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’60 Minutes’ Creator Don Hewitt Dead at 86

Aug 19, 2009  •  Post A Comment

Don Hewitt, the newsman who created CBS’s definitive magazine show, "60 Minutes," and during his decades at the network worked behind the scenes with legendary CBS News reporters Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite, has succumbed to cancer at age 86, CBS News has confirmed.

Hewitt, who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in March, died Wednesday at his home in Bridgehampton, N.Y.

Hewitt’s journalism career spanned 60 years, almost all of them at CBS.

Hewitt started at CBS News in 1948 and directed the first network television newscast, featuring Douglas Edwards, on May 3, 1948. He served as producer-director of the network’s evening news broadcast for 14 years and became executive producer of the first half-hour network newscast when the "CBS Evening News With Walter Cronkite" went to a 30-minute format in 1963.

Hewitt, who was the also the first director of the documentary news series "See It Now," over the years had a hand in all of CBS News’ coverage of major news events from the late 1940s through the 1960s. He notably produced and directed coverage for the three networks of the landmark 1960 debate between presidential candidates Richard M. Nixon and John F. Kennedy.

It was during the period in the mid-1960s after he was fired as executive producer of “CBS Evening News” by then-CBS News President  Fred Friendly that Hewitt came up with the idea for the venerable television news magazine "60 Minutes," which debuted in 1968 and went on to become the longest-running hit in TV history.

The key to the success of that program was Hewitt’s insistence that each of the pieces on the show tell a story. He later said the success of "60 Minutes was a double-edged sword, because it proved to the networks that a show produced by their news divisions could make millions of dollars. Before the success of  "60 Minutes" it was assumed that news was done as a public service and the networks’ news divisions weren’t really required to make money.

He left the program in 2004 at age 82.

On the "60 Minutes" Web site CBS CEO Leslie Moonves said, "In the history of journalism, there have been few who were as creative, dynamic and versatile as Don Hewitt. The depth and breadth of his accomplishments are impossible to measure, because since the very beginnings of our business, he quite literally invented so many of the vehicles by which we now communicate the news."

Hewitt’s death comes just weeks after CBS lost another news giant, the late anchorman Cronkite.

He is survived by wife Marilyn Berger;  two sons from his first marriage, Jeffrey and Steven; two daughters from his second marriage, Lisa Cassara and Jilian Hewitt; and three grandchildren..

To see a PBS video Hewitt made about his career last fall, click here.

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