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Video: Don Hewitt recalls Kennedy-Nixon debates and launch of '60 Minutes'

August 19, 2009 |  3:28 pm

Don Hewitt CBS 60 Minutes TV news

"60 Minutes" won 73 Emmys and nine Peabody Awards between 1968, when Don Hewitt launched the pioneering news magazine program, and when he gave up the reins in 2004. Hewitt won more than a dozen of those Emmys personally and deserved at least one more for one of his other great TV accomplishments before his death today of pancreatic cancer at age 86: he produced the first U.S. presidential TV debate in 1960.

In the video below, Don Hewitt recalls that fateful clash between John Kennedy and Richard Nixon, which probably changed the outcome of the election. Before their TV bout, Vice President Nixon was ahead in the polls, but fell behind Kennedy after appearing sallow, tired and green, according to Hewitt. Hewitt offered the GOP candidate a cosmetic touch-up before going on the air, but Nixon refused because Kennedy said "no" too.

"Should a presidential debate turn on makeup?" Hewitt asks. "No, but this one did."

Hewitt tattles on backstage tales of what happened that night plus shares stories of how he started "60 Minutes" a few years later in a five-part video chat he had with the Archive of American Television back in 1997. The archive is an offshoot of the foundation of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. See the full "TV Legends" series here. Below is one part of the Hewitt interview — please be patient with its intro section. There are 30 seconds of dead time while color bars air before the interview begins, then Hewitt really shines.

Photo: Chicago Tribune

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