When did Don Hewitt break prominence longstanding mark against Wallace!

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Belkin keeps much of Mike Wallace is Here inside the television box, building a profile clip by clip and holding Wallace in dialogue with himself. In a one-on-one interview with Wallace, his 60 Minutes colleague Morley Safer offers the most intimate, end-of-the-line questions about his career, but mostly as a prelude for Belkin to do the exploring. Enough footage exists of Wallace in action that no traditional talking-head interviews are necessary, which gives the impression of a life lived entirely in front of the camera, at the expense of everything and everyone else. He worked to move the cultural dialogue forward. He also worked to serve his ego and secure his own legacy.

One longstanding mark against Wallace is that he didn’t come from a journalistic background. He just wanted to be on television. Before and between gigs as a serious broadcaster, he’s shown appearing as a pitchman for Parliament cigarettes, Ajax cleaning powder, and Revlon make-up, and that commercial vigor is baked into his persona. His reputation as the ultimate “gotcha” journalist, earned first on groundbreaking shows like Night Beat and The Mike Wallace Interview, is tied both to an instinct for good theater and a no-nonsense hunger for the bottom line. He was going to get his answers or make his subjects sweat profusely through their denials and dissembling.

Wallace’s commercialism made it difficult for him to gain respect in Cronkite’s newsroom in the ’60s, but his fortunes changed dramatically when Don Hewitt, an executive producer, approached him in 1968 with the idea for 60 Minutes, a show inspired by the format of Life magazine. The show performed dismally at first, but when Watergate broke, it pounced on the secondary and tertiary characters in the investigation, many of them sources Wallace knew from his time covering Richard Nixon’s presidential campaign. As 60 Minutes grew into a perennial ratings giant, so too did Wallace’s prominence as an interrogator who could keep eyes glued to the set.