TV-newsmagazine junkies rejoice: Fox premieres the summer replacement “Fox Files” with Catherine Crier tonight at 9 p.m. (One segment features Princess Diana’s mother and brother.) Meanwhile, CBS confirmed that the granddaddy of all newsmagazines, “60 Minutes,” will spawn “60 Minutes II” in 1999. The sequel will feature follow-up reports on past stories by Mike Wallace, Ed Bradley, and the 30-year-old show’s other reporters. And if that’s not enough, the stalwart “Dateline NBC” is adding a fifth night next season. Considering the high ratings prime-time news shows are pulling in (last week they accounted for six of the top 15 programs), the networks will continue to breed them. “The market won’t become oversaturated,” says Marc Berman, who tracks ratings for the TV-station adviser Seltel, “because these shows always seem to find an audience.”
With salary and production costs escalating for dramas and sitcoms (NBC, for instance, will pay $13 million per episode for “ER”), newsmagazines are a far safer and cheaper way to fill up a schedule. “Dateline”‘s new show will air Wednesday nights at 8 p.m., a time period in which the Peacock bombed last year with the high-profile sitcom “The Tony Danza Show.” “It’s a really quick fix in time periods that can’t seem to find an audience,” explains Berman.
Still, some worry that this proliferation of news shows can lead to misreporting, as it did with “Newsstand: CNN & Time,” whose story about U.S. forces using nerve gas on American defectors in Vietnam was recently retracted. “They’re all going to be seeking out the story to beat the competition,” says William Croasdale, president of national broadcast at Western International Media. “With more and more newsmagazines, are there going to be sufficient checks and balances to prevent another CNN fiasco? [At “Dateline,” for instance] how can Stone Phillips and Jane Pauley continue to be on top of these stories five nights a week?”