Scott Pelley had a pretty good year. The anchor of the CBS Evening News, now in his second year behind the famed desk, has presided over a rise in the ratings for his hard news-oriented program, interviewed President Barack Obama for a broadcast that aired during the Super Bowl and sat down with one of the Navy SEAL's who shot Osama bin Laden.
He's earned a spot on THR's 35 Most Powerful People in Media, both solo and as part of the 60 Minutes team. Pelley spoke with THR last month about his program and much more.
The Hollywood Reporter: You are almost two full years into your run as anchor; what have you learned about news, about yourself, about America?
Pelley: With the growth of the broadcast, I think what I've learned is that there is a real hunger among the American people to have a serious broadcast. We have concentrated on producing a well-written broadcast that reports without fear or favor all around the world, and the audience has increased by a million viewers in just this short period of time. So what I've learned is there is a serious market for what we’re doing.
THR: How would you rate CBS's election coverage, and the coverage by the media in general?
Pelley: We were really the only evening news broadcast that went to all of the major events. We went to every presidential debate, we did the broadcast from those locations, we went to every primary and did the broadcast from those locations, we did multiple interviews with the president and Mitt Romney. I think the viewer saw us as an island of calm in a sea of absurdity in the political campaign. So much shouting from various shows that are tilted one political direction or the other, so much confusion about small issues and large issues, and we just tried to be that island of solid, down-the-middle information, and we let the candidates talk. We didn’t talk over them, we let the candidates talk and let the folks at home decide.
THR: Your ratings have continued to climb as you do hard news -- that almost seems counterintuitive given what we see on TV today.
Pelley: I expected that to happen, and [CBS News chairman] Jeff Fager has retooled the entire news division in that way. Look at CBS This Morning, look at all of our other broadcasts, look at the way Jeff has run 60 Minutes for years, this has always been his guiding philosophy and it’s precisely what he told me to do over at the Evening News, and it’s working everywhere. 60 Minutes is still number one after 45 years, CBS This Morning is growing by big double digit percentages, and the evening news is the fastest growing newscast in America. This was Fager’s vision, and we all try to execute it to the best of our abilities and it certainly is working.
THR: Who would you say was your biggest interview, your biggest get?
Pelley: The most fun that I’ve had in an interview this year was with the president before the Super Bowl, because that interview was live and to had to be precisely seven minutes long. I gave myself the goal of breaking news on as many stories as I possibly could in seven minutes. It was like doing the lightning round on a game show and it was hilarious. And I think the president had some fun with it too. And we did break news on three things that I wanted to talk to him about, so that’s some of the most fun we did. Probably the most important interview I’ve done this year that ran on the Evening News and also ran on 60 Minutes was with a guy who goes by the pseudonym Mark Owen, who was one of the SEALSs involved in the Osama bin Laden raid and the first time we ever heard from someone who was involved in the raid. That was an historic, groundbreaking interview that I was very pleased with.
THR: The makeup job done on him, I hear, was quite impressive.
Pelley: You can’t imagine the transformation. We’ll never be able to show people what we accomplished with that, but we hired the very best guys from Hollywood who do movies. Every day that we did an interview, they had to work with him for four hours to get the makeup done, and it was an amazing transformation. All I can tell you is that he doesn’t look anything like that.
THR: What did you think of Fox News broadcasting his real name?
Pelley: I cannot think of a reason journalistically that you would expose an undercover operator for the United States in that way. I cannot think in any public interest that was served, and now his life is in danger, the lives of all of his family members and extended family are in danger, and I could think of a reason to do that. If the people at Fox have a reason, I’d be awfully interested in hearing it, because I cannot think in any way how the public interest in the United States was served by that.
THR: Who else do you want to interview?
Pelley: Oh, I want to interview the new pope. No pope has ever done an interview, so that’s one I definitely want to do. No chairman of the federal reserve had ever done an interview before we sat down with Ben Bernanke on 60 Minutes. So I’m always trying to get those interviews that are impossible to get, because they are the ones that are most interesting to the audience. I would love to get a hold of the pope, I would love to have more conversations with the president and Speaker Boehner.