Don Hewitt life and biography

Don Hewitt picture, image, poster

Don Hewitt biography

Date of birth : 1922-12-14
Date of death : 2009-08-19
Birthplace : New York City, New York, U.S.
Nationality : American
Category : Famous Figures
Last modified : 2010-09-08
Credited as : Television news producer , CBS news executive, creator of "60 Minutes" news magazine

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Donald Shepard Hewitt, born December 14, 1922 in New York, New York – died August 19, 2009 was an American television news producer and executive, best known for creating 60 Minutes, the CBS television news magazine in 1968, which at the time of his death, was the longest-running prime-time broadcast on American television. Under Hewitt's leadership, 60 Minutes was the only news program ever rated the nation's top-ranked television program, an achievement it accomplished five times. Don produced the first televised presidential debate in the 1960.

"Sidelights"



Don Hewitt is a longtime CBS News executive who is best known as the founding producer of 60 Minutes, television's acclaimed investigative journalism series. Hewitt's idea for an hour-long news show, staffed by an ensemble of television journalists who would each host a short segment, has revolutionized television news programming. While other shows have adopted the same format, 60 Minutes remains the most popular news magazine, logging top-ten Nielsen ratings in three successive decades. Booklist correspondent Mary Carroll observed that, for his role in creating and guiding 60 Minutes, Hewitt "may be the most powerful invisible journalist in the world."

Hewitt came to CBS News after working for several years as a journalist, including stints as a war correspondent for the U.S. Army's Stars and Stripes and an editor with the Associated Press in Memphis. Hired by CBS News in 1948, Hewitt began working as associate director of the network's CBS TV News, but by 1950 he was serving as both producer and director of the show, which was renamed Douglas Edwards with the News. Hewitt remained with CBS's television news for the next fourteen years, and during that period he pioneered technical innovations, particularly in graphics. In addition, he conceived of the newsroom as the actual broadcasting studio, and he devised unconventional means of presenting news, including aerial views from planes.

During Hewitt's tenure at CBS, the network's evening news show, which became CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite in the early 1960s, bested its competitors in the ratings. Despite this success, Hewitt was dismissed from the program in 1964. For the next few years he concentrated on documentary productions, including CBS Reports: Hunger in America, which earned the network an Emmy Award.

In 1968 Hewitt convinced executives that an investigative news program would bring further success to the CBS network, and thus 60 Minutes was developed. The show, which initially featured broadcasters Harry Reasoner and Mike Wallace, soon established itself as a provocative, compelling forum for reports on social and political developments. Notable among the subjects explored on 60 Minutes in its early years were student unrest in Europe, black activism, drug addiction, child abuse, and war crimes. These serious pieces were balanced by celebrity interviews, segments on the fine arts, and the short humorous observations of Andy Rooney.

For more than twenty years, 60 Minutes, with its controversial topics, has maintained a strong hold on television viewers. Indeed, E. J. Kahn, Jr., in a two-part New Yorker essay, described 60 Minutes as "the most widely watched nonentertainment series in television history." Personalities such as Andy Rooney, Morley Safer, Barbara Walters, Ed Bradley, Dan Rather, and Diane Sawyer have all contributed to the show's sustained success, but Hewitt is often accorded the principal credit. "You take Don out," Dan Rather told Martha Smilgis of People, "and the whole thing collapses."

Hewitt insists that his achievement with 60 Minutes is the result of his instincts, as opposed to his intellect. "I operate by my guts and fingertips," he told Kahn. He also observed, "I don't articulate very well, but I can take a producer and an editor into a screening room and show them what's wrong." Hewitt is also baffled by the show's consistent appeal with American television viewers. "I don't really have any idea why people watch us," he told Kahn in the New Yorker articles. And he added, "Maybe it's because they just think they ought to watch it."

Hewitt's book Minute by Minute, which appeared in 1985, provides what Toronto Globe and Mail reviewer Desmond Smith described as "a sanitized yet compulsively readable account of [Hewitt's] . . . decades inside CBS News." Smith, who hailed Hewitt as "the most accomplished camera director of his generation," found Minute by Minute "packed . . . with great pictures and amusing anecdotes." Similarly, Richard F. Shepard wrote in his New York Times appraisal, "Mostly, Mr. Hewitt shoots the breeze, and a lot of it is downright amusing."

In 2001 Hewitt published a memoir, Tell Me a Story: Fifty Years and 60 Minutes in Television. Raymond L. Fischer in USA Today Magazine felt that the book "is a frank, honest look at Hewitt's personal life, his work in television, and, most importantly, his analysis of contemporary television." Hewitt provides behind-the-scenes anecdotes--not always flattering--about his decisions and the people he has worked with. He offers an assessment of broadcast news and his own predictions of the future of televised newscasts. Variety contributor Av Westin commented that the stories in Hewitt's book "brim with personal touches, enthusiasm, the energy of creativity and the excitement of discovery." In a Columbia Journalism Review piece, Marvin Kitman wrote: "Since his book is an autobiography, [Hewitt] has every right to blow his own horn. Who knows the story better? And, after a half century in TV, in which he candidly admits he has 'seen it all and done it all,' he has much to be proud of."

PERSONAL INFORMATION

Born December 14, 1922, in New York, NY; son of Ely S. (in advertising sales) and Frieda (Pike) Hewitt; married Mary Weaver (deceased); married second wife, Frankie (divorced); married Marilyn Berger (a television news correspondent), April 14, 1979; children: Jeffrey, Steven, Jill, Lisa. Education: Attended New York University, 1941, and Merchant Marine Academy. Avocational Interests: Tennis, poker, Scrabble, watching professional football on television.

AWARDS

Seven Emmy Awards, Academy of Television Arts and Sciences; George Polk Memorial Award; distinguished service to journalism award, University of Missouri; broadcaster of the year award, International Radio and Television Society, 1980; Paul White Award, National Press Foundation, 1985; Paul White Memorial Award, Radio-Television News Directors Association, 1987; Alfred I. Dupont-Columbia University Award, 1988; gold medal, International Television and Radio Society, 1988; Peabody Award, 1989; Television Hall of Fame selection, Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, 1990; honorary degree, Brandeis University, 1990; Lowell Thomas Centennial Award, Marist College, and Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Journalism, Joan Shorenstein Barone Center, Harvard University, both 1992; honorary doctorate in fine arts, American Film Institute; Astral Award for Excellence in Broadcasting, Banff Television Festival, 1998; President's Award for Lifetime Achievement, Overseas Press Club, 1998; Spirit of America Award, People for the American Way Foundation, and Burton Benjamin Memorial Award, Committee to Protect Journalists, both 1999; Fred Friendly First Amendment Award, Quinnipiac College, 2000; Carr Van Anda Award, E. W. Scripps School of Journalism, 2001; Algur H. Meadows Award for Excellence in the Arts, Meadows School of the Arts at Southern Methodist University, 2002.

CAREER

New York Herald Tribune, New York, NY, head copyboy, 1942; war correspondent for Stars and Stripes, 1943; Associated Press, Memphis, TN, night editor, 1945; Pelham Sun, New York, NY, editor, 1946; Acme News Pictures, New York, NY, night telephoto editor, c. 1947; CBS News, New York, NY, began as associate director, became producer and director of CBS TV News (later renamed Douglas Edwards with the News), 1948-62, producer at Cape Canaveral, 1960-65, executive producer of CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite, 1961-64, producer and director of various documentaries and special reports, 1965-68, executive producer of 60 Minutes, 1968--, and Who's Who, 1977.

WRITINGS

* Minute by Minute (nonfiction), Random House (New York, NY), 1985.
* Tell Me a Story: Fifty Years and 60 Minutes in Television (memoir), Public Affairs (New York, NY), 2001.

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