Donald Shepard "Don" Hewitt (December 14, 1922 – August 19, 2009) was an American television news producer and executive, best known for creating the CBS television news magazine 60 Minutes 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. Hewitt produced the first televised presidential debate in 1960.
Hewett in 1987
Donald Shepard Hewitt
December 14, 1922
New York City, United States
|Died||August 19, 2009 (aged 86)|
Bridgehampton, New York, United States
|Residence||Bridgehampton, New York|
|Alma mater||New York University (withdrew for military service)|
|Employer||CBS News (1948–2009)|
|Known for||Creator of 60 Minutes|
|Spouse(s)||Mary Weaver (1945–1963; divorced; 2 children)|
Frankie Teague Childers (1963–1974; divorced; 2 children)
Marilyn Berger (1979–2009; his death)
|Awards||Edward R. Murrow Award, Emmy, Peabody Award, Producers Guild of America Award, Television Hall of Fame|
Hewitt was born in New York City, New York, the son of Frieda (née Pike) and Ely S. Hewitt (changed from Hurwitz or Horowitz). His father was a Jewish immigrant from Russia, and his mother's family was of German Jewish descent. Hewitt's family moved to Boston, Massachusetts, shortly after his birth, where his father worked as a classified advertising manager for the Boston Herald American. His family later lived in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He graduated from New Rochelle High School, in New Rochelle, New York.
Hewitt attended New York University and started his journalism career in 1942 as head copyboy for the New York Herald Tribune. He joined the United States Merchant Marine Academy in 1943. After World War II ended in 1945, Hewitt returned to his job as copyboy for the Tribune, then worked for The Associated Press at a bureau in Memphis, Tennessee. However, his wife Mary Weaver—whom he married while working in Memphis—wanted to go to New York City, so he moved back.
Soon he received a lucrative offer at the CBS television network, which was seeking someone who had "picture experience" to help with production of television broadcast. Hewitt started at its news division, CBS News, in 1948 and served as producer-director of the network's evening-news broadcast with Douglas Edwards for fourteen years. He was also the first director of See It Now, co-produced by host Edward R. Murrow and Fred W. Friendly that started in 1951; his use of "two film projectors cutting back and forth breaks up the monotony of a talking head, improves editing, and shapes future news broadcasts." In 1956, Hewitt was the only one to capture on film the final moments of the SS Andrea Doria as it sank and disappeared under the water.
Hewitt directed the televised production of the first 1960 U.S. Presidential candidate debate between Senator John F. Kennedy and Vice-President Richard M. Nixon on September 26, 1960, at the CBS studios in Chicago. These were the first presidential-candidate debates ever televised. He later became executive producer of the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite, helming the famous broadcast of John F. Kennedy's assassination as the story developed.
|"Life and Career of Don Hewitt", April 5, 1994, C-SPAN|
He then launched the eight-time Emmy Award-winning show 60 Minutes. Within ten years, the show reached the top 10 in viewership, a position it maintained for 21 of the following 22 seasons, until the 1999–2000 season.
Hewitt was a primary figure in the televising of a 1996 60 Minutes documentary on the tobacco-industry scandal involving the tobacco company Brown & Williamson, in which the program reported the allegations of whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand. The scandal was the inspiration for the 1999 film The Insider. Hewitt was portrayed in the film by Philip Baker Hall.
Declining ratings at 60 Minutes—after decades of being in the top 10, the show had dropped in rankings to number 20—contributed to what became a public debate in 2002 about whether it was time for CBS to replace Hewitt at 60 Minutes. According to The New York Times, Jeff Fager, producer of 60 Minutes II, was being floated as a possible replacement, speculation that proved to be accurate. The show was still generating an estimated profit of more than $20 million a year, but the decline in viewership and profit meant the show could no longer "operate as an island unto itself, often thumbing its nose at management while demanding huge salaries and perquisites." Within a couple of years, Hewitt stepped aside as executive producer at the age of 81, signing a ten-year contract with CBS to be an executive producer-at-large for CBS News.
In January 2010, 60 Minutes dedicated an entire show to the story and memory of Don Hewitt.
In 2018, an internal CBS investigation found that in the 1990s Hewitt had been accused of repeatedly sexually assaulting a former CBS employee over a period of years. CBS determined that the employee's allegations were credible and by 2018 had paid her over $5 million in settlements in exchange for her silence.
Hewitt was married three times:
|Booknotes interview with Hewitt on Tell Me a Story, April 1, 2001, C-SPAN|
In 1985, Random House published Minute by Minute (ISBN 0394546415), a look at the history of 60 Minutes. In 2001, PublicAffairs published Tell Me a Story: Fifty Years and 60 Minutes in Television (ISBN 1586480170), in which Hewitt chronicles his life as a newsman.
Although based on a true story, certain elements in this motion picture have been fictionalized for dramatic effect.
Television Hall of Fame Class of 1989