At 80, Don Hewitt says he still has all the vim and vitality he needs to run 60 Minutes
on a weekly basis. But two years from now? "Who knows?" said Hewitt, who created the landmark show and has been its sole executive producer for its entire 35-year run. "I'd like to believe I'd be up for doing it, but there's no guarantee of that."
Now that's a moot point.
Hewitt and CBS last week came to terms on a new 10-year deal that will see him segue into a new role—executive producer of CBS News—in June 2004, when 60 Minutes II
executive producer Jeff Fager, will take over.
"I sort of got my masters in broadcast journalism from him," Fager said of Hewitt.
Replacing him will be a daunting task: "Someone once said you don't want to be the one that replaces the legend," Fager said, "but the guy that replaces the guy that replaced the legend. A lot of people are lining up right now."
For years, Hewitt said he would "die at my desk" at the production offices of 60 Minutes. Meanwhile, there were whispers that CBS, concerned by the program's very old demographics, wanted to replace him. As the reports circulated, Hewitt hinted on CNN's Larry King Live
that, if CBS didn't want him, he might join another network.
Last week's agreement put an end to the sparring while giving Hewitt a new challenge (one he says he was "born" for). "I'm going to be the resident pain in the ass," he quipped. He'll not only advise Fager but weigh in on every other CBS News program.
"There is no way to overstate what Don Hewitt has meant to CBS," said Leslie Moonves, president and CEO of CBS.
Hewitt joined CBS News in 1948. He produced 1960's John Kennedy-Richard Nixon debates, a television first, and was executive producer of the CBS Evening News With Walter Cronkite. He estimates that, since debuting in 1968, 60 Minutes
has generated $2 billion in profit for CBS.
Fager, just a pup at 48, was a producer at 60 Minutes
for six years before joining the Evening News With Dan Rather as senior broadcast producer in 1994. Named executive producer of the Evening News
in 1996, he left to develop and launch 60 Minutes II