Don Hewitt, The Ringmaster

Morley Safer Looks Back at the Life and Times of 60 Minutes Creator and TV Pioneer Don Hewitt

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This has not been a happy summer for those of us who work at CBS News: last month Walter Cronkite died, and this past week we lost Don Hewitt, the man who created 60 Minutes 41 years ago.

Don was 86, but in his head and in his heart he was a kid. Words like "passion" and "enthusiasm" are too weak to describe this human dynamo.

As correspondent Morley Safer explains, Don was his boss for most of the 45 years he has worked at the network and he was not an easy man to please. But when you did please him, you were on top of the world. And so was he.

He was also a thorn in the side of his corporate bosses, though he liked to describe himself as a pain in the ass.

And he was madly in love with broadcast journalism.

We take a look at Don Hewitt - this founder, producer and above all, ringmaster of what he regarded as the greatest show on earth.



"I once said to CBS, 'In my next contract I want a gun, and a whip and a chair,' because it's like being in a cage full of tigers. And there are temperaments. Not the least of which is mine," Don Hewitt once said.

Ringmaster and lion tamer - Don became a show unto himself. Since the very beginning of television news more than six decades ago, he lived by a deceptively simple motto: "It's four little words. Tell me a story. And that's all we do. Tell 'em a story," he explained.

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Years before 60 Minutes, he was at Edward R. Murrow's side as television expanded its reach to broadcast live, from coast to coast.

He produced the very first televised presidential debate, Kennedy vs. Nixon, in 1960.

He was with Walter Cronkite the day John F. Kennedy was shot.

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And with 60 Minutes, he revolutionized broadcast news, dispatching what he called his "team of tigers" to the four corners of the globe to carry out that four-word mandate: Tell me a story.

"There is no place on Earth that you haven't been," Hewitt said when the broadcast turned 25. "And there's nobody on Earth that you haven't met. …And that is the great value of what we do, I think."

He was, in fact, the boy wonder of CBS News, and remained the awestruck kid well past retirement age. He was opinionated, outrageous, with a quick wit and a short fuse.

"The only problem is that when you've been around as long as I have, you get to be kind of a pain in the ass," Hewitt once said.

And as his friends and colleagues will tell you, on balance, the pleasure of Don's company was mostly worth the pain.

"I mean, he put on a show in the control room. And it was just wonderful. It was hypnotic," Phil Scheffler remembered, who worked at Don's side for over half a century.