Don Hewitt, the CBS News legend who created many of the hallmarks of television news, including its most successful show, 60 Minutes, has died, CBS News reported Tuesday. He was 86.
Over a career lasting more than six decades, Hewitt directed Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite, the most influential newsmen of their era, and helped shape coverage of moments historic both for television and the country, including the first presidential debate, between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon, in 1960.
See photos from 60 Minutes
Hewitt's death followed Cronkite's by just over a month. No cause of death was immediately released.
Hewitt directed the first network television newscast, featuring Douglas Edwards, in 1948, and executive produced the first half-hour network newscast — CBS Evening News With Walter Cronkite — in 1963. His innovations, according to CBS, included the first use of "supers" (the now ubiquitous type at the bottom of a television screen) and cutting back and forth between two projectors. He also introduced the practice of anchors using cue cards — which have now been replaced by the TelePrompTer.
His most visible accomplishment, 60 Minutes, debuted on Sept. 24, 1968. Hewitt took the title of executive producer when he stepped down from the show in 2004.
See Don Hewitt on The Daily Show
Among the many historic moments in which he played a behind-the-scenes role was the Kennedy-Nixon debate — one that emphasized the relatively new power of television and image. Hewitt recalled in his autobiography, Tell Me a Story: Fifty Years and Sixty Minutes in Television
, that he offered makeup to Kennedy, who refused it. Nixon then refused as well. But Kennedy, who was tanned from campaigning in California, needed it less, Hewitt wrote.
"Nixon, who needed some to cover up a sallow complexion and a growth of beard, also said "No thanks,'" Hewitt wrote. "I think he thought it wouldn't be good for his image if the public knew he was made-up and Kennedy wasn't. At any rate, his handlers did a dumb thing... Nixon's guys smeared him with a slapdash layer of something called "shavestick" that looked so terrible that, after looking at him on camera, I called the CBS president, Frank Stanton, into the control room to take a look."
Watch Hewitt talk about Frank Sinatra
Stanton asked one of Nixon's television advisor if he was satisfied with the candidate's appearance, and the advisor said he was.
"Kennedy won hands down (but not on the radio, where looks don't count)," Hewitt wrote.
Hewitt is survived by his wife of 30 years, Marilyn Berger, his sons Steven and Jeffrey by his first wife, Mary Weaver, who predeceased him; a daughter Lisa Cassara, by his second wife, Frankie Hewitt, who died in 2003; and Jilian Childers Hewitt, Frankie Hewitt's daughter by her first husband Bob Childers. Hewitt adopted her, CBS News said.