Charlie Rose is on camera most days for several hours at a time. He begins with “CBS This Morning,” which he cohosts with Gayle King and Norah O’Donnell during the week from 7 to 9 a.m. He then heads to Bloomberg’s headquarters in Midtown East in Manhattan, where he has taped his namesake show since 1994. Rose, 73, also contributes to “60 Minutes” from time to time. He maintains that hectic schedule by taking frequent 20-minute naps throughout the day, his spokeswoman revealed.
“CBS This Morning” is still a distant third in the morning race behind ABC and NBC, but it’s making strides with a 14 percent gain in viewers for the second quarter of 2015 over the prior year. This translated to 3.5 million viewers, behind “Today” with 4.6 million watchers and “Good Morning America” at 5.1 million.
WWD caught up with Rose post-nap and post-interview with Jeffrey Immelt, chief executive officer of General Electric, on set at Bloomberg. Immelt stopped by to offer his reviews of the lengthy grilling he had just received from his old friend. “He asks questions to try to get the right answer,” the GE ceo said of Rose. “There are no tricks. How do you prepare? You can’t; you really just need to live it. He is incredibly briefed and he connects the dots.”
Before leaving for St. Petersburg to meet Vladimir Putin at the International Economic Forum in June, Rose talked about preparation for the live-streamed interview with the Russian president, what he thinks about the Brian Williams controversy, and whether “60 Minutes” can thrive in a world where the younger generation is turning to Vice for news.
Please talk about your relationship with Jeff Immelt.
I have no idea what he might say but every couple of years he comes by. He has one of the voices in America that I like to hear from the side of playing an important role in a large company. I like to know what are his attitudes about trade and innovation, about change. He’s in the center of that kind of thing. It affects employment. It affects the United States. I’m particularly interested in the future, and how that works and what are the change agents in the future. And so, he’s one of the people in the same way I would talk to a politician, a musician.
How did you prepare for the Putin interview?
I spent my entire weekend thinking about it. I talk to people — former secretaries of state, former national security advisers, journalists. I read everything that I can get my hands on and I do this myself. I don’t have it prepared for me because I want to feel it.
What is your general process to prepare for a big interview?
I read interviews, speeches, analysis, books. [For Putin] I just found two new books that haven’t been published yet. I’ll get those — I’ll get the galleys of those. I’ll think about the structure of the interview — where I want it to begin. That’s important for me. I knew where this interview I just did — I wanted to understand where to start, where I wanted it to go. I read interviews, speeches, biographies, understand as much as I can, the questions that his stewardship of his government makes us consider. In his case it’s the Ukraine, the Baltic, Iran, Syria; what’s wrong with the relationship with the United States? Whose fault is it? How can it be improved? What misconceptions are there? I have to put them in an arc. This will be difficult because it’s live, it’s streamed and there will be other people onstage. But this is a man we haven’t really heard from accepting interviews with lots of journalists at the same time, in a kind of press conference, and from no Western journalists recently.
Do you seek to break news in your interviews?
Yes, of course. I would like for him [Putin] to say that look, “I’ve decided to reach out to the United States and call for a conference to see what we can do with Western Europe and the United States and others, to see what we can do about Ukraine. It’s gone too far as a threat of deepening conflict, and so therefore I’ve decided to do this.” I’d love for him to say that. He’s unlikely to say that to me. But he might say something. I’d like for them to make news. A lot of what he says can make news because of who he is, as it is true with President Obama, as it was with the president of Syria, as it would be with the president of Iran, the president of China, all of those people. The nature of what they’re involved in and the big decisions — what they say has weight more so than most. At the same time, scientists who are on the cutting edge of science, who have something to say, that’s important.
A leading cancer researcher may come on here and say, “We’re making more strides today in understanding how to combat cancer than we have in many years” — that’s interesting. I’m doing those kinds of interviews. What’s unique about what I do and have an opportunity to do — in the combination of things that I do, “60 Minutes,” “Charlie Rose: The Week,” “CBS This Morning,” and even on the evening news — is that it is the depth and scope of my curiosity, which is unlike most. Most people have a concentration in particular areas, it might be politics, it might be science, it might be business, it might be sports. I care about all of those and that’s why I’ve chosen the formats I chose. On “CTM,” “The Week” and “60 Minutes,” it can be about anything — about media, about fashion.
What’s the future of the long-form interview?
Is it dead, as some people would say?
Is it morphing into something else? Vice calls itself “60 Minutes for Millennials,” for instance, but they focus more on documentary-style reporting than in-depth sit-down interviews.
I like Shane Smith [Vice cofounder and ceo] a lot. He’s been on this show several times. I admire him. I think the long interview has an important life. A lot of streaming services do it now. For example, if you follow Playbook and others, there is a kind of specialization and therefore they do longer interviews and they drill down. Then you can take the clips. You can spin them out. If you do a long-form interview you can do both. A short little interview, you can only do one thing. Secondly, it enables me to have an archive, which I think is invaluable. For 25 years, the most interesting and fascinating people from a variety of worlds have come to this very table [taps the table] to talk about who they are, and what they believe in, what their fears are, who has influenced their life.
What’s the future of a show like “60 Minutes”?
Evidently very good.
It’s powerful and they are very influential — but in terms of bringing in a younger generation of viewers — they aren’t as successful.
I have a theory about this. The younger generation watches what’s interesting, not whether it’s presented by someone who is as old as I am or someone who is as old as a 21-year-old. It’s the material. If I did a series of conversations on things most interesting to Millennials, they would respond to it, and I do.
How about the format and the way it is presented?
There’s a certain fashion — if I’m on a “60 Minutes” piece, I wear a sweater. If I’m here, I wear a suit. I’ve always worn a suit and tie, but on the Friday night show, I never wear a tie.
I’m talking about distribution format — digital video versus TV.
The most interesting thing about TV is that there’s so much of it now, including digital on whatever device you use. But none of us have enough time to watch all available video that’s coming at us now. For me, it’s a delight. I could spend several hours on YouTube every night. It’s all there. I just don’t have enough time. So are they [Millennials] going to watch less on television? It’s hard to deny that fundamental shift as to how they are going to watch it.
How does technology play a role in your journalism?
There are certain kinds of things that I’m very interested in. I’m very conscious of how I ask a question that generates those kinds of responses, but I essentially ask shorter questions than almost anybody, period. They do word counts and it turns out it’s hugely shorter for me.
Do you find that if you ask a shorter question that people reveal more?
Yes. Bingo. It crystallizes it for them. “What do you mean? Why? Were you surprised? How did you get there?” That kind of thing. But what’s important is being able to listen to the answer and follow up in a smart way. Follow-up is crucial, listening is crucial and engagement is crucial in what I do. I would add to that, framing the question. I think a lot about framing the question more than most, I think, and therefore they are short and they are targeted.
Is there anyone you would like to interview who you haven’t yet?
So many. Putin is one of them, Xi Jinping. I’d like to interview more David Foster Wallaces. One of the few interviews he did and the one that seems to have survived the most is the one that I did. You’ve got to find people who have something to say and I rarely pass up the opportunity to talk to somebody who’s interesting. People think: “Why do you work so hard?” It’s because there are so many interesting people out there that you want to talk to, and to aggregate and to connect the dots.
When you get someone who has been interviewed a thousand times, what do you hone in on to make the interview fresh?
You certainly look for something different. I think people who do this well, like so many of my colleagues, think about the questions. And, depending on the format, you can fish; on “60 Minutes,” you can fish — you’re going to edit, edit, edit and edit. You’re going to ask it over and over in different forms. Here I can’t do that. Essentially the format is, we show what we record. On “CBS This Morning,” it moves so fast. I rarely ask no more than three questions; it’s usually just one question. That’s the nature of the show. I have to set the groundwork, and so, often the question is: “What did you discover?” or “What does this add to our understanding?” — that kind of thing. I have a list of questions that I apply to anybody that I would like to be answered. The questions have to do with hopes, fears, influences, what have you learned, the last lecture question — if you were giving one last lecture, what would you say?
So if you were me interviewing you, what would you ask?
I would ask, how do you think about an interview? I really need to read to get a feeling. If I prepare it myself totally, it’s a different interview. If I could, I would do all the preparation all the time because I like that part of it. That part of it is where you learn, you dive into it and you see what comes up. My process is to read everything and to type on a computer or I read and I speak [record], and then I organize it. I try to think where I’ll end [the interview] but I don’t always know. In television, I care about emotion, passion. I care about all those qualities that we treasure. We want people to be alive and we want to tap into their deepest place so that they reveal themselves. You can’t ask for them to reveal themselves, you have to ask it in a way so that they reveal themselves.
Do you prefer sitting down and interviewing people or going into the field?
I love going into the field. I do that with “60 Minutes.”
Do you wish you could go into the field more?
Yes, I do. I’m envious of the experience. “60 Minutes” is one of the great jobs in journalism. They do everything. On our show in the morning, I come in and have this window on the world. I have a whole range of people who are telling me, reporters for CBS News, who are telling me what they learned overnight what the story is or what they experienced. That’s one of the great things about journalism. That’s why we do what we do, isn’t it?
What are your thoughts on the Brian Williams controversy?
He was often at this table. He is a friend of mine. He is someone who has remarkable broadcasting skills and someone who no one regrets what he did more than he did. I haven’t seen any reports or investigations. I think it’s very important for all of us in journalism to have the trust of people — that we are telling them what we know and what we saw and what we experienced. No more, no less.
Do you think he can earn that trust back?
I do. Look at the late David Carr of The New York Times. He’s a perfect example of that. He went through hell with drugs and everything and he came back. People really admired him because he had intelligence. His experience made him a reporter that added value in some ways — he went through hell, but he made it through the other side. It made him a really interesting friend and reporter.
You have a very unusual set. Is the darkness used to focus on the interview subject and for the viewer to not be distracted?
It’s that and, secondly, the fact that I had no money when I started.
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