Richard Nixon didn’t rate one. Neither did Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, or either of the George Bushes.

So why is CBS’s “60 Minutes” devoting an unprecedented full hour to former President Bill Clinton on June 20?

“To me, it was an easy call,” said new “60” executive producer Jeff Fager. “This guy just wrote 957 pages, and he’s a very interesting and controversial figure. He’s got a lot to say.”

It will be Clinton’s first interview about the eagerly awaited “My Life” (Knopf), which comes out June 22.

There will be no restrictions on lines of questioning by “CBS Evening News” anchor Dan Rather, a “60” alum and “60 Minutes II” contributor, Fager said. Rather snared the big get.

Rather did “60 II” sit-downs with Clinton when he was president in March ’99 and December ’00, as well as a piece for “60” in August ’96, according to Fager, formerly a “60 II” exec producer.

“Dan’s been pushing for this story, and he got it. There’s a comfort level there. I think Clinton trusts him. I think he respects him.”

In 36 seasons under legendary Don Hewitt, “60” never offered a full hour to anyone. Not even Sinatra. In this case, “I think Don would have done the same thing,” said Fager, Hewitt’s protege.

“It’s very rare when a president writes his own memoir so soon after leaving office,” Fager said. “I’d be shocked if we don’t find an hour in it. I’m sure we could do more. Plus, we usually do repeats in June.”

Fager was to have received an advance copy of “Life” Wednesday, he said. To avoid leaks, CBS News signed confidentiality agreements, he adds.

It’s a heady coup for Fager, who moved into his new digs only late last week.

“This is great. If you want to be in the reporting business, you want to get the big story. To get a president, especially this president – I can’t wait to see the book.

“Just off of Abu Ghraib” – the Iraqi prison scandal – “this is the biggest story I’ve ever been involved in.”

On April 28, “60 II” was first with the shocking photographs of Americans abusing Iraqi prisoners. The scoop was the result of more than two months’ legwork by “60 II” producer Mary Mapes, Fager said.

“We knew we were sitting on a bombshell,” he said. “None of us could have predicted the kind of impact it would have on the direction of the war, or that it would become a kind of symbol.”

Fager, ever loyal to the newsmagazine he launched in July ’98, said “60 II” was the right venue for the prison-scandal story, despite “60’s” larger audience.

“60 II” is not a minor-league player. It’s an important, serious broadcast that has broken stories from the get-go, and will continue to do so.

“It’s an important place. It needs to break stories. It needs to be on the map, the way it has been.”

The location took on added stature last week, when CBS announced its fall lineup. In the ’04-05 schedule, “60 II” had a new title – just plain “60 Minutes.”



Speaking of Clinton, syndicated talk queen Oprah Winfrey plans to chat up the former commander-in-chief on June 22.

Reflecting their place in the pecking order, NBC’s “Today” and ABC’s “Good Morning America” are next, on June 23.



This just in from our Famous Last Words Department: Prolific producer David E. Kelley (“The Practice, “Ally McBeal”), an outspoken critic of “reality” shows, is getting into the game.

Buzz in the biz is that NBC has ordered eight episodes of an unscripted show in which lawyers/contestants will compete for a partnership position at a law firm.

If that sounds eerily similar to Fox’s fall series “The Partner,” well, that’s because it is.



Fox News Channel anchor Shepard Smith has re-upped with Roger Ailes’ gang for four years.

Smith’s 7 p.m. weekday newscast, “The Fox Report,” in its fifth season, scores more viewers than all its competitors combined.



(c) 2004, The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Visit Philadelphia Online, the Inquirer’s World Wide Web site, at http://www.philly.com/

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

AP-NY-06-02-04 1905EDT



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