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Don Hewitt (1922-2009)

Walter Cronkite may have defined the role of the television news anchor, but CBS producer Don Hewitt -- Hewitt who died of pancreatic cancer Wednesday at age 86 -- practically invented TV news itself. From literally the very first network newscast (which he directed on May 3, 1948, with Douglas Edwards at the anchor desk) through the first televised presidential debate (which he produced on Sept. 26, 1960, with John Kennedy and Richard Nixon at the lecturns) through the first news magazine (60 Minutes, which he created and nursed to the airwaves for the first time on Sept. 24, 1968), Hewitt was at the forefront of virtually every important innovation in TV journalism.

It was Hewitt who in first used cue cards -- the primitive ancestor of the Teleprompter -- for anchors. It was Hewitt who came up with the idea of "supers," putting type in the lower part of the screen. It was Hewitt who first used used two film projectors, allowing editors to cut back and forth in a story. It was Hewitt who pushed hardest for evening newscasts to expand from 15 minutes to 30, and he produced the first one: CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite, on Sept. 2, 1963.

Not all of Hewitt's ideas were gold. Before he thought of using cue cards, he wanted CBS anchor Edwards to learn Braille so he could speak directly into the camera while reading a script with his fingers. And 60 Minutes was a mixed blessing. Not only did the show introduce the so-called ambush interview, a cheapshot tactic that produces great video but lousy journalism, it spawned hordes of penny-ante imitations with an ever-more-tabloid bent. Hewitt himself conceded the proliferation of 60 Minutes ripoffs had less to do with journalism than network economics: "Behind every news magazine there is a failed sitcom.” Not that he had any regrets. "I don't believe in journalism making a mistake is a crime," he said a few years ago. "I think the crime is not admitting that you may have made a mistake."


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