- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 20, 2009

NEW YORK | Don Hewitt, the CBS News executive who invented “60 Minutes” and produced the popular newsmagazine for 36 years, died Wednesday. He was 86.

He died of pancreatic cancer at his Bridgehampton home, CBS said. His death came one month after that of fellow CBS legend Walter Cronkite.

Mr. Hewitt joined CBS News in television’s infancy in 1948, and produced the first televised presidential debate between Sen. John F. Kennedy and Vice President Richard M. Nixon 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, when the trademark “60 Minutes” stopwatch began ticking.

He dreamed of a television version of Life, the dominant magazine of the mid-20th century, in which interviews with entertainers could appear 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.”

Hard-driven reporter Mike Wallace, Mr. Hewitt’s first hire, became the journalist those in power did not want on their doorsteps. Harry Reasoner, Morley Safer, Ed Bradley and Diane Sawyer are among those who have also reported for the show.

“60 Minutes” won 73 Emmy Awards, 13 DuPont-Columbia University Awards and nine Peabody Awards during Mr. Hewitt’s stewardship, which ended in 2004. A Sunday evening fixture, “60 Minutes” was television’s top-rated show four times, most recently in 1992-93.

Among his other jobs, Mr. 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, and was the first to “superimpose” words on the TV screen for a news show.

Before the famous 1960 presidential debate, Mr. Hewitt asked Mr. Kennedy if he wanted makeup. Tanned and fit, Mr. Kennedy said no. Mr. Nixon followed his lead. Big mistake.

“As every student of politics knows, that debate - like a Miss America contest - turned on who made the better appearance, not with what he said but with how he looked,” Mr. Hewitt recalled later. “Kennedy won hands down.”

Donald Shepard Hewitt was born in New York City 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.

Mr. Hewitt is survived by his wife of 30 years, journalist Marilyn Berger, two sons from his first marriage and two daughters from his second marriage. Ms. Berger, who worked for the New York Times, The Washington Post and NBC, was his third wife.

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