Wednesday, August 19, 2009

RIP Don Hewitt

from Bloomberg:

Aug. 19 (Bloomberg) -- Don Hewitt, who created the enduring CBS television newsmagazine “60 Minutes” and was its sole executive producer for 35 years, has died. He was 86.

He died today, CBS News reported on its Web site. A spokesman for “60 Minutes” said he was diagnosed earlier this year with a tumor, according to CBS News.

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 for CBS News, giving him a say in the network’s news programming.

“I’m going to be the resident pain in the ass,” he told Broadcasting & Cable magazine when the deal was announced.

Hewitt joined CBS’s fledgling news operation in 1948 before he owned his first television set. He oversaw the 15-minute newscast by Douglas Edwards until it was replaced by Walter Cronkite’s half-hour program in 1963. Hewitt also produced the first television debates between presidential candidates Richard Nixon and John Kennedy in 1960.

Hewitt claimed credit for many innovations -- superimposing names on TV images and coining the term “anchorman,” to name two -- but he was most proud of “60 Minutes.” By his estimate, the program generated at least $2 billion in profits in its long run, which began when Lyndon Johnson was in the White House and has continued through eight other presidencies.

Hewitt’s greatest talent was spotting and shaping a compelling story. At “60 Minutes,” he approved story ideas, oversaw the editing and wrote the on-air promotions and teases at the beginning of the broadcast.

“Basically, Don is an editor with cold, hard judgment about what works and what will appeal to people,” veteran “60 Minutes” commentator Andy Rooney told the Los Angeles Times in 1991. “I’m always surprised at how he can look at a piece once and remember every element of it.”


Hewitt’s most public hour came in 1995, when he bowed to a CBS lawyer’s decision to kill a Wallace interview with a tobacco industry whistleblower named Jeffrey Wigand because of a possible threat of litigation.

As a substitute for the interview, Hewitt permitted Wallace to reveal on “60 Minutes” the management decision to pull the story. “That was a first -- a network-news broadcast holding its own management’s feet to the fire,” Hewitt declared in his 2001 memoir.

Hewitt later bristled over Hollywood’s unflattering portrayal of Wallace and himself in “The Insider,” a 1999 movie that essentially accused them of selling out.

Hewitt had two sons, Jeffrey and Steven, from his first marriage and a daughter, Lisa, from his second.

Played in the film by Philip Baker Hall, a chapter of Hewitt's memoir is spent dealing with the fallout the movie caused. In the end, the decisions shown in the film were the ones Hewitt went with. However, a glaringly bad call shouldn't outweigh a lifetime of talent and journalistic contribution. Full Disclosure, The Insider is one of my favortie films.

As far as what Lowell Bergman (Pacino's character) has been up to IRL, this particular episode of Frontline is a must-see.

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