Hewitt will hand over editorial control to Jeff Fager, executive producer of 60 Minutes II, at the end of the 2003-2004 season. Fager’s replacement has not yet been named.
Hewitt created 60 Minutes, the nation’s first televised news magazine, in 1968, and has remained in charge of the program for the past 35 years.
The program made history — to the surprise of network officials — by becoming the first news program to break into the top ten Nielsen ratings. 60 Minutes continues to be the nation’s most-watched news program.
CBS News President Andrew Heyward on Monday praised Hewitt as one of the “most innovative and influential individuals in the history of broadcast journalism.”
Under a new multi-year contract, Hewitt next year will take on the new role of executive producer at CBS News to develop new projects and work with Fager to ensure a smooth transition. Details of Hewitt’s new multi-year agreement were not revealed, but Heyward said he expected Hewitt to continue to contribute to CBS programming.
“Don holds a unique position in the history of broadcast journalism: a founding father who continues to build on his own extraordinary legacy,” Heyward said. “I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next, and I’m thrilled that it will happen here at CBS News.”
CBS Chief Executive Leslie Moonves on Monday also lauded Hewitt’s accomplishments.
“There is no way to overstate what Don Hewitt has meant to CBS,” Moonves said. “And there aren’t too many people who have literally created standards by which an entire industry has operated.”
As 60 Minutes’ executive producer, Hewitt is responsible for selecting which stories to air. Fager, 48, was widely reported as Hewitt’s likely successor. Fager worked as a producer under Hewitt for five years and was executive producer of CBS Evening News with Dan Rather from 1996-98.
Hewitt’s decision to retire comes after months of slow-moving contract negotiations. Hewitt, whose contract was up for renewal this February, has expressed his wish to stay at the network, saying, “I want to die at my desk.”
In comments at the Television Critics Association meeting in Los Angeles last week, Moonves dispelled the notion that the network sought to replace Hewitt with a new producer who would select news stories attractive to younger audiences.
“Don Hewitt is one of the most valuable people at CBS,” Moonves said. “He will be staying at CBS for the rest of his life. As Don had said, he will be dying at his desk. And I guarantee you, I will be dead long before that happens.”
Hewitt joined CBS News in 1948 after getting his start in print journalism. In 1962, Hewitt became executive producer of CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite, where he helped shape modern news broadcasting by developing the role of the “anchor,” a term Hewitt coined.
As head of the CBS News documentary unit, Hewitt developed the concept for 60 Minutes. Its first episode aired on Sept. 24, 1968.