As it opens its 50th season Sept. 24, 60 Minutes executives are hoping that enlisting Oprah Winfrey as a contributor will help the newsmagazine continue to stand out in a crowded Sunday night television landscape. "She wants to do stories with an impact," says executive producer Jeff Fager. "And that's what's going to work here."
Winfrey's first segment will examine the deep political divisions in the country in part through a panel made up of ideologically opposed Americans. It is similar to a feature Winfrey did in O Magazine in February, for which she brought together 10 women at a diner in Maspeth, New York — half of them Donald Trump supporters, half Hillary Clinton supporters.
But Winfrey, 63, is no bystander in the political arena. Unlike the full-time correspondent corps at 60 Minutes, her views are well known. The stumped for Barack Obama and in 2016 supported Hillary Clinton. Fager, though, says he's not concerned that Winfrey's political identity will alienate some viewers. "We are known for fairness," he says, "and I believe people will see that on the air with her."
Oprah through the years
Oprah through the years
Oprah Winfrey speaks during the unveiling ceremony of the Maya Angelou Forever Stamp at the Warner Theater in Washington, DC, on April 7, 2015. AFP PHOTO/NICHOLAS KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 22: Oprah Winfrey attends the 87th Annual Academy Awards at Dolby Theatre on February 22, 2015 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images)
SANTA MONICA, CA - FEBRUARY 21: Oprah Winfrey speaks onstage during the 2015 Film Independent Spirit Awards at Santa Monica Beach on February 21, 2015 in Santa Monica, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
PASADENA, CA - FEBRUARY 06: (L-R) Actress Carmen Ejogo, actress/producer Oprah Winfrey and director/producer Ava DuVernay accept the award for Outstanding Motion Picture for 'Selma', onstage during the 46th NAACP Image Awards presented by TV One at Pasadena Civic Auditorium on February 6, 2015 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images for NAACP Image Awards)
Actress/producer Oprah Winfrey arrives for the Oscars Nominees' Luncheon hosted by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, February 2, 2015 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California. The 87th Oscars will take place in Hollywood, California February 22, 2015. AFP PHOTO / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
SELMA, AL - JANUARY 18: 'Selma' director Ava DuVernay, actor David Oyelowo, and producer/actress Oprah Winfrey participate in the ceremony to commemorate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on January 18, 2015 in Selma, Alabama. (Photo by David A. Smith/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 15: (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE) Actors David Oyelowo (L) and Oprah Winfrey attend the 20th annual Critics' Choice Movie Awards at the Hollywood Palladium on January 15, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images for A&E Network)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 09: (EDITORS NOTE: IMAGE WAS SHOT IN BLACK AND WHITE) Actors Miles Teller (L) and Oprah Winfrey attend the 15th Annual AFI Awards at Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills on January 9, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for AFI)
SANTA BARBARA, CA - DECEMBER 06: Oprah Winfrey attends the 'Selma' and the Legends Who Paved the Way gala at Bacara Resort on December 6, 2014 in Goleta, California. (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images)
NEWARK, NJ - SEPTEMBER 27: Oprah Winfrey attends the Oprah's The Life You Want Weekend - Day 2 at Prudential Center on September 27, 2014 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images)
NEWARK, NJ - SEPTEMBER 26: Oprah Winfrey speaks at the Oprah's The Life You Want Weekend - Day 1 at Prudential Center on September 26, 2014 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images)
PASADENA, CA - FEBRUARY 22: Oprah Winfrey speaks onstage during the 45th NAACP Image Awards presented by TV One at Pasadena Civic Auditorium on February 22, 2014 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for NAACP Image Awards)
LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 16: Presentater Oprah Winfrey poses in the winners room at the EE British Academy Film Awards 2014 at The Royal Opera House on February 16, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Anthony Harvey/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 18: Actress-TV personality Oprah Winfrey in the audience during the 20th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at The Shrine Auditorium on January 18, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
SANTA MONICA, CA - JANUARY 16: Actress Oprah Winfrey attends the 19th Annual Critics' Choice Movie Awards at Barker Hangar on January 16, 2014 in Santa Monica, California. (Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 20: Oprah Winfrey attends a dinner in honor of the Medal of Freedom awardees at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History on November 20, 2013 in Washington, DC. The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the nation's highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama chats with broadcast journalist Oprah Winfrey before presenting her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House on November 20, 2013 in Washington, DC. The Medal of Freedom is the country's foremost civilian honor. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Oprah Winfrey waves as she speaks during the Let Freedom Ring Commemoration and Call to Action to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC on August 28, 2013. Thousands gathered on the mall on the anniversary of the march and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s famous 'I Have a Dream' speech. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 12: Oprah Winfrey attends LEE DANIELS' THE BUTLER Los Angeles premiere, hosted by TWC, Budweiser and FIJI Water, Purity Vodka and Stack Wines, held at Regal Cinemas L.A. Live on August 12, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Mike Windle/Getty Images for TWC)
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 05: Oprah Winfrey attends the press conference for The Weinstein Company's LEE DANIELS' THE BUTLER at Waldorf Astoria Hotel on August 5, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Ben Gabbe/Getty Images for Lee Daniel's THE BUTLER)
CAMBRIDGE, MA - MAY 30: Oprah Winfrey receives an Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree at 2013 Harvard University 362nd Commencement EXercises at Harvard University on May 30, 2013 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. (Photo by Paul Marotta/Getty Images)
COLLEGE PARK, GA - MAY 20: Oprah Winfrey attends the Spelman College Commencement at Georgia International Convention Center on May 20, 2012 in College Park, Georgia. (Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 09: Oprah Winfrey attends at the 3rd annual Diane Von Furstenberg awards at the United Nations on March 9, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images)
US television talkshow Queen Oprah Winfrey gestures during an interview at Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) in Jaipur on January 22, 2012. Television chatshow queen Oprah Winfrey received a rock star's welcome when she spoke on Sunday to a heaving audience of thousands of fans at the Jaipur Literature Festival in India. Winfrey, wearing a gold and red Indian outfit, told the packed crowd that her love of books had helped her education and enabled her to rise from a poor childhood in Mississippi to become one of the world's most influential women. AFP PHOTO / Prakash SINGH (Photo credit should read PRAKASH SINGH/AFP/Getty Images)
MEYERTON, HENLEY ON KLIP - JANUARY 14: Oprah Winfrey poses with the Graduates at the inaugural graduation of the class of 2011 at Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls on January 14, 2012 in Henley on Klip, South Africa. (Photo by Michelly Rall/Getty Images)
US talk show queen Oprah Winfrey looks on as she answers to journalist's questions at her South African girls' academy on January 13, 2012 in Henley on Klip. Winfrey founded the $40-million school for girls in 2007. AFP PHOTO/ STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN (Photo credit should read STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN/AFP/Getty Images)
Oprah Winfrey winner for Favorite Talk Show Host during The 30th Annual People's Choice Awards - Press Room at Pasadena Civic Auditorium in Pasadena, California, United States. (Photo by Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage)
NASHVILLE, TN - MAY 2: Oprah Winfrey arrives at the opening of Charlie's War at the Nashville Film Festival at the Green Hills Regal Cinema May 2, 2003 in Nashville, Tennessee. Her father Vernon Winfrey has a role in the film. (Photo by Adriane Jaeckle/ Getty Images)
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In fact, Fager tried to recruit Winfrey five years ago, when she was in the throes of a rocky launch of her OWN cable network. "She was too distracted to even consider it," he says. This time, Winfrey was open to the offer, and was encouraged by friends. When she and friend Gayle King were on David Geffen's yacht this summer, Geffen called CBS Corp. CEO Leslie Moonves to communicate Winfrey's interest.
If the move is a reinvention of sorts for Winfrey, it also gives her an enormous platform. 60 Minutes remains TV's most watched newsmagazine, with nearly 13 million viewers a week last season. The season premiere also will include a Scott Pelley piece about Hurricane Harvey and Lesley Stahl interviewing Sen. John McCain about his brain tumor diagnosis.
Winfrey is not the first contributor 60 Minutes has employed; Wynton Marsalis also has previously filled that role. But the show has endured a thinning of its full-time correspondent ranks with the passing last year of Morley Safer, who had already scaled back, and the untimely death in 2015 of Bob Simon. And Pelley left the CBS Evening News in part so he could return to 60 Minutes full-time this season.
Her 60 Minutes debut echoes Winfrey's talk show in that it aims to elevate and unite. That's not to say that she won't later be deployed in her capacity as a deft celebrity interviewer known for eliciting revealing nuggets from her subjects. "God knows, everybody has come out of the woodwork to say, 'Can I do a 60 Minutes story with Oprah?' I couldn’t believe how many calls we got [from] people who are typically reluctant to do something and wanted to do Oprah," says Fager with a laugh, adding, "We're not looking for soft from her; we're looking for substance."
A version of this story first appeared in the Sept. 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.