Faced with the need to replace Ed Bradley in the middle of the TV season, "60 Minutes" won't even bother.
His workload will be spread around, and, in a unique arrangement for the CBS newsmagazine, his top producer will run a reporting unit for stories available to all on-air correspondents.
"It's a long-term project to find the next full-time person who can show the abilities that are expected of a `60 Minutes' correspondent," said Jeff Fager, the show's executive producer.
Even before Bradley's death on Nov. 9, it was a transition year for TV's longest-running newsmagazine. Mike Wallace has retired, Morley Safer has cut back his hours and Dan Rather is gone. Katie Couric and Anderson Cooper are new contributors.
Bradley, who died at 65 of leukemia, had only a year to enjoy a status of first among equals at the ensemble. His was the first face shown during the weekly introductions, a subtle indication of status that only Wallace had previously achieved, and he was gone before many even realized it.
"He was the king," said fellow correspondent Bob Simon. "He had the most authoritative presence and style on the broadcast and that's not replaceable."
Bradley also was an off-screen leader at one of TV's most notorious dens of competition and ego.
During the 1995 crisis that became the subject of the movie "The Insider," when "60 Minutes" caved to corporate pressure and delayed a tough report about tobacco companies, "half the office wasn't talking to the other half," correspondent Lesley Stahl recalled. Bradley brought everyone to his apartment and said he wouldn't let them leave until they thrashed it out, she said.
"The reaction to Ed's dying was something I'd never seen," Stahl said. "I've been around here a long time and there was a quality of reaction from the public that was personal in a way I can't explain and everyone here has had the same thing. We have all been flooded with e-mails."
Steve Kroft inherits Bradley's slot as the first correspondent whose face is shown during the show's introduction ("I'm Steve Kroft ...").
This, after all the years in which he was rided as the "new guy."
"I think in some ways he symbolizes `60 Minutes' at its best," Fager said. "He is the best reporter in the business and you don't get better in terms of writing and reporting. His stories are always good. He doesn't do clunkers."
Kroft's stories have led the broadcast three times this season, more than any other correspondent. Over the past year, he's investigated human growth hormones, illegal immigration, Iraqi reconstruction and organized crime in a small town in Italy.
Stahl has done a number of political, science and business stories, including her October interviews with two high-profile women who lost their corporate jobs. Simon, who made his way to a remote earthquake-ravaged area in Pakistan for a story on two New Yorkers who were treating victims, is trying to do more domestic stories. Scott Pelley, meanwhile, has done more international work. Early in the season, Couric did stories but has largely concentrated on the evening news since then. Cooper, who will occasionally contribute stories to "60 Minutes" while staying at CNN, debuted last month with a story on the Abu Ghraib whistleblower.
None of the correspondents interviewed expressed any problem with doing a few more stories this year; they're often clamoring for airtime, anyway. Fager's ability to spread time around was a particularly delicate issue last season, with Wallace active and Rather joining the cast from the "CBS Evening News."
At the time he became seriously ill, Bradley had left behind no stories that his colleagues will have to pick up on.
Bradley's sense of whimsy, his cackle of a laugh, will be remembered by all who heard it. Like all "60 Minutes" correspondents, he was a generalist who would mix investigations with softer features.
"The thing you reach for at `60 Minutes' is to develop your own voice, to be as much an individual in the true sense of yourself on camera," Stahl said. "Ed was able to show a lot of parts of himself on camera and not block it off."
At "60 Minutes," correspondents hire a handful of individual producers who have a great deal of power, coming up with story ideas and doing much of the reporting. The producer's name is usually on-screen behind a correspondent during an introduction of a report.
Rather than be assigned to another correspondent, Bradley's top producer, Michael Radutzky, will lead his own team and produce stories for various correspondents, Fager said.
Bradley's death also robs "60 Minutes" of its only on-screen black correspondent. He always saw race as secondary to his reporting, but there were interviews with black personalities that CBS might have landed the story because the celebrities felt comfortable with Bradley, Fager said. Michael Jackson, Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods were among Bradley's profile subjects.
While it's important to have diversity, "I think everyone thinks it would be a mistake to address that issue with someone just for the sake of addressing that," Kroft said.
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EDITOR'S NOTE _ David Bauder can be reached at dbauder"at"ap.org