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Interview With Don Hewitt

Aired December 2, 2002 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, exclusive. Don Hewitt. Creator and for 34 years executive producer of "60 Minutes," one of the most successful programs in television history, and now CBS seems to think he's too old for the job. Has time run out on Don Hewitt? Well, you've read about it. Now hear it from his own mouth. His first TV interview since the story broke. Don Hewitt live for the next 60 minutes, and we'll take your calls. He's next on LARRY KING LIVE.
My teeth got caught in my tongue there and I couldn't see what I was saying, because it would be terrible to incorrectly pronounce the name Don Hewitt, the executive producer of "60 Minutes." His book, by the way, a terrific book, "Tell Me the Story: 50 Years and 60 Minutes in Television" is now out and available in paperback.

Let's deal with first things first. He will turn 80 on December 14. Happy coming birthday, Don.


KING: OK, you're a very young-looking 80, by the way. The "New York Times" story ran this week, I'll read a quote from it and then I want Don to respond. "The New York Times" story on November 25 said: "Mr. Hewitt likes to say that he would die at his desk before relinquishing his position, that he really means it, but CBS executives are insisting that he prepare to step aside, seeking to put new zest in the venerable program. They want to replace him most probably with 47-year-old Jeffrey Fager, a former Hewitt protege and the producer of "60 Minutes II."

Mr. Hewitt, the stage is yours. What about this?

HEWITT: Well, I still intend to die at my desk. I never said where that desk was. I would like it to be at CBS. I think it will be at CBS. If it's somewhere else, it will make me very unhappy, and I would like to believe it will make them very unhappy.

I think the problem, Larry, is not that they are unaware that "60 Minutes" was the only newscast in history to ever become the most watched broadcast in America four times, was in the top 10 10 more years than "I Love Lucy" was, made this company a couple of billion dollars, and I know that they're not unaware that we are not the ordinary, run-of-the-mill, everyday television show. I think the problem is that they don't know that I'm not the ordinary, run-of-the- mill, everyday 80-year-old.

KING: Why don't they know that? HEWITT: Well, they're learning it. I have a feeling -- my radar tells me that if I come back here a year from now, I will still be the producer of "60 Minutes."

KING: But you did mention that if you die at a desk, it may not be the desk at CBS. Does that mean if you end your career at CBS...

HEWITT: That's their choice.

KING: ... would you go somewhere else?

HEWITT: Well, I'm not going to go play backgammon and I'm not going to go fishing.

KING: I'm just giving the hypothetic. Suppose CBS says we want someone else to do this; another network comes along, cable or whatever, and says, would you produce a show for us, would you go?

HEWITT: I've already had two offers. I told you, I'm not going to go -- I've already said, I'm not going to die in a row boat. And I'm not going to die playing backgammon or even scrabble. And if they don't want me, which is highly unlikely, somebody will. I'm too young to go, you know, get out of this business.

KING: Well, knowing you, you must have picked up a phone when the story ran and called the powers that be and said, what's the story?

HEWITT: Well, I know what the story is, but I have a feeling that whatever they've sort of decreed, I think they're having some second thoughts. I mean, that may be wishful thinking and I may find out tomorrow morning that I was kidding myself, but I got a feeling that -- I can't believe that Mel Karmazin and Les Moonves are going to run a network based on not how good you are, but how old you are. I mean, I don't -- I just find that -- I know these guys, and they couldn't be that successful if the criterion was how old you are and not how good you are.

KING: Is the program skewing, as they say in the business, older? I know that it's not in the top 10. It slipped a little. But nothing remains in the top 10.

HEWITT: This year, excuse me, Larry, this year we're number eight, as of Sunday.

KING: You are?

HEWITT: We were the eighth highest show in television this Sunday.

Now, do we skew as low as they want us to? You know something? Nothing worthwhile skews low. I sort of -- I have a theory now on why television has written off 55 million Americans over the age of 55. They have decided they're worthless, superfluous, not worthy of programming for. And I have a theory what that's all about. I think it's a bunch of kids in advertising agencies getting even with their parents. I think what they're saying is, hey, you wouldn't let me watch certain shows on a school night -- well, mom and dad, I'm going make sure you don't watch anything on any night.

That's -- this would -- that you would write off 55 million Americans who are in a marvelous income bracket, have got a lot of money, 55 million people, and television has said they're worthless to us. That's insulting. And I think that's changing. And I have a feeling that they're beginning to realize this obsession with youth is misplaced. They're going to pull back from that. They're smart.

KING: But you did not pick up a phone and call and say, what's the story? You did not do that?

HEWITT: No, I know what the story was. I know -- listen, this isn't the first time this has been around. Somebody leaked a terrible story about me to "TV Guide," that Max Robinson (sic) went ahead -- Max Robins went ahead and published without trying to ask me whether any of it was true or not.

There is a thing in "The New York Times" story that I can't hear in the screening room. That's absolutely untrue. There was something about today there is a letter in "The New York Times" from a CBS vice president, Betsy West, saying it is absolutely untrue what Ruttenburg (ph) was told that we didn't pitch in after 9/11. Absolutely untrue that we're out of hand budget-wise. We're in very good budget shape.

They have nothing to complain about with us. And to make any changes now is -- doesn't make any sense, but, you know...

KING: Has anybody told you, do younger subjects? Remember that Britney Spears story, do a feature on Britney Spears?

HEWITT: That -- Mike -- I don't even think Mike knows who Britney Spears is. But anyway, no -- I -- would they want us to skew younger? Yeah, I think "The New York Times" is now trying to skew younger. Everybody is trying to skew younger. You mean you guys aren't?

KING: I guess we are, I don't know.

HEWITT: You don't know?

KING: I guess they are. But I would guess that older people, but why is 55-year-olds have more spending money than 20-year-olds?

HEWITT: Yeah, to me it doesn't make any sense, but then a lot of things don't make any sense.

KING: What do you think of Jeffrey Fager if you ever leave as a replacement?

HEWITT: Good guy. Except I'm not ready to go. When I'm ready to go, perfectly great choice to take over. And I would think in -- look, just like I said, I'm not your run-of-the-mill, everyday 80- year-old. I don't know that I will someday be your everyday, run-of- the-mill 85-year-old. And at that point, goodbye, you know. I don't know when the time is. And the time is not now.

And I don't think -- I don't think anybody who works for me wants any changes. So you got to -- I got a constituency. I got guys who love it the way it is. And the way it is -- I -- what we do is -- I'm thrilled by it. I think it's great. And the company seems to be happy with it. Would they like it to skew a little younger? They'd like everything to skew a little younger.

KING: Andy Rooney said last week on this show that you are the reason for "60 Minutes'" success. It was your baby, you brought it along, and it's still the reason it's successful is because of you. And you said you received two calls already with offers.

HEWITT: Yeah, right.

KING: So work will never be a problem for you, Hewitt.

HEWITT: I don't think so.

KING: We'll be right back with more of Don Hewitt. He's going to be 80, but he sure doesn't sound it or look it. And he's the executive producer of CBS' "60 Minutes." We'll be taking calls for Don tonight as well. Lots more to talk about. Don't go away.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good evening. This is "60 Minutes." It's a kind of a magazine for television, which means it has the flexibility and diversity of a magazine adapted to broadcast journalism. And our first cover story is about cops, by the top cop.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Chances are that you were watching television when they were balloting at the Republican convention. So was the man who won that nomination. And the "60 Minutes" cameraman was there, the only television cameraman in the room.



(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "60 Minutes")

MIKE WALLACE, CBS' "60 MINUTES": I'm Mike Wallace.

MORLEY SAFFER, CBS' "60 MINUTES": I'm Morley Saffer.

ED BRADLEY, CBS' "60 MINUTES": I'm Ed Bradley.

STEVE CROFT, CBS' "60 MINUTES": I'm Steve Croft.

LESLIE STAHL, CBS' "60 MINUTES": I'm Leslie Stahl. Those stories, Molly Ivins, PJ O'Rourke and of course, Andy Rooney, tonight on "60 Minutes."

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: Tonight on LARRY KING LIVE, the man behind "60 Minutes, " Don Hewitt. Its creator and executive producer. There has been the idea in some circles of merging "60 Minutes" and "60 Minutes II, " merging the operations. Ed Bradley in "the times" said, "Whoever the successor to Don is maybe Don can walk him part of the way. That requires something from Don, something from management, something from the designated successor. I would like to see Don welcome somebody. Is that going to happen? It's up to Don."

Do you like that idea of a transition? A phase-in person?

HEWITT: Sure. Sure. I'd love to phase in somebody. And I've got a lot of very good people there now. Jeff Fager (ph) is a cracker jack guy. Look, there is in the wings a pretty damn good array of talent. It's just that I'm not going to get off the stage. At least I -- if CBS wants me off their stage, I'm going to go on somebody's stage. I mean, I told you, I'm not -- I'm not...

KING: Are you -- can you say, Don, that you are just as involved as say, 20 years ago? That is, every piece that is on the air you have seen...


KING: More involved?

HEWITT: Yes. You ask anybody at "60 Minutes" how involved I am. I'm there all the time. I get there -- you know what time I get to work this morning, Larry? I was there 6:00 this morning. I am in there in every screening room. I'm in editing rooms. Talk to -- some day talk to the producers of "60 Minutes" and ask them what kind of relationship they have with the executive producer. I don't think anybody ever had a better relationship than I have with those guys.

KING: About the skewing young, if someone said let's do a piece on Britney Spears. She just turned 21. Now let's be logical. If you did a piece on Britney Spears, young people would watch.


KING: Would you do a piece on her? She's certainly...

HEWITT: No, no, but I'll do Sheryl Crow because Sheryl Crow's got something to say. I'll do anybody who's got something to say and can say it. The secret of "60 Minutes" is to find people who can tell their own story better than you can and all you want to do is help them tell their story. If you can't tell your story, I don't care who you are, I'm not interested.

If you've got a story to tell and you can tell it, and you're Britney Spears or you're Grandma Moses, it makes no difference. I want...

KING: All that counts to you is the story?

HEWITT: The story. That's why I call my book "Tell Me A Story." The secret of "60 minutes" is four words that every child in the world knows, tell me a story. And you want people who can tell stories as well as you can tell them yourself better.

KING: Most people forget I worked at Channel 4 in Miami when "60 Minutes" began. And "60 Minutes, " You're on the air because of Miami. Because in Miami, you rated high and no other city gave you a high rating.

HEWITT: Sure. Ralph Freddie (ph), do you remember...

KING: Sure did. I did the weekend interviews.

HEWITT: I remember.

KING: NewsWeekend (ph), and "60 Minutes" started, you first were on Tuesday night, right?

HEWITT: Yes, then they moved us to 6:00 Sunday and then moved us 7:00 Sunday and we took off like a rocket and the rest is history.

KING: History.

Let's discuss some other things. So you expect to stay. So, you expect to stay. If you don't stay, you're going somewhere else. Don Hewitt is going to be a part of American television. You're going to work.

HEWITT: I've made that painfully clear.

KING: Abundantly clear.

HEWITT: There's nobody knows -- nobody thinks anything different than that.

KING: All right. Other areas.

What do you think of the proposed merger CNN news and ABC News? Before that, a proposal about CBS and CNN.

HEWITT: Well, I'm glad it's not happening to me because I don't want working reporters who work for me who are the best in the business sitting around pontificating all night in the studio. I want to keep the ball rolling. I mean, you've got to keep this thing going whether there is any news or not. I don't. I go out and have to find news and put it -- package it in an hour.

KING: So you don't think it would work?

HEWITT: No. Listen. You don't want to start discussing what I think works and what I think doesn't work.

KING: Why not? Why would a merger between ABC and CNN not work?

HEWITT: For whom? For the profit center?

KING: I guess it would cut costs. Yes, for the profits. HEWITT: Would it work for the public? Would it work for the -- is the public going to be any better served when Peter Jennings is on CNN rather than on ABC? I'm from Missouri. I'm not sure I know. I know it's going to be more profitable for somebody.

And then again it may not be. I don't think it's going to be as profitable as they think it is. See, what I once proposed and never happened, was that CBS and ABC both get together and run a joint all news network, keep their separate identities on the air, but put themselves together to go up against you guys.

And therefore you guys would be competing with Dan Rather and Peter Jennings and Barbara Walters and Leslie Stahl and Diane Sawyer and Mike Wallace and Ed Bradley and what have you.

KING: And nothing happened with that idea, I gather.

HEWITT: No. Well, I think CBS thought it was a pretty good idea. I don't think Bob Iger (ph) did and then the question though, where are we going to get a cable station and it fell apart. But it would have been pretty good. That, I think, was a doable enterprise.

KING: Our guest is Don Hewitt, the creator, executive producer of CBS "60 Minutes." We'll be back with more. We're going to include your phone calls as well. Don't go away.


BRADLEY: So maybe when we get up there we can sit you down in a chair and you can talk.


BRADLEY: That would be OK?

ALI: No problem (ph).

BRADLEY: Probably?

ALI: According to how I feel.

BRADLEY: According to how you feel?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Muhammad has a way of communicating with people and I think he knows this. And that's one of the reasons why he really doesn't really bother with the speech as much. He can communicate with the heart.




ANDY ROONEY, CBS "60 MINUTES": It's as good as they get. I mean, I have had a lot of knockdown dragout battles with Don Hewitt. But he is -- I don't like to use the word lightly -- but he is a genius. He is a programming genius.

KING: How would you --

ROONEY: He puts pieces on 60 minutes -- I look at them in the paper and I say, I don't want to see that. I turn the thing on and invariably, I mean, the shows this year have just been absolutely first rate.


KING: Andy Rooney, speaking about our guest, Don Hewitt. He is never without controversy. The show resisted changing its planned program of October 7 when the U.S. launched military action in Afghanistan. On that date, CBS gave the producing duties to Jim Murphy, the producer of "CBS Evening News" who ran that night "60 Minutes" live. You called it a sham. Why didn't you budge from your position of not changing the show?

HEWITT: That's absolutely untrue. I came in. I've been in the hospital having an angioplasty and because I knew it was the beginning of the bombing campaign, I came to work that Sunday. Left the hospital and came in and was ready to put a show on. And they had another show in mind and all I said was, put your special on if that's what you want to do, we'll do a show or you can do a show, but don't call your special "60 Minutes" because it is not "60 Minutes." and I found out later why they did it.

You know why they did it, Larry?

KING: Why?

HEWITT: Because they couldn't sell it if it didn't have the name "60 Minutes" on it. So that is the biggest bunch of nonsense that...

KING: You weren't against them taking your...

HEWITT: No. No, we would have done it or let them do it. It made no difference. I said just don't put the name "60 Minutes" on a show that is not "60 Minutes" and learned later that they couldn't sell it if it didn't have the name "60 Minutes" on it.

KING: Dan Rather said in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 that maybe the news business wasn't tough enough, didn't ask enough questions and now we have a panel with Kissinger and others gathered together, that maybe the news media was lax.

Do you think so?

HEWITT: Well, listen, I mean, has anybody questioned the fact, Henry Kissinger, is about as old as I am. Is he the right guy for that job? Of course he is. Age has nothing to do with it, and did we ask all the right questions? Yes, but there was nobody around to give us answers until they set up the machinery to provide answers.

KING: How does "60 Minutes" judge when, for example, if America goes and attacks Iraq on Sunday, does that change Sunday night's "60 Minutes" automatically?

HEWITT: Absolutely, of course. Look, I've come in -- I've left the country at 6:00 on a Sunday morning, getting in by 8:00 for that night's show and we've torn it all up. Several times we've come in, torn the broadcast up, thrown it away and gone with a whole different show. Of course you do. And when we do that, we go to the CBS special events people who have better contacts, are out in the field, and find out who is in Iraq that we can do. It doesn't have to be all our guys. We package it as "60 Minutes" but we use everybody at CBS News who is up on what is happening at that moment.

KING: You were once the news magazine, the only news magazine and now I ran into a guy today who didn't have a news magazine. Everybody seems to have one.

What has the competition been like for you? Does it make you better?

HEWITT: No. First of all, everybody talks about, you know, competition drives you. We were, as I said a moment ago, the most watched broadcast in America four times in the top 10 22-years and I think that's because we never had any competition because we're not forced into competing with broadcasts that don't do what we do. If I were to look at other magazines that I think do a good job, yes, I think "Frontline" does a very good job. I find a lot of nonsense on other magazines. You got them here now also. Doesn't do much for me.

KING: What's the secret if there is a secret other than tell me a story of what -- because all magazines would say that's what we're doing, telling you a story.

HEWITT: Okay, I'll tell you how "60 Minutes" came to be. Edward R. Murrow, the great Ed Murrow, did two broadcasts, a serious one called "See It Now" that I used to direct and a lighter win called "Person to Person" where he would visit people at home, people like Marilyn Monroe and show girls and baseball players.

And John Cosby, in the "New York Herald Tribune" came up with a phrase that leaped out of the paper at me. He called the two shows high Murrow and low Murrow. I said, my god, that's the answer. If you can put high Murrow and low Murrow in the same broadcast, you got a winner. In other words, you can look in Marilyn Monroe's close fit you're also willing to look in Robert Oppenheim's laboratory.

This broadcast is an electronic version of the old "Life Magazine" where on the cover might have been Marilyn Monroe. But inside is a layout of the birth of a baby. And then there is a layout on a baseball player. And then there is a layout on some great author. And everything is mixed up in one and I said that is the model for television which was at that point very stagily involved in our documentaries, that I always said was the voice of the corporation and nobody likes to hear from a corporation. They want to hear from people and I was going give them the chance to hear from people.

KING: We'll be back with more of Don Hewitt and your phone call. Don Hewitt is our special guest tonight. Tomorrow night, Brenda van Dam will be here. She lost her daughter Danielle. The person charged with that murder, David Westerfield, has been convicted. They're awaiting sentencing. She'll be here tomorrow night.

Don Hewitt is our guest. Your phone calls for don follow these words.

We were the only ones flying over the Andrea Doria when this enormous ship, turned over like a big dead elephant.


HEWITT: A terrible sight to see. And down goes the Andrea Dora. The time 10:09 eastern daylight time.

We arrived back at the naval air station somewhere in Rhode Island. I phoned the desk and they said, forget it, everybody had something on the air and you're late and I said, yes, but we got it sinking. Dumb luck, by being late we got the story.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will you take it back just a hair on camera two, please? Let's see camera one, please, on the close-up. Now, Bill, what do you want me to do? This?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In other words, you say, we'll now have questions, gentlemen, then we move over here, right?




KING: That was Don Hewitt, now famous footage, producing the first ever presidential debate. The debate between Nixon and Kennedy in 1960. The debate that changed that election.

Our guest is Don Hewitt, one of the most important figures in the history of American television. Let's take some calls. Rome, Georgia. Hello.

CALLER: Hello, Mr. Hewitt.


KING: Go ahead.

CALLER: How are you doing?

KING: Go ahead.

HEWITT: Great.

CALLER: I'd like to ask a question. Andy Rooney was on the other night and he called you a genius.

KING: What's your question?

CALLER: I'd like to turn the table and get your professional opinion of his flamboyant style over the years.

HEWITT: Of his, Andy Rooney's?

KING: Yeah.

HEWITT: I'm a big Andy Rooney fan. I love guys that lay it on the line and say what they have to say and mince no words and -- that kind of guy.

KING: Were you worried when you knew he was going to attack -- not attack, but just say that female sideline reporters on football games don't belong there?

HEWITT: I don't think anybody -- I don't think any sideline reporter -- let me ask you, Larry, did you ever hear a coach say anything meaningful when somebody says, well, what are you going to do in the second half?

KING: That's the dumbest spot of all sports broadcasts.

HEWITT: Right. And he says, listen, what happened in the first half -- what is going to happen in the second half? He says, we're going to play better.


KING: ... about females. Were you worried that -- did you think it would get the kind of reaction it got?

HEWITT: Listen, I was down in Atlanta -- in Dallas, and somebody said to me, "what do you think about what Andy Rooney said about women out there?" And I said, lady, listen, if you take Andy Rooney seriously, you should have your head examined. He's playing with you. He's playing with everybody. He's delicious. And he -- sometimes Andy just says things to be provocative, and I think it's wonderful, and I wish there were more of him.

KING: Should CBS get involved in the fracas over whether the Masters -- whether the Augusta Country Club should take women?

HEWITT: You'll have to talk to "The New York Times" about that. That's their crusade. It's not mine.

KING: So you don't think CBS should be involved?

HEWITT: Listen, I -- I'm having enough trouble keeping my head above water without deciding what they should be doing in the sports department.

KING: Victoria, British Columbia -- good ducking, Don. Victoria, British Columbia, hello.

CALLER: Mr. Hewitt. Mr. Hewitt, I'm sorry. Two questions. Do you think that the amount of gratuitous violence in our industry today is desensitizing us to such issues as 9/11, and perhaps even this recent sniper incident? And do you think that the swing from the days of "I Love Lucy," where when we went into their bedroom they were in single beds, and the swing over to "Will & Grace" and shows like "Friends" are eroding our immorality -- I'm sorry, our morality?

KING: Two questions.

HEWITT: We'll take them one at a time.

KING: First, violence.

HEWITT: On first one, I agree with you 100 percent. I think it's disgusting. I think there is enough real violence facing us every day that we don't have to manufacture any, and we're desensitizing our kids, and you wonder why schools like Columbine get shot up, because kids play video games that are nothing but violent. Everything -- you can't go to a movie and sit through the coming attractions without seeing a guy thrown through a plate glass window, a guy getting his throat cut, a guy getting thrown off a bridge. I think it's pretty -- I think America is about time it grew up.

On the second one, that doesn't bother me that much. If you had a choice between the sex or the violence, take the sex and get rid of the violence.

KING: By the way, Don, if memory serves me correct, I believe that Mr. Rooney made those comments on the "Boomer Esiason Show (ph)," right, not on "60 Minutes".

HEWITT: Yeah. And if he had made them on "60 minutes," I would say, hey...


HEWITT: Yeah. Andy -- he -- you give -- there are certain guys, you give them their head. And, you know, and he's a columnist. And columnists say things.


KING: Have you ever said no to one of his columns?

HEWITT: No. But I've -- he's great. I'll say, Andy, I don't think you want to say that. I think maybe there is a better way to say that, or why don't you drop that little one sentence there and I think that's getting trouble. And Andy is wonderful. And he said, you know something, you're probably right.

KING: Birmingham, Michigan, for Don Hewitt, hello. CALLER: Mr. Hewitt, with all due respect to you and your fabulous career -- hello?

HEWITT: Anything that starts with all due respect, look out.

CALLER: OK. With all due respect to your fabulous career, don't you think it's time for you, Morley Safer, Mike Wallace and Ed Bradley to step aside and let a younger group come in and take over where you left off in such great grace?

HEWITT: Why do you want a younger group to take over? Are you dissatisfied with what you see on "60 Minutes"?

CALLER: A little bit.

HEWITT: Well, I'm sorry to hear that.

KING: How about the old adage which is what she's calling about, hey, sometimes it's time to move aside?

HEWITT: Yeah. And what, and let you do to you what the network did to Ted Turner? I mean, it wasn't time for Ted Turner to move aside, but somebody decided that maybe they ought to move him out of here. That guy was as close to being a broadcasting genius as there ever was and he's not around anymore.

No, I think the part -- why doesn't somebody start a younger "60 Minutes"? Go ahead. Take a "60 Minutes" and find a whole bunch of young guys and program it for younger people.

KING: Is that what "60 Minutes II" is?

HEWITT: No, "60 Minutes II" is a carbon copy of us. Now, if they are unhappy with the demographics that we reach, why do they make a carbon copy? Why didn't they do a different show? I don't understand that.

KING: San Francisco, hello.

CALLER: Hello, Larry. How are you?

KING: Hi, fine.

CALLER: I have a question for Mr. Hewitt. First of all, I'd like to tell him I admire and respect him as one of the very unique talents in television. And I have two questions. First of all, I'd like to know how in the world CBS thinks it's going to maintain the integrity of such an institution as "60 Minutes" without its creator? And also I'd like to know what Mr. Hewitt thought when Mr. Bradley wanted to change his name to Shahib Shahab (ph).

HEWITT: I was being put on. It was a big joke and it came off pretty well. Let me tell you about Bradley. I introduced Ed Bradley to the Television News Director Association when he won the Paul White Award. And I got up in front of 500 people and I said, I hired Ed Bradley because he's the member of a minority. And it was sort of this -- this haa in the room. And then I said, he's a great gentleman, he's a great reporter, and if that ain't a minority, I never heard of one. And I sat down.

KING: Columbus, Ohio, hello.

CALLER: Hello, Larry. Mr. Hewitt, do you feel that maybe "60 Minutes" has lost its way and has forgotten to do the stories, investigative kind of stories about the little guy, the disenfranchised and neglected person who might be being screwed over by corporate greed and political corruption and you're doing too many stories about entertainment and celebrity icons?

HEWITT: I don't think we're doing too many stories about entertainment and celebrity icons. I think we do them. I think they're in the mix of what people are interested in.

I think we do both. And we did both last night. We did a story just last night about the fact that guys on death row can get heart transplants and ordinary citizens have to pay a fortune to get them, and it's a screwed-up country that has a medical system that allows that to happen. I mean, we do a lot of things of little people. And there are very few letters that come across my desk that I don't send on to the correspondent and say, Hey, I think this guy is on to a good story. We do a lot of stories based on viewer mail. If you got one, write to us.

KING: How many stories are in the works, like, right now? How many are done?

HEWITT: I -- what you try to do -- we have a blackboard. If you have less than 10, 12 stories up there ready to go, you're in trouble. The whole idea is like any magazine. You do your stories. When they're finished, you put them up on a board and once a week, you look at that board and you say, OK, that Wallace, that Safer that -- no, that's too old (ph). That Bradley, that Stahl and that Wallace, that's a good show. And you want always to have that luxury of being able to pick and choose from a reservoir of stories.

KING: We'll be back with more of Don Hewitt and more of your phone calls. Don't go away.


ROONEY: Well that's true about some places but untrue about others.



ROONEY: CBS sent me about Washington to what a non-political...



ROONEY: ..things really look and the view from anywhere else.



ROONEY: ...Andy Rooney, about to eat my way across America.



ROONEY: Here I am on digital. This will run you about 2000...



ROONEY: Mine and everyone else's. My old college roommate...



ROONEY: The Department of Health, Education and Welfare keeps these day-to -day..



ROONEY: Five most common street names. Seven are former presidents...



ROONEY: No, because they're too busy installing new systems. I don't know how to use...



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KING: Tampa, Florida, for Don Hewitt. Hello.

CALLER: Yes, Larry.

My question for Mr. Hewitt is, over the course of producing "60 Minutes, " what story or event other than September 11 impacted you the most personally and, also, were there ever any stories you regret airing in hindsight?

HEWITT: I think the story that affected me most was a young black engineer named Lenle Jeter (ph) who was in prison in Texas for robbing a Kentucky Fried Chicken joint that he had not robbed and was serving a life sentence. And Morley Safer went down there with a producer named Susan St. Pierre and they turned up enough evidence that this guy hadn't done it, that they did not give him a new trial. They just opened the jail door and said, Get out. They let him -- and I think there is nothing that's happened in all the years that I've done "60 Minutes" that gave me more satisfaction.

KING: Any show you regretted?

HEWITT: Any show I regretted? Yes, we once did a -- we once took off on the National Council of Churches as being left wing and radical and a lot of nonsense.

And the next morning I got a congratulatory phone call from every redneck bishop in America and I thought, Oh my God, we must have done something wrong last night and I think we probably did.

KING: By the way, speaking of that, is there a liberal bias? Because it seems that...

HEWITT: Not to me. Not to me.

KING: Talk shows in American radio has a conservative bias.

HEWITT: First of all, I'm neutral. Politically neutral.

KING: Me too.

HEWITT: And I have a big thing about those two words, liberal and conservative. I have no idea what they mean. They're overused. They become epithets. I liked it better when people called each other a son of a bitch instead of a dirty liberal or a dirty Republican.

I liked it better when the debate over abortion was in state legislatures and not on license plates that on one hand say right to life and the other one says a woman's choice as if right to life are the bad guys and the woman's choice are the good guys or vice versa, take your choice.

It's -- the liberal-conservative thing is -- it's laziness on the part of journalists who always are looking for a catch phrase, one word, he's a liberal, he's a conservative. It is a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing.

KING: Cleveland, Tennessee, hello.

CALLER: Hello, Mr. King. And Mr. Hewitt, good evening to you.



CALLER: With apologies to Larry King, let me say, Mr. Hewitt, you have the greatest show in the history of television.

KING: Well, we have the best set. Don Hewitt said that. We have the best set. He has the best show. We have the best set.

HEWITT: That's right. That's right.

KING: What's your question?

HEWITT: He's got the best suspenders.

CALLER: Well, my -- exactly. My question, Mr. Hewitt, and I'm going put the emphasis on the word "if, " -- If you are to make any changes, which I hope you don't, to "60 Minutes," what would they be, if you are?

HEWITT: I'd like to do more of the same better. I'd like to add Bob Simon as a regular. I'd like to add Christiane Amanpour as a regular, which means take her away from here.

Listen, let me clarify something I said earlier that I would like to make very clear. Yes, I said I would like to die at my desk. I want it very clear that I fully expect that desk to be at CBS and I would be very unhappy if it were somewhere else.

KING: But if it were somewhere else -- you would go somewhere else rather than die at home not working?

HEWITT: I said -- I meant it when I said I don't want to die anywhere but at my desk.

KING: Fine. So you want it to be CBS.

HEWITT: But I want it to be at CBS. And I fully expect it will be.

KING: Dallas, Texas, hello.

CALLER: Hi, Mr. Hewitt. I'm calling from Southern Methodist University. You came and spoke with us about a couple weeks ago.

HEWITT: I was there.

CALLER: Yes, you and I had lunch together. We were sitting next to each other at the luncheon.

Anyhow, I'm about to graduate with a journalism degree. And my question is, What advice can you give to me as a young journalist to be in order to make it in the journalistic world?

KING: First, doll (ph), let me ask you a question that he can answer better. Do you want to be a broadcast journalism or print?

CALLER: I'm majoring in broadcast. KING: OK.

HEWITT: OK. Whether you're in broadcast or print, learn to write. The writing on television is atrocious. It is full of cliches. I'll give you three examples. Three of the worst cliches that everybody uses every night. The first one is -- let me see if I can remember them.

Unless you're talking about the NFL, team coverage, that is the biggest, stupidest phrase ever.

Unless you're talking about Jacques Cousteau, in depth, that is another one. In-depth means a 30-second set instead of 20 seconds.

And, if you don't mind my saying so, hard news unless you're talking about Bob Dole.

KING: Or the interviewer who begins the question by saying, Let me ask you this -- which is what I thought he was there for.

Anyway, we'll be back with our remaining moments -- or I was wondering -- we'll be back with our remaining moments with Don Hewitt right after this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "60 Minutes")

STAHL: When you look at works at genius, the plays of William Shakespeare, the symphonies of Mozart, the paintings of Leonardo Da Vinci, there's always a sense of, How could an ordinary mortal create something of such incredible beauty and complexity? Well, we can't shed any light on how Shakespeare wrote his plays or Mozart composed his music. But there is a new theory that may explain how Leonardo and the other old masters created their masterpieces. Did they have help? Yes. Was it magic? No, but it wouldn't be entirely wrong to say they did it with mirrors.




AL PACINO, ACTOR: Big tobacco tried to smear Wygand; you bought it. "The Wall Street Journal," here, not exactly a bastion of anti- capitalist sentiment, refutes big tobacco's smear campaign as the lowest form of character assassination. And now, even now when every word of what Wygand has said on our show is printed, the entire deposition of his testimony in a court of law in the state of Mississippi, the cat totally out of the bag, you're still standing here debating.

Don, what the hell else do you need?


KING: The brilliant Al Pacino in the movie "The Insider." Mr. Hewitt, what did you think of that film?

HEWITT: All right, let me ask you a question. Do you know the name of the reporter who quits "60 Minutes" over the principle of the tobacco story?

KING: I forget his name, but I...

HEWITT: I'll tell you his name. I'll tell you his name. His name was Al Pacino, because the real guy he played never quit. He stayed there. He was still at "60 Minutes" long after that scene in the movie where he said "I quit" and he walked right out.

KING: But all movies take certain -- was the movie wrong? Did CBS cop out on that story?

HEWITT: No. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) about Wygand were great. Let me tell you in a nutshell. I was played by a game named Philip Baker Hall, and I said, that's not a guy, that's a dormitory. But if they had gotten Paul Newman or Robert Redford to play me, I would have loved it.

KING: But did you not run a story you should have run?

HEWITT: There is no question about that. We were always said -- you want to know what we did -- before that piece didn't run, we ran a story that told everything that had to be told without using Wygand's name, because CBS thought they were going to be sued. We thought it was a lot of nonsense, but the company thought it was going to be sued.

Could I have put the story on if the company didn't want it on? Yeah, I could have hired a bunch of guerrillas, taken the transmitter and transmitted it, but there was no way to put it on.

Was CBS wrong to not let us put it on? Sure they were. Did it devastate all of us? Yes. Was the movie true to what happened? You want to know something, Maureen Brener (ph) in "Vanity Fair" wrote a very good piece about this that became the basis of the movie.

KING: For that movie. Right.

HEWITT: OK. She took us over the coals. But she didn't take liberties. Had they not gone off on flights of fancy, I think they might have gone off with a couple of Oscars. But it went so crazy that they got frozen out of the competition.

KING: One more call. Cooper, Texas, last call, hello.

EDDIE BARKER: Oh, hi there, Don. Question for you. What do you think is going to be the thing you'll be remembered for most? By the way, this is Eddie Barker, your old friend in Dallas.

KING: Eddie Barker!

HEWITT: I was in Dallas -- I was down there. Where were you?

BARKER: I know you were, and I missed you.

HEWITT: I was looking for you. What do I think I'll be remembered for?


HEWITT: Probably my performance tonight with Larry.

KING: This will be etched in history. It will be "60 Minutes," but there is a lot of other things that you're very proud of that you've done in this business, right? I mean, you produced presidential debates. You were involved in...

HEWITT: Yeah, but I got to tell you, in a nutshell, that night of the presidential debate was the worst night that ever happened in American politics.

KING: We only got 30 seconds, why?

HEWITT: OK, that's the night that they eyed us and said that is the only way to run. And we looked at them and said, they're a bottomless pit of advertising dollars. And from that day on, you cannot run for office in the greatest democracy on earth unless you got money to buy television time, and that stinks.

KING: Don Hewitt, as always, a great pleasure visiting with you. Thank you so much for being with us. And continued long life at whatever desk you're at.

HEWITT: Got it.

KING: May be the one you wish to be at.

HEWITT: Thank you. I hope so.

KING: Don Hewitt, creator, executive producer of "60 Minutes." I'll be back in a minute to tell you about tomorrow night. Don't go away.


KING: Tomorrow night on LARRY KING LIVE, Brenda van Dam will join us. Her late daughter, Danielle, was murdered by David Westerfield, convicted in San Diego and awaiting sentencing. Brenda van Dam tomorrow night.

"NEWSNIGHT" is next. Normally, the host is Aaron Brown, although I would now say the host is normally Anderson Cooper, and occasionally Aaron sits in. And Aaron, get this, tonight's excuse: He's at an undisclosed location, I love that. Aaron Brown, where are you?

Anyway, Anderson Cooper, carrying on in the great tradition of a former utility in-fielder, now a main man. Anderson, go.


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