Sneak Peek: '60 Minutes' Enters Historic 55th Season with Wide-Ranging Lineup, Including Rare Biden Sit-Down

·7 min read
Scott Pelley, Lesley Stahl, Bill Whitaker, Sharyn Alfonsi, Jon Wertheim, Bill Owens Stars in CBS WATCH!
Scott Pelley, Lesley Stahl, Bill Whitaker, Sharyn Alfonsi, Jon Wertheim, Bill Owens Stars in CBS WATCH!

CBS Watch Magazine The cast of '60 Minutes' as seen in the Sept. 20 issue of 'Watch Magazine'

For 55 years, the greatest minds in journalism have gathered day and night, week after week, working tirelessly to bring stories from around the world directly to Americans' television sets each Sunday night.

CBS News' 60 Minutes segments are unlike anything you'll find on other broadcasts. Every story acts as a miniature documentary — 13 minutes in the classroom with your favorite professor.

"You think that is an eternity in broadcast news terms," says correspondent Bill Whitaker, 71, who spent most of his career producing stories closer to the two-minute mark. "But in reality we're dealing with bigger issues, and more voices are in the piece, and you go to foreign places, you take people to some place they haven't been with a camera. In all of that, it fills up that 13 minutes pretty quickly."

RELATED: 55 Years of '60 Minutes': Behind the Curtains as TV Newsmagazine Gears Up for Powerful New Season

Those little documentaries cover a variety of topics surrounding science, sports, humanity and politics. Some urgently tie into current events, and some are timeless. All bring something new to the table.

Here, a first look at what to expect in the coming months on 60 Minutes.

Joe Biden 60 Minutes interview
Joe Biden 60 Minutes interview

Eric Kerchner/60 Minutes President Biden on '60 Minutes'

The Biden Interview

As the 60 Minutes team began thinking about the show's 55th season, premiering Sunday during an exceptionally tense moment in politics both at home and abroad, they knew that exploring today's tumultuous political landscape would be challenging. So they started where any American should: with the president of the United States.

On Thursday, correspondent Scott Pelley sat down with President Joe Biden in the White House Roosevelt Room for his first 60 Minutes interview since being elected leader of the free world.

The conversation, which will kick off the new season, comes amid a legislative hot streak for Biden that has given his approval rating a much-needed bump, but also as Americans battle debilitating inflation and the U.S. government treads water in its diplomacy efforts with Russia, China, Iran and Saudi Arabia, to name a few.

Pelley, 65, tells PEOPLE he's been working to coordinate the interview since shortly after Biden's inauguration. Their original meeting date was postponed due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, a topic that's all but certain to appear in Sunday night's segment. (Pelley notes, in awe of the president's consideration, that Biden personally called to apologize for pushing off their chat — "he could have just had a deputy press secretary call.")

RELATED: Biden Suspects Russia Will Be in Ukraine for the 'Long Haul,' as Official Warns to Not Underestimate Putin

Once a date was set, Pelley and his team hit the books to prepare. And so did the White House.

"I really go to school on these things," Pelley says. His homework required him to absorb massive amounts of information — with the help of an A1 team of producers — by watching speeches, listening to congressional testimonies and keeping up with every news bump until the moment the cameras began to roll.

In an interview of this caliber, which will play a role in how people remember Biden, 79, for decades to come, there's no room for error. Both parties need to have an encyclopedic understanding of what's happening on the ground in America, behind closed doors in D.C. and all around the world in order for viewers to walk away with a deeper understanding of how Biden plans to navigate the tsunami of challenges threatening his legacy.

"It's an opportunity for us to have a conversation," executive producer Bill Owens, 55, tells PEOPLE. "Not a chopped up soundbite with narration, but a real conversation."

Leading up to the interview, hot political topics included Tuesday's troubling inflation report, which countered the White House's concurrent claims of economic rebound; America's financial war on numerous foreign nations who've chosen violence over diplomacy; far-right attempts to further strip reproductive rights; negotiations with rail unions threatening a strike; and Biden's responsibility in helping Democrats succeed in November.

RELATED: President Biden's Approval Rating Is on the Rise, Reaching Highest Percentage Since Early June

And while politics are by nature divisive, the interview isn't intended to be anything other than a medium for viewers to get an idea of where Biden's head is at.

As Whitaker says, "We're not just a megaphone for one political point of view or another political point of view. Our job is to tell the American people what's true and accurate." Politicians know, he says, that "they may be challenged and they may face tough questions, but we are going to be fair."

"60 Minutes is a place where you're not going to get a partisan take on anything," Owens echoes. "I like to tell the staff we broadcast to the entire country. We're not aiming at anybody. We're aiming at the entire country, San Francisco to Kansas City to Sarasota to Hartford, Connecticut."

60 Minutes Exclusive Photos
60 Minutes Exclusive Photos

60 Minutes

The Season 55 Line-Up

President Biden will set the tone for season 55, but that's only one of an estimated 100 segments that will be produced over the next year. PEOPLE spoke with members of the cast — which includes Sharyn Alfonsi, Anderson Cooper, Norah O'Donnell, Scott Pelley, Lesley Stahl, Bill Whitaker and L. Jon Wertheim — to hear about some of the segments that are already being worked on.

"We are keeping our hand in politics," Whitaker says. Many of the same issues brought forth in Biden's interview will be explored in depth over the next several months. "But we get to touch on just about everything here."

For Whitaker, that will mean scouring bat caves and climbing an ape-filled mountain in Uganda in search of the next possible COVID outbreak. He'll also explore a proposed national reserve in the wilds of Montana and investigate the continually worsening wildfires out west.

Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE's free daily newsletter to stay up-to-date on the best of what PEOPLE has to offer.

Stahl, a veteran correspondent whose bombshell interviews with Donald Trump sparked buzz around the world, is kicking off the season with a slate of international stories. After spending some time in Asia this summer, she will share a surprising glimpse of life in Taiwan as China threatens military action. "They are not scared," Stahl, 80, says. "There's no sense of danger in the air."

She also caught up with girls from an entire school that fled Afghanistan, leaving their families behind, amid the Taliban's 2021 takeover. They found a new home in Rwanda, where they continue to reside.

RELATED: In the Year Since the Taliban Took Back Afghanistan, Women's Rights Have Been Erased

60 Minutes Exclusive Photos
60 Minutes Exclusive Photos

60 Minutes/Eric Kerchner

Wertheim, who also serves as executive editor for Sports Illustrated, will bring his sports expertise to the new season with stories on South African rugby and NFL Hall of Famer Deion Sanders' coaching career at Jackson State University.

Of course, he says, "the great appeal of the job" is its variety, and the 51-year-old correspondent is not just the sports guy. Viewers will see him pay American author David Sedaris a visit in rural England, where he's lived with his partner since 2019, and watch as Wertheim tries to get answers about lost books and art in Lithuania.

Cooper, America's 55-year-old media darling, will bring audiences along as he tries to understand how dogs evolved from wolves to become one of the planet's friendliest species. And Alfonsi, 50, will chat with White House staffer-turned-celebrity chef Ina Garten as well as unpack the mystery of the horrific Surfside, Florida, condo collapse in 2021.

Before shifting his mind to Biden, Pelley recently returned to Bucha, Ukraine, to uncover the stories of forgotten locals who were unceremoniously placed in a mass grave during the war.

60 Minutes Exclusive Photos
60 Minutes Exclusive Photos

60 Minutes/Eric Kerchner

RELATED: Her Husband Was Allegedly Shot by Russians, Who Watched Emotionless 'Like an Audience' as She Wept

All of these stories are just the beginning, as most of the news that will be covered throughout the season has yet to occur.

"There are kind of tall tent poles out there that we're going to be paying to," Owens says. "But we also want to be light on our feet and reactive to the news. Last year, almost every week, we had to crash a news story."

Season 55 of 60 Minutes premieres Sunday, Sept. 18, at 7:30 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT on CBS Television Network.