Don Hewitt, who created ''60 Minutes'' 35 years ago and still runs it, used to enjoy saying he would never retire, that he would die at his desk. CBS, however, has other plans for the 80-year-old executive producer. The network announced Monday that Hewitt will step down in June 2004 and hand the reins over to Jeff Fager, the 47-year-old producer of spinoff ''60 Minutes II.''
Hewitt won't go gentle into that good night, however. He'll serve as a consultant to Fager to smooth the transition, and then he'll become an executive producer at large for CBS News, ''helping to develop and launch new projects, fine-tune existing ones and lend his voice and experience to new ways and means of covering news in the 21st century,'' the network said in a statement.
Hewitt, who has been with CBS since 1948, and who helped devise the now-familiar presidential debate format during the historic televised Kennedy-Nixon face-off in 1960, created the TV newsmagazine format with ''60 Minutes'' in 1968. It remains TV's top-rated newsmagazine and one of the top-20 shows on network TV. He said in a statement that he was ''proud that I'm handing over the reins to a protégé. Jeff's career has, more or less, followed the path of mine. We were both executive producer of the CBS Evening News -- I during the Walter Cronkite years and Jeff during the Dan Rather years -- and we both consider 60 Minutes a treasure.''
Hewitt and CBS have taken some flak for the aging of both the show's correspondents (like octogenarians Mike Wallace and Andy Rooney) and its audience. But Hewitt tells Reuters on Monday he believes that he can still draw younger viewers, even in his new capacity as a floating producer at CBS News. ''There's an appetite to bring younger viewers into serious television, and they've sort of figured I have some expertise at this kind of thing,'' he told Reuters. ''What I would like to do is to find ways to bring in a lot of new viewers but not lose the older ones. That's a challenge.''