When you’re dealing with a national or international story, you have to find the local tie-in. I was busy enough during the day to have not taken the time to read or watch any news until about 9:30pm. That’s when I watched my DVR’d CBS Evening News and found out that Don Hewitt had passed away.
Long before I worked in TV news, I was a big time news fan. I remember watching Peter Jennings regularly the first time he was anchoring at ABC… when he was in his mid-20s. CBS Reports, all the hour-long “instant” network specials when there was a big story in the days before cable news. And I was a big enough fan of Harry Reasoner’s relaxed style that I watched 60 Minutes pretty much from the first episode.
Hewitt’s first TV job was producing CBS’s first evening newscast. So, he did as much as anybody to create the form. In their obit, CBS News blamed a change in management for Hewitt losing his job as executive producer of the evening news. That would have been Fred Friendly, when he became president of the news division. The two worked together on “See It Now,” Friendly producing, Hewitt directing. Still, if Walter Cronkite had wanted Hewitt to keep the Evening News job, I have to think he would have.
Still, it turned out to be one of Friendly’s best decisions. It put Hewitt in the documentary unit, where he came up with the idea that became 60 Minutes. I wish they still did “Point-Counterpoint” and read letters, but that’s just me.
Where’s the local angle you ask? Here’s a couple. After World War II, when Don Hewitt got a job with the Associated Press, it was in the Memphis bureau. He got married while working here, but his wife wanted to live in NYC. And former WREG news photographer Dan Bussell left Memphis to work at a couple of local stations in New York before getting a job at 60 Minutes, where he still works today.