August 19, 2009
Don Hewitt, far left, at a Newseum program in 1998 commemorating the 30th anniversary of

Don Hewitt, far left, at a Newseum program in 1998 commemorating the 30th anniversary of "60 Minutes." (Newseum collection)

Remembering Don Hewitt

Don Hewitt, the veteran CBS director and producer who once said he would like to die at his desk, died Aug. 19, 2009. He was 86.

For more than 60 years, Hewitt was an innovator in television news.

Long before he was the founder and executive producer of "60 Minutes," the most successful and most imitated newsmagazine in television history, he was associate director of the first evening news program on CBS in 1948: a 15-minute program called "Douglas Edwards with the News."

In 1960, Hewitt directed the first televised presidential debates in U.S. history. The debates, between vice president Richard M. Nixon and Sen. John F. Kennedy, have been called instrumental in Kennedy winning the presidency.

"I remember they looked like they were mismatched. Jack Kennedy looked like some Harvard undergrad, tan, fit, walked into that studio like he owned the world," Hewitt recalled. "Richard Nixon had a staphylococcus infection, banged his knee on the car door when he got out. Looked like death warmed over. … We offered to put some makeup on [Nixon], but he said no, because he didn't want people to say he used makeup and Kennedy didn't. … When the first debate was over, I said, ‘My God, we don't have to wait for election night.’ I said, ‘I just produced a television show that elected a president of the United States.’"

But the show Hewitt was most proud of and to which he will be forever linked is "60 Minutes." The program, Hewitt’s alternative to the impersonal news broadcast, was first broadcast in 1968 with Mike Wallace and Harry Reasoner as co-hosts. It entered the Top Ten in the Nielsen ratings in 1978, and has maintained a spot in the Top 20 for more than 30 years.

One of the scripts from the inaugural "60 Minutes" broadcast is on display in the News Corporation News History Gallery, as well as an exhibit on Hewitt’s life and career.

Hewitt retired as executive producer of "60 Minutes" in 2004 but maintained an advisory role as executive producer at the network.

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