Don Hewitt dies

'60 Minutes' creator won eight Emmys, two Peabodys

Don Hewitt, who created "60 Minutes" and pioneered many of TV's news reporting methods, died Wednesday of pancreatic cancer at his home in Bridgehampton, N.Y. He was 86.

Although he often said he wanted to die at his desk, Hewitt relinquished his "60 Minutes" post in June 2004 in exchange for a 10-year contract to serve as a producer-at-large at CBS News, giving him a say in the network's news programming.

His death came a month after that of fellow CBS legend Walter Cronkite.

"60 Minutes" was the first TV program to use a newsmagazine format and has been widely copied. Industry estimates suggest CBS' profits from "60 Minutes" are in excess of $2 billion, the most of any program in TV history. The show has won 73 Emmys.

"The formula is simple ...," he wrote about "60 Minutes" in his 2001 memoir, "Tell Me a Story: Fifty Years and 60 Minutes in Television," which chronicles his life as a newsman. "It's reduced to four words every kid in the world knows: Tell me a story. It's that easy."

During his more than 50 years at the network, Hewitt produced and directed broadcasts of the last half-century's major news events, including the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, the installation of Pope John XXIII and the first face-to-face debate between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon during the 1960 presidential campaign.

"Had he not been a television news producer, I think he would have been a circus ringmaster," CBS News "Face the Nation" host Bob Schieffer said. "Just this great showman. Don Hewitt understood that to tell the news, to get people to understand what they need to know about, you have to get them into the tent."

After his longtime stewardship of "60 Minutes," Hewitt continued as a consultant to now-exec producer Jeff Fager and as producer-at-large. It was not an easy transition for the volatile workaholic Hewitt, who did not readily relinquish the reins he held for 35 years.

"I learned everything from him," Fager said.

Hewitt was born Dec. 14, 1922, in New York. After attending NYU for one year, he dropped out and began his journalism career in 1942 as head copyboy at the New York Herald Tribune. During World War II, he served as a correspondent in the European and Pacific theaters. He later became night editor of the Associated Press' Memphis Bureau, serving from 1945-46. He went on to short stints as editor of the Pelham Sun and as night telephoto editor at Acme News Pictures, both in New York.

Beginning his career at CBS News in 1948 as an associate director of "Douglas Edwards With the News," Hewitt served as producer-director of that broadcast for 14 years. He later became executive producer of "CBS Evening News With Walter Cronkite."

Hewitt was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 1990. He won eight Emmys, including a Founders Emmy from the International Council of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences in 1995. He also received two Peabodys, the 1980 Broadcaster of the Year Award from the International Radio and Television Society and numerous lifetime-achievement awards, including from the Overseas Press Club, the Committee to Protect Journalists and the National Association of Broadcasters.

Hewitt also was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Emmy from the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.

During his tenure at "60 Minutes," Hewitt was awarded the 1987-88 Gold Baton, the highest honor bestowed by the Alfred Dupont-Columbia University awards in broadcast journalism, cited "for two decades of reporting that changed the nature of television news."

He was the producer-director of a number of CBS News specials and was executive producer of "CBS Reports: Hunger in America." He directed two three-network specials, "Conversations with the President." As producer-director of "Eyewitness to History," Hewitt covered the travels of presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy and Nixon.

In addition, Hewitt had a leading role in the in CBS News' coverage of every Democratic and Republican National Convention from 1948-80.

In 1993, Hewitt delivered the first William S. Paley lecture at the Museum of Television & Radio.

In addition to his memoir, he also wrote "Minute by Minute," released by Random House in 1985.

He also received honorary doctorates from Brandeis University and the American Film Institute as well as the Algur H. Meadows Award for Excellence in the Arts at Southern Methodist University.

Hewitt was married three times, most recently to Marilyn Berger since 1979.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.