Published January 14, 2015
Don Hewitt, the CBS newsman who invented the highly popular TV newsmagazine "60 Minutes" and produced it for 36 years, died Wednesday. He was 86.
A Sunday evening fixture, "60 Minutes" was television's top-rated show four times, most recently in 1992-93. While no longer a regular in the top 10 in Hewitt's later years, it was still TV's most popular newsmagazine.
Hewitt died of pancreatic cancer at his Bridgehampton home, CBS said. His death came a month after that of fellow CBS legend Walter Cronkite.
Hewitt joined CBS News in television's infancy in 1948, and produced the first televised presidential debate in 1960.
He made his mark in the late 1960s when CBS agreed to try his idea of a one-hour broadcast that mixed hard news and feature stories. The television newsmagazine was born on Sept. 24, 1968.
He dreamed of a television version of Life, the dominant magazine of the mid-20th century, where interviews with entertainers could co-exist with investigations that exposed corporate malfeasance.
"The formula is simple," he wrote in a memoir in 2001, "and it's reduced to four words every kid in the world knows: Tell me a story. It's that easy."
"60 Minutes" won 73 Emmys, 13 DuPont/Columbia University Awards and nine Peabody Awards during Hewitt's stewardship, which ended in 2004.
Hewitt often said the accepted wisdom for television news writers before "60 Minutes" was to put words to pictures. He believed that was backward.
Among his other jobs, Hewitt directed the first network television newscast on May 3, 1948. He originated the use of cue cards for news readers, now done by electronic machines. He was the first to "superimpose" words on the TV screen for a news show.
Donald Shepard Hewitt was born in New York on Dec. 14, 1922, and grew up in the suburb of New Rochelle. He dropped out of New York University to become a copy boy at the New York Herald Tribune. He joined the Merchant Marines during World War II and worked as a correspondent posted to Gen. Dwight Eisenhower's London headquarters.
After the war and a few brief journalism jobs, he took a job as an associate director at CBS News in 1948.
During his tenure, "60 Minutes" was often a place where people came to make news. Presidential candidate Bill Clinton addressed questions of infidelity in 1992, and Al Gore used the show to announce he wouldn't run for president in 2004.
Hewitt had said he wanted to "die at my desk," creating a delicate situation for CBS. The show's ratings were declining and it had the oldest audience in television, as well as some of the oldest correspondents.
Hewitt, then 80, was persuaded to announce in January 2003 that he would step down at the conclusion of the 2003-2004 season, which he did. In return, CBS gave him a contract that would pay him through age 90.
Hewitt had four children. Survivors include his wife of 30 years, Marilyn.