Don Hewitt

The CBS News veteran and television pioneer died today at age 86.

Few other figures had such an influence on the news business.

He directed Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite in the 1950s and 60s, and produced the coverage of the Nixon-Kennedy debates in 1960. But he’ll be best known as the creator of “60 Minutes,” a show that fused hard news and light subjects in a formula that was forerunner of the “infotainment” landscape of newsmagazines, entertainment gossip shows and even reality television.

“I consider myself a guy who married ‘show biz’ and ‘news biz,’ “ he said in 2007.

Hewitt was the director of “See It Now,” the newsmagazine created by Murrow and Fred Friendly that helped define journalism’s place at the dawn of television. The series was best known for its series of reports in 1954 on the Communist witch hunts, with Murrow targeting Senator Joseph McCarthy in particular. It signaled the decline of McCarthy’s influence, although the hysteria of the Red Scare was far from over. The series of controversial broadcasts formed the basis of George Clooney’s movie “Good Night, and Good Luck,” in which Grant Heslov played Hewitt.

Hewitt directed the first network newscast with Douglas Edwards in 1948, and came up with many technical innovations still used on the air today, like a special use of cue cards that eventually became the Teleprompter.

The 1960 debates were a turning point that reflected television’s power to influence the political process.

From CBS News’ obituary: “As Hewitt recalled in many interviews, he offered makeup to Kennedy first, who refused. Nixon, following Kennedy’s cue, also refused. But the suntanned Kennedy was a vigorous contrast to Nixon, whose pasty complexion put his five o’clock shadow in high relief. Hewitt later rued the day as the first step in the dangerous dance between politicians and the special interests that provide the big money to buy the now crucial television advertising.”

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