"60 Minutes" began its 44th season last night, and for those who may have missed it, there was a notable absence: Andy Rooney, who apparently hasn't missed a season opener of the classic in 33 years.
(I say "apparently," but am checking further; let me say that it is believed to be the first time in 33 years, since he joined in '78.)
Andy, as you may or may not know, alternated weeks with that old "Point/Counterpoint"
segment, which was later dropped. Rooney, in due time, became the most popular feature on the program, and to this day pretty much remains a huge draw among some members of the viewing public.
A CBS spokesman told me his first piece of the season will be on next week.
What's going on? (You knew I'd get around to this!) A couple of things: Andy will turn 93 in mid-January, and long established actuarial statistics determine that people who are about to turn 93 usually haven't got the degree of energy they had when they were, say, 83.
Not to be cute here -- I do love Andy, after all -- but I'm not sure he's up to doing a weekly column or even necessarily wants to any more.
The back story here is more intriguing: According to a well-placed source of mine, a few years ago, Les Moonves explored the idea of dropping Rooney altogether, and commissioned a study. The results of the survey were rather unequivocal, however, with many viewers saying they'd dump the "60" habit without Andy.
Andy stayed, but the broadcast, under the aegis of Jeff Fager, out of necessity, began to think of the post-Rooney future, too. I am told it definitely wants to cut back on a "A Few Minutes with AR" but retain the feature for as long as Andy is able to produce one.
What happens when Andy leaves altogether? I would imagine there are any number of ideas -- including "A Few Minutes with Jon Stewart."