"I said, 'in all these hours of entertainment, couldn't you find sixty minutes for some kind of a news magazine?'"
About This Interview
In his two-and-a-half hour Archive interview, Don Hewitt (1922-2009) speaks articulately about the beginnings of broadcast journalism. He recalls the days of Douglas Edwards with the News. He further reflects on the profound influence of Fred Friendly, Edward R. Murrow and William Paley. He also recounts the creation and success of 60 Minutes. Michael Rosen conducted the interview in New York, NY on April 15, 1997.
Don Hewitt is a genius at what he does--and he does 60 Minutes. But Hewitt has done more in his TV career than be the founder and executive producer of that enormously successful progrm. It was Hewitt who directed Edward R. Murrow's early TV experiment of bridging the U.S. continent with TV. It was Hewitt who, while producing-directing the first Kennedy-Nixon debate in 1960, attempted to advise Nixon to use appropriate make-up to cover his wan appearance. Nixon didn't listen, lost the debate, and lost the election. And moving from the sublime to the entrepreneurial, Hewitt ventured (unsuccessfully) into cable home shopping 33 years later.
Don Hewitt began his work in the world of print journalism, but he quickly moved to CBS TV where he has spent the entirety of his career. He not only produced-directed Douglas Edwardswith the News from 1948 to 1962, but also the first year (1963-64) of the trend setting CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite. These two programs had a tremendous influence on the general development of television news programming, as well as on CBS's own nightly news. Hewitt was also responsible for CBS's coverage of the national political conventions between 1948 and 1980, and directed Conversations with the President (i.e., Presidents Kennedy and Johnson), programs that were "pooled" for all three networks. Among this significant body of work, however, his most notable, profitable, and successful venture was the creation of 60 Minutes in 1968.
60 Minutes has been one of the premiere programs ever produced by CBS. CBS counts the profits from this show significantly in excess of a billion dollars. And such profits bring independence and power to Hewitt. He doesn't hesitate to attack network executives as being deficient in foresight and fortitude and he reportedly has the best employment contract in the history of network broadcasting. The unparalleled success of Hewitt's 60 Minutes has led to considerable speculation regarding programming strategies. Some surmise that the program benefited from following National Football League (NFL) games on CBS for so many years. But the NFL moved to the FOX Television Network in 1994 and 60 Minutes continued to flourish (as it had before it followed the games). Reuven Frank, late of NBC, who clearly suffered under the success of Hewitt's 60 Minutes, called the show "star journalism," a form in which reporters such as Mike Wallace are the heroes whose questions are more important than the subsequent answers. And the Federal Communication Commission's (FCC) Prime Time Access Rule (PTAR) has also been credited with contributing to 60 Minutes' success. The PTAR limited network offerings at 7:00-8:00 P.M. (EST) on Sunday to public affairs or children's programming. When Hewitt's program moved to this time slot in 1975 the argument goes, there was no real competition from entertainment programming and CBS began raking in huge audiences, hungry advertisers, and giant profits. Most observers, however, give Hewitt the credit for the success of 60 Minutes. As Peter Jennings of ABC put it, the success of 60 Minutes is a "testimony to Don Hewitt's imagination and his editing."
Hewitt has an extraordinary news judgement and editing ability. He creates stories in a manner that appeals to the average person. He admits he is not college educated, is not really intellectual, and that he identifies with the middle-of-the-road American. He knows what the average person likes to watch on TV. His formula for 60 Minutes stories is not complex. He simply understands that the audience wants the hero--Wallace, or Morley Safer, or Ed Bradley, or Diane Sawyer, or Leslie Stahl--to drive the bad guys out of town. These people have been known in the TV industry as Hewitt's "anchor monsters." Despite these formidable skills, Hewitt is not always known as a nice or likeable person. His handling of 60 Minutes producers and staff is at best volatile and heavy handed. When Harry Reasoner, one of the first and best-liked anchors of the program, was dying of cancer, Hewitt reportedly removed him from the program with very little apparent sensitivity to Reasoner or other staff. On the other hand, as Andy Rooney of 60 Minutes has observed of Hewitt, "I don't think the show would last without him."
Hewitt's accomplishments have earned him countless honors and awards, including a place in the Television Hall of Fame. But perhaps the greatest recognition came from one of his colleagues who said, Don Hewitt "invented the wheel" in the business of television news.
Campbell, R. 60 Minutes and the News. Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1991.
Flander, J. "Hewitt's Humongous Hour." Washington Journalism Review (Washington, D.C.), April 1991.
Madsen, A. 60 Minutes: The Power & The Politics of America's Most Popular TV News Show. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1984.
Wallace, M., and G. P. Gates. Close Encounters: Mike Wallace's Own Story. New York: William Morrow, 1984.
DON HEWITT. Born in New York City, New York, U.S.A., 14 December 1922. Died 19 August 2009. Attended New York University, 1941. Married: 1) Mary Weaver (died, early 1960s); 2) Frankie Hewitt (divorced), children: Jeffrey, Steven, Jill, and Lisa; 3) Marilyn Berger, 1979. Served as merchant marine correspondent and war correspondent for Stars and Stripes during World War II. Office boy and head copy boy, New York Herald Tribune, 1941; night editor, Associated Press, Memphis, Tennessee; editor, Pelham Sun, New York, 1946; night telephoto editor, Acme News Pictures, 1947; associate director, CBS TV News, 1948; sole producer-director, Douglas Edwards with the News, 1950-62; executive producer, The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite, 1963-64; produced CBS documentaries, 1965-68; creator and executive producer, 60 Minutes since 1968. Honorary degree, Brandeis University, DFA, 1990. Recipient: gold medal, International Radio and TV Society, 1988; Broadcaster of the Year award, 1980; Peabody award, 1989; named to Hall of Fame, National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, 1990; Producers Guild of America Lifetime award, 1993. Address: CBS News/60 Minutes, 555 W. 57th St., New York, New York 10019, U.S.A.
1950-62 Douglas Edwards With the News 1962-64 CBS Evening News With Walter Cronkite 1968- 60 Minutes