Another giant of television journalism has died -- Don Hewitt, of cancer at 86.
We know him as the founding producer of 60 Minutes on CBS, or perhaps as the producer and director of the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon debate. What is less known is that Hewitt was one of the men who helped to create television journalism, starting in 1948 as an associate director of Douglas Edwards With the News.
OR THAT, according to his CBS obituary, he was behind so much else that gave TV news its shape and character:
He was the 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. Among Hewitt's innovations was the use of cue cards for newsreaders, the electronic version of which, the TelePrompTer, is still used today. He was the first to use "supers" - putting type in the lower third of the television screen. Another invention of Hewitt's was the film "double" - cutting back and forth between two projectors - an editing breakthrough that re-shaped television news. Hewitt also helped develop the positioning of cameras and reporters still used to cover news events, especially political conventions.
IN HIS OBIT on The Associated Press wires, there's a quote from Hewitt's memoir. This really says it all:
Hewitt often said the accepted wisdom for television news writers before “60 Minutes” was to put words to pictures. He believed that was backward.
A Sunday evening fixture, “60 Minutes” was television’s top-rated show four times, most recently in 1992-93. While no longer a regular in the top 10 in Hewitt’s later years, it was still TV’s most popular newsmagazine.
Upon the launch of “60 Minutes,” Hewitt recalled that news executive Bill Leonard told him to “make us proud.”
“Which may well be the last time anyone ever said ‘make us proud’ to anyone else in television,” he wrote in his memoir. “Because Leonard said ‘make us proud’ and not ‘make us money,’ we were able to do both, which I think makes us unique in the annals of television.”
DON HEWITT is dead. And with the passing of each member of his generation of video journalists, television comes just a little bit closer to fulfilling the dire warning about its future, sounded in 1958 by an old CBS colleague, Edward R. Murrow:
This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box. There is a great and perhaps decisive battle to be fought against ignorance, intolerance and indifference. This weapon of television could be useful.
Stonewall Jackson, who knew something about the use of weapons, is reported to have said, "When war comes, you must draw the sword and throw away the scabbard." The trouble with television is that it is rusting in the scabbard during a battle for survival.