'60 Minutes' Creator Don Hewitt Dies

Long-Running Newsmagazine Became a Powerhouse for CBS

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Don Hewitt, the CBS executive who established one of TV's most durable genres -- the newsmagazine -- and one of its most hallowed programs, "60 Minutes," died Aug. 19 at the age of 86 from pancreatic cancer, CBS News reported.

Don Hewitt
Don Hewitt Credit: AP
Mr. Hewitt, who spent the majority of his 60-year career at CBS, was executive producer at CBS News, a title he took after stepping down as executive producer of "60 Minutes" in 2004.

The venerable newsmagazine remains a solid performer for CBS, and last year it commanded an average of $99,000 for a 30-second commercial, according to Advertising Age research. While certainly not one of the costliest shows on TV, the program remains a respectable performer and can command a sizable audience, particularly when it lands an interview with a newsworthy person. According to TNS Media Intelligence, the show brought in ad revenue of around $104.5 million in 2007 and around $106.7 million in 2008.

"60 Minutes" was only one of Mr. Hewitt's many achievements in the TV industry. In the TV-news business, he was a pioneer. According to CBS News, he directed the first network TV newscast on May 3, 1948 and was executive producer of the first half-hour network newscast when the "CBS Evening News With Walter Cronkite" became the first to go to a 30-minute format on Sept. 2, 1963. He was an innovator in the genre, coming up with the idea to use cue cards for newsreaders and devising an editing technique that called for cutting between two different projectors. In the 1950s, he created "supers," or graphical information that was displayed in the lower third of the TV screen.

In 1967, he came up with the idea for a newsmagazine, an hour of news programming that was broken up into different segments. Populated with the bulldog reporting of Mike Wallace, the series gained attention after its launch on Sept. 24, 1968, but it truly gained momentum after it began running on Sunday evenings just after CBS's Sunday-afternoon football broadcasts. The show had previously run in various time slots for several seasons before a focus on investigative stories and a permanent home on Sunday nights helped "60 Minutes" catch fire.

Record-breaking success
Critics praised the unique program and it won awards from the beginning, but the move to Sundays proved crucial. After its first full season in the 7 p.m. slot, "60 Minutes" became a Top 20 hit in 1977, CBS said. The next year, it was a Top 10 hit, a rank CBS said it reached for 23 straight seasons -- a record, according to the network. In 1980, "60 Minutes" was the No. 1 program, a feat it would achieve five times, a record CBS said was only matched by "All in the Family" and "The Cosby Show." CBS lost its NFL contract in 1994, putting the show's important lead-in on another network, but "60 Minutes" remained a force to be reckoned with, finishing sixth for the 1994-95 season.

The popularity of the program gave rise to countless other newsmagazines, ranging from "Dateline," which at one time appeared several times a week on NBC, to "Nightline," a late-night program on ABC that zeroed in on a particular topic to give viewers a more in-depth look.

Mr. Hewitt was born Dec. 14, 1922, in New York City. His first job was as a copyboy for the New York Herald Tribune in 1942. He soon joined the Merchant Marine, where he served as a war correspondent. In 1946, he returned to the news business as the night editor for the Associated Press in Memphis. After a stint as an editor of a local New York paper and a wire-service photo editor, he joined CBS in 1948 as an associate director for the first network newscast and was promoted to director soon after.

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