Don Hewitt's Favorite 60 Minutes Moments

Lesley Stahl Looks Back At Some of Don Hewitt's Favorite 60 Minutes Moments

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60 Minutes also used the "ambush interview," and Don came under criticism for it.

"What does that add to a piece? What is it doing there, aside, in my view at least, imply that the guy has something to hide?" Jeff Greenfield asked Hewitt.

"Well, it's more than implying that he has something to hide, it's showing he's got something to hide. But, it is the only way you get to see the man about whom we are doing the story," Hewitt said.

But Don came to think the broadcast was overdoing these kinds of stories - that they were becoming a parody of TV news. After that, he rarely gave permission to use techniques like a hidden camera.

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It's easy to forget how much of a revolutionary Don Hewitt was. When he thought up the idea of 60 Minutes in 1968, he changed the very definition of television news.

"Up to that point, television news was always very, very serious, very ponderous, very important, and the light stuff was Jackie Gleason, Lucille Ball, Mary Tyler Moore, and news never wanted to delve into the lighter side of life, and I think if you put them both in the same mix, you got a winner, and it turned out to be right," Hewitt said.

"I remember, Ed, your getting Lena Horne to tell you some secrets about her sex life," Hewitt told Bradley.

Lena Horne and Ed Bradley


Even when 60 Minutes went to "the lighter side" in terms of subject matter, Don still wanted his correspondents to bore in, and ask the real shockers.

For example, Steve Kroft once asked Jerry Seinfeld if he though he was immature.

Asked if he was sexually immature, Seinfeld ended the conversation by saying, "I am not going to talk about being sexually immature on Minutes."

"Somebody once said to me, 'Would you do Britney Spears on 60 Minutes?' I said, 'Of course I would do Britney Spears on 60 Minutes if she had something to say,'" Hewitt explained.

Don felt that a 60 Minutes profile was a mark of achievement, that it meant someone had a body of work, of accomplishments worthy of our attention.

"You say that you are having a terrible time coming to terms with the 21st century," Barbara Walters asked Hewitt. "What's the trouble?"

"It's not familiar to me. You know, I'm still living Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. I live in another world," Hewitt replied.

"Yet you produce a news magazine that has to be up to date," Walters pointed out.

"Well, maybe having a foot in the past helps you deal with the present better," Hewitt said.

One thing that kept him fresh was that, from time to time, he would join his producers and correspondents on the road, and take over. For example, he joined Steve Kroft when Kroft interviewed Bill and Hillary Clinton in 1992.

"I think at some point you're going to have be as candid as you know how and then from there on you say, 'I said it on 60 Minutes. If you want to know what I think or said on the subject, go get the tape and run it again. I've said it all," Hewitt said.

Forty minutes into the interview, the hot television lights crashed down from the ceiling, nearly hitting the Clintons and scaring everyone in the room. Don suggested getting on with the interview.

On another occasion, Don decided to accompany Stahl to interview Boris Yeltsin.

"We get there, he's in his tennis clothes. 'Nyet,' he says. 'Nyet. No interview. No interview,' like that. I said, 'Okay. I'm out of here.' I'm walking away," she remembered.

"That's right. She's going to leave. I said, 'Go up to the tennis courts for Christ sakes," Hewitt remembered.

Boris Yeltsin and Lesley Stahl


When the correspondents and producers revealed something about a person, he'd praise us with his highest compliment: "Wow," he'd say. "I didn't know that."

"It's sensational," Hewitt would praise.

"I have never had the slightest interest in an issue," Hewitt said. "I only want to get stories of people dealing with issues whose lives are affected by issues. And we narrowed them down to bite sized where you could understand it and digest it. "

60 Minutes was Don Hewitt's life. "If I were gonna trade jobs with anybody in the world I'd trade 'em with Mike, and I wouldn't trade jobs with Mike. I get a better job than Mike, I'm Mike's boss," he said.

He never burned out, never ran out of energy for the telling of stories - he simply loved what he did. "You know, you look back on all these things, and you can't believe you lived through all this," he said.

Produced by Karen Sughrue