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Tell Me a Story: Fifty Years and 60 Minutes in Television Hardcover – March 27, 2001

3.8 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

"As a child of the movies, I was torn between wanting to be Julian Marsh, the Broadway producer in 42nd Street ... and Hildy Johnson, the hellbent-for-leather reporter in The Front Page," writes Don Hewitt in his engaging autobiography. Luckily for him, he found a way to be both at CBS News, most notably as producer of 60 Minutes. Hewitt barely knew what television was when a fellow print journalist told him of an opening at CBS in 1948 ("You mean, where you sit at home and watch little pictures in a box?" he asked), but his decisive personality suited the new medium's spontaneous techniques. Born in 1922 and raised in New Rochelle, New York, he sees himself as an average guy whose middle-of-the-road political and social attitudes are shared by the American television audience. He modeled 60 Minutes on Life magazine: "a family friend in the home of millions of Americans each week, serious and light-hearted in the same issue" with one prime directive--to tell a story.

In chatty, colloquial prose, Hewitt hits the show's high and low points, including a frank discussion of the compromises made to air an interview with Big Tobacco whistle-blower Jeffrey Wigand and a blistering critique of the way those compromises were depicted in the movie The Insider. He pays warm tribute to his reporters, particularly Mike Wallace, writes appreciatively of CBS founder William Paley, and candidly discusses his differences with Paley's successor, Laurence Tisch. Hewitt doesn't pretend to be a saint; he accepts the mingled imperatives of journalism and commerce that drive TV news without (usually) sounding too defensive. His memoir pungently chronicles the evolution of broadcast journalism and expresses faith in the idealism that still fires the men and women who practice it. --Wendy Smith

From Publishers Weekly

Hewitt, the founder and executive producer of 60 Minutes, delivers on his title's promise: his memoir of more than half a century in journalism is full of good stories. He dropped out of college in the early 1940s before getting a job as a copy boy at two newspapers in New York. He then worked for Stars and Stripes during WWII. After the war, he made the jump to a new medium: television. His descriptions of TV news' infancy is fascinating for those born in a later era: e.g., when he first worked at CBS News, Hewitt and his co-workers had to do one broadcast for the East Coast and a second one for the West Coast because videotape hadn't been invented. In his years at CBS, Hewitt has met celebrities, presidents and other world leaders and he has stories about them all as well as about the investigative pieces that earned 60 Minutes much of its renown. (There aren't many people who can say that they've annoyed both Frank Sinatra and Hillary Rodham Clinton Hewitt is one of them.) He tells it as he sees it, defending traditional television news journalists, while bluntly noting that they produce entertainment as well as news. He has similar praise for his 60 Minutes crew and the stories they've produced. At times near the end of the book, however, particularly when he excoriates The Insider, the movie about the Jeffrey Wigand/tobacco scandal, Hewitt's bluntness doesn't serve him so well. But he's chronicled the career of a pathbreaking but old-fashioned journalist who has created a lot of news and a lot of memories. Illus. (Apr.) Forecast: An institution in TV news, Hewitt has a huge media line-up to launch this book: in addition to first serial in Talk magazine, he will appear on 20/20 with Barbara Walters, on the Today Show, Larry King, NPR's Fresh Air and other national TV and radio shows. First printing is 50,000. Expect big sales.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs; New edition edition (March 27, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1586480170
  • ISBN-13: 978-1586480172
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,151,795 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Robert Morris HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 3, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Hewitt has what Hemingway once described as a "built-in, shock-proof crap detector" and to his credit, he applies it to his own opinions as well as to those of others. The title refers to his assertion that the success of "60 Minutes" is explained by the fact that "the most talented men and women in the broadcast news business" formulate and then execute ideas which tell an interesting story. "It's that easy." It's also that difficult. This is what I call a "tag along book" in that Hewitt allows his readers to accompany him over a period of 50 years during which he has produced news broadcasts, the Nixon-Kennedy debates, national political conventions, and of course "Sixty Minutes." He shares his frank opinions of various associates such as Lowell Bergman, Ed Bradley, Walter Cronkite, Fred Friendly, Edward R. Murrow, William S. Paley, Dan Rather, Harry Reasoner, Andy Rooney, Morley Safer, Diane Sawyer, Laurence Tisch, and Mike Wallace. He also comments on various American Presidents, competitors in the broadcast news industry, professional athletes, and show business celebrities. What I found most entertaining is Hewitt's no-nonsense attitude. He can be irreverent, playful, self-deprecating, egotistical, outraged, embarassed, and amusing...but never dull and always good company. Hewitt provides all manner of behind-the-scenes revelations which are always good fun. He can also be thoughtful, at times prescient when commenting on both the glories and inadequacies of broadcast news. He devotes substantial attention to his own misjudgments over the years. He also offers specific suggestions as to how broadcast news can be improved. For me, the book's conclusion reveals why the thoughts, feelings, and experiences of this 78-year old pioneer/iconoclast are worth sharing. "One morning, Darryl Kemp, who mans the front desk at 60 Minutes, greeted me with `Mr. Hewitt, when I grow up, I want to be just like you.' And I said, `That's funny. So do I.'" Let's all hope he never does.
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Format: Hardcover
If this book attempts to tell a story, following Don Hewitt's philosophy for successful TV news segments, it's not the most engrossing one.
This book reads like a timeline of Hewitt's life -- and then this happened ... and then this happened -- which doesn't allow for much drama-building. A pioneer of the TV news business certainly has a wealth of content for a book, but as is often the case with autobiographies, the story would have been better told by a veteran book writer.
Some insights are valuable -- behind-the-scenes adcedotes about former President LBJ, his thoughts on the validity of the movie The Insider, his take on the 2000 Presidential election. But I found those nuggets to be too few and far between. The rest reads like a chat transcript.
If you buy this book, I hope you do enjoy it.
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Format: Hardcover
I've always enjoyed reading the stories of industry pioneers, no matter what industry and Hewitt is a living pioneer of early television news. From his career as a merchant Marine in World War II up unto his creation and production of 60 minutes, Hewitt shares anecdotes and accolades of the people he's worked with and against.

He began in television news back when the Murrows and the Cronkites wouldn't have considered leaving radio. He produced the only Kennedy-Nixon debate and is convinced that not wearing makeup on TV cost Nixon the election. He didn't really care for Nixon much post Watergate, but unlike most of the newsmen of his generation, he didn't really fall for the aura of John Kennedy either.

Hewitt tells of how he convinced Frank Sinatra to sit down with Walter Cronkite in the mid 1960s, and how Sinatra blew up when questioned about his mob ties. Luckily for Hewitt he was around long enough to outlive Sinatra and get the real story from his daughter Tina 30 years later. The story gives more plausibility to the Kennedy assassination being a mob hit.

The latter half of the book focuses on Bill Clinton's infamous interview during the 1992 election and how Hewitt's treatment of James Carville got the show barred from the White House.

Near the end he goes in to a deep explanation of Lowell Bergman and the inaccuracies of the film THE INSIDER. After explaining for pages and pages of how Bergman is disingenuous, he catches us off guard by saying that he would have forgiven the filmmakers everything had they cast Robert Redford in his role. Philip Baker Hall isn't an actor, that's a dormitory, Hewitt jokes.

Hewitt is an interesting guy with a great life and it's hard not to like this book.
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Format: Hardcover
In almost a counterproductive exercise, Don Hewitt spends chapters talking up the many "geniuses" in the field of television he worked with during the early years before tearing down the industry's "infotainment" culture of today. It's almost like the old man on the corner telling the kid with an earring how in his day kids were more respectful and dignified. Then when you acutally digest what he has to say, you realize: Hey, the guy's right on target. The business of news has been killing the coverage of news not just on TV but in newspapers for years. The public just has no tolerance for substance, which has direct linkage to the television era. We live in a world of 10-minute segments. If I see another shot of Robert Downey Jr. in a courtroom, I'm throwing the remote through the wall. But aside from the unnessary name-dropping, Hewitt's autobiography succeeds in that it is entertaining and biting at the same time. It's a perfect volume to a career that tried to achieve the same kinds of goals in his news show.
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