60 Minutes Creator Don Hewitt Dead at 86

Don Hewitt, who created 60 Minutes and pioneered many of TV’s news reporting methods, has died. He was 86. The cause of death has not been announced.

60 Minutes was the first TV program to use a newsmagazine format and has been widely copied. According to industry estimates, CBS’ profits from 60 Minutes are in excess of a billion dollars, the most of any program in TV history.

During his more than 50 years at CBS, 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 presidential nominees John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon during the 1960 campaign.

After his longtime stewardship of 60 Minutes, Hewitt stepped down as executive producer in June 2004 at age 80 but continued as a consultant to Jeff Fager and as an executive producer at large for CBS News. It was not an easy transition for the volatile workaholic Hewitt, who did not readily relinquish reins of 60 Minutes.

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 Peabody awards, and two awards honoring his lifetime achievements in journalism, from the Overseas Press Club and the Committee to Protect Journalists. In 1980, he was given the Broadcaster of the Year Award by the International Radio and Television society.

During his tenure at 60 Minutes, Hewitt was honored with the 1987-88 Gold Baton, the highest of the Alfred I. 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 the award-winning 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.

Hewitt had a leading role in the in CBS News’ coverage of every Democratic and Republican National Convention from 1948 to 1980.

Donald S. Hewitt was born December 14, 1922 in New York City. After attending NYU for one year, Hewitt dropped out and began his journalism career in 1942 as head copyboy for the New York Herald Tribune. During World War II, he served as a correspondent in both the European and Pacific Theaters. He later became night editor of the AP’s Memphis Bureau, serving 1945-46. He went on to stints as editor of the Pelham Sun and was night telephoto editor for Acme News Pictures.

Hewitt began his career with CBS News in 1948 as an associate director of Douglas Edwards with the News, serving as producer-director of the broadcast for 14 years. He later became executive producer of the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite.

In 1992, he served as a guest lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley graduate School of Journalism. In 1993, Hewitt delivered the first William S. Paley lecture at the Museum of Television & Radio.

Hewitt is the author of Tell Me a Story: Fifty Year and 60 Minutes in Television, which chronicles his life as a newsman. He also wrote the book Minute by Minute, released by Random House in 1985.

Hewitt won numerous other honors: American Federation of television and Radio actors George Heller Lifetime Achievement Award, the Spirit award, as well as a lifetime achievement award from the National Association of Broadcasters.

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