After 33 years of piquant and sometimes irascible commentary, 92-year-old Andy Rooney will surrender his regular gig on CBS' legendary newsmagazine "60 Minutes" this weekend.
Rooney will sign off with a final piece — his 1,097th — on Sunday's program, preceded by a retrospective segment on his career with longtime colleague Morley Safer, the network said in a news release Tuesday.
FOR THE RECORD:
A headline on this article says Andy Rooney is 93 years old. He is 92.
In addition to his own often attention-grabbing views — he once scolded those who mourned the 1994 suicide of Kurt Cobain by saying he'd never even heard of the Nirvana frontman before then — the beetle-browed Rooney is one of the last on-air links to the glory days of CBS News, when "60 Minutes" regularly topped the ratings and anchorman Walter Cronkite was dubbed "the most trusted man in America."
Virtually all of Rooney's on-air colleagues from when he joined "60 Minutes" in 1978 — including Mike Wallace, Harry Reasoner and Ed Bradley — have either retired or died; only Safer, 79, and Bob Schieffer, the 74-year-old host of "Face the Nation," remain at work.
"There's nobody like Andy and there never will be. He'll hate hearing this, but he's an American original," Jeff Fager, the chairman CBS News and executive producer of "60 Minutes," said in a statement. "It's harder for him to do it every week, but he will always have the ability to speak his mind on '60 Minutes' when the urge hits him."
The network has not indicated whether it will replace Rooney. A CBS spokesman said neither network executives nor Rooney would elaborate until the commentator has his say on Sunday's program. Rooney did not appear on last week's season premiere of "60 Minutes" but the show did not allude to his absence. Last year, Rooney had told an interviewer, "I will work until I drop."
Rooney is exiting his post with apparently none of the rancor that attended the departure of another CBS fixture, former anchor Dan Rather, who was harshly criticized for a 2004 report on then-President George W. Bush's Vietnam-era military service that network executives later deemed flawed. The following year, Rooney obliquely criticized Rather and, by extension, his network bosses, as ones who had "escaped" punishment despite their responsibility for overseeing the Bush piece. The network eventually pushed Rather from his "CBS Evening News" perch and ultimately booted him from the network in 2006. (Rather later sued CBS but the case was dismissed.)
In 1990, Rooney was suspended by CBS for three months after he was quoted making disparaging remarks about blacks and gays. Rooney denied making some of the remarks but accepted the suspension rather than leave the network.
Rooney's departure firmly closes another door on an era for CBS and TV news in general. Some analysts hailed Rooney as a link to a more literate, less partisan age.
"Andy Rooney's retirement from CBS shows how much television has evolved since the glory days of network television decades ago," said Paul Levinson, a media professor at Fordham University in New York. "It was a time of sage and piquant commentary from Eric Sevareid, John Chancellor and, since 1978, from Andy Rooney. Nowadays you have to go to cable to find commentary, where's there's lots of it, but often petty, carping, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."
A World War II veteran who wrote for the military newspaper "Stars & Stripes," Rooney joined CBS in 1949, working with then-popular host Arthur Godfrey and later with Reasoner, mainly as a writer and producer. In 1978, "60 Minutes" tapped him as a summer replacement for its "Point/Counterpoint" opinion segment. Within a few months, "A Few Minutes With Andy Rooney" had proved a hit with viewers.
The segment's ultra-simple format became a familiar — and sometimes parodied — TV signpost. Wearing a rumpled suit, the pear-shaped Rooney would sit, hands folded, at his desk in what appeared to be his rather cramped and cluttered CBS office, speaking directly into the camera. His typical jowly, bemused expression would occasionally curl into an outright smile, but just as often he would raise his voice slightly during his rants on random topics, the sort of free-range target practice that these days routinely turns up on Twitter.
Sometimes the matters were ones of consequence; more often, not. One characteristic piece faulted coffeemakers for putting fewer ounces than advertised of grounds in each can. "I don't really have any right to complain," he then concluded wryly. "The actual content of '60 Minutes' is now less than 42 minutes."
"I don't even know if they could replace him?" Doug Spero, an associate professor of mass communication at Meredith College in North Carolina, wrote of Rooney in an email. "He was the true representative of trivial matters. Common everyday things got his attention and common everyday things frustrated him, just like many of his viewers, who could relate."