New York), 1 May 1961.
David. On and Off the Air: An Informal History of CBS News.
New York: Dutton, 1989.
"The Speed Up in Television News Coverage." Broadcasting
(Washington, D.C.), 2 January, 1961.
the Cameras!" TV Guide (Radnor, Pennsylvania), 10 November
Van Horne, Harriet. "Disasters Test TV News." New York Telegram,
20 December 1960.
See also Documentary