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A legendary figure in 20th century television journalism, Don Hewitt was the creator and producer of "60 Minutes" (CBS, 1968- ), the longest running and one of the most influential news programs in the medium's history. Hewitt graduated from print to work his way up the ladder at CBS News, and developed a reputation for producing and directing hard-hitting and in-depth magazine-style shows that addressed multiple stories with greater scope and investigation than the nightly news. "60 Minutes" was his greatest and most popular program, and its combination of powerful coverage and hard-line interviews set the tone for investigative journalism for much of the four decades after its inception. The show's legacy was Hewitt's, and it helped cement him as one of TV's most insightful visionaries.
Born in New York City, NY on Dec. 14, 1922, Don Hewitt was the son of Eastern European immigrant parents who moved to Boston shortly after his birth. The newspaper business was part of his life from the very beginning - Hewitt's father was a classified advertising manager for the Boston Herald American, and Hewitt himself began penning his first articles for the school newspaper while the family lived in New Rochelle, NY. He briefly attended New York University before beginning his professional career as an office boy and head copy boy for the New York Herald Tribune. Hewitt eventually worked his way up to correspondent, serving in that capacity for Stars and Stripes in both the European and Pacific theaters during World War II. Upon his return to the U.S., he dove headlong into the newspaper business as the night editor for the Associate Press's Memphis bureau from 1945-46, and later as editor of the Pelham Sun and photo editor for Acme News Pictures.
Hewitt joined CBS as associate director of "The CBS Television News" (CBS, 1948-1972) before serving as the program's producer-director for the next 14 years. During that period, Hewitt not only oversaw the first usage of videotape technology to time delay television broadcasts, but the influential tenure of Walter Cronkite, who served as the show's anchor and a moral compass for the nation for 18 years. These were only a handful of the landmarks achieved by Hewitt during his early years at CBS; he was also the first director for Edward R. Murrow's Emmy and Peabody Award-winning "See It Now" news magazine, which contributed to the downfall of the Communist witch hunts in the 1950s. He was also a producer-director on the documentary program "Eyewitness to History" (CBS, 1960-63), which provided in-depth analysis of current news stories, and directed the first face-to-face TV debate between Presidential candidates John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon in 1960. With Kennedy and later Lyndon Johnson, Hewitt would direct the groundbreaking "Conversations with the President," a trio of documentary-style interviews that would be broadcast on all three networks. He would also play a major role in CBS's coverage of all political campaigns between 1948 and 1960.
Hewitt's true genius lay in the news broadcast as documentary, which would see its fullest potential with "60 Minutes." Its format, inspired by the Canadian news program "This Hour Has Seven Days" (CBS, 1964-66), breached the gap between the traditional television newscast and the newsmagazines he had worked on in the 1950s. Rather than centering the show around a single host, Hewitt made the reporters who covered the three main stories the hosts, and focused its coverage on the individuals who made up the headlines, rather than the broad scope of the story itself. "60 Minutes" struggled to find a foothold with audiences in its early years, but with the introduction of more profile-driven coverage, as well as harder investigative techniques - including hidden cameras and surprise interviews pioneered by Mike Wallace - the show's longest-running correspondent, it eventually transformed into a weekly powerhouse in the mid-1970s and remained in the Top 10 for 23 seasons in a row, including five straight years as the highest-rated program on television.
The show's successes were numerous - investigations into allegations of friendly fire in the Gulf War, cover-ups of military technology, and the CIA's involvement in drug smuggling were all Peabody Award winners - but it also yielded its share of controversies as well. A report on General William Westmoreland that suggested he had held back information about the Vietnam War from the government resulted in a lawsuit and negative press for "60 Minutes." The 1995 coverage of industry whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand's statements about tobacco giant Brown and Williamson's cover-up of the health risks inherent to its product also brought its share of brickbats; Hewitt reportedly balked on running the story, which resulted in condemnations from the press. The entire affair later served as the inspiration for Michael Mann's feature "The Insider" (1995), with actor Philip Baker Hall as Hewitt.
But the high water marks and true moments of journalistic excellence far exceeded the low points for "60 Minutes," and both Hewitt and the show reaped countless awards for their work, including five Peabody Awards and the ATAS Broadcast Journalism Award for Outstanding Achievement in Broadcast Journalism in 1977. In 1993, the program was inducted in the National Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame. Hewitt himself won eight Emmy Awards and a Peabody, as well as the Broadcaster of the Year Award in 1980. In later years, his tireless dedication to the profession earned him membership in the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences' Hall of Fame, as well as the Producers Guild of America's Lifetime Achievement Award in 1990 and 1993, respectively. Hewitt and his "60 Minutes" collaborators Mike Wallace and Andy Rooney each received the Gold Medal Award from the International Radio and Television Society. There were also numerous laurels from colleges and broadcasting associations in the final decades of his life; most notably the George Polk Memorial Award, the Lowell Thomas Centennial Award from Marist College, and the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Journalism, among countless others.
Hewitt penned Tell Me a Story: Fifty Years and '60 Minutes' in Television in 2001. In 2004, he stepped away from his "60 Minutes" producer's chair to spend his final years in receipt of the praise his storied career so richly deserved. Admirers and critics alike were stunned to learn that he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in March of 2009. The disease would take his life on August 19 at age 86, but not before the world last heard from Hewitt, who, only a month prior to his own passing, called in to news programs to discuss the death of his old friend, Walter Cronkite, on July 17. Though Cronkite had been the more visible of the two, the media did right by Hewitt, paying tribute to him as one of television's most creative and enterprising figures.
Producer (Feature Film)
Editing (Feature Film)
Misc. Crew (Special)
Joined the Merchant Marine Academy; became a war correspondent in London during WWII for Stars and Stripes
Successfully interviewed for a job at CBS while working for Acme Newspictures
Produced and directed the first "Nixon-Kennedy Debate"
Executive produced the "CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite" for one season
Created and executive produced the CBS news magazine, "60 Minutes"
On-air role on "60 Minutes: More" (CBS' cable station)
Portrayed in the film "The Insider" by actor Philip Baker Hall
Stepped down as executive producer of CBS' "60 Minutes," but continued to work on the show