It began at 10 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 24, 1968.

"Good evening. This is '60 Minutes,' " Harry Reasoner said into the camera.

With fellow correspondent Mike Wallace seated next to him, Reasoner explained the concept of the new show -- one that had the flexibility and diversity of a magazine, adapted to broadcast journalism.
Hewitt obituary: An obituary of CBS news executive Don Hewitt in Thursday's Section A said his father worked for the Boston Herald American. When Hewitt's father worked for the newspaper, it was called the Boston American. —

The show with the iconic ticking stopwatch launched the TV newsmagazine genre and later became a Sunday evening ritual for millions of viewers.

"60 Minutes" was the brainchild of Don Hewitt, the show's longtime executive producer, who died Wednesday of pancreatic cancer at his home in Bridgehampton, N.Y., at age 86.

Hewitt's new brand of TV journalism offered a mix of exposes, human-interest stories and profiles, and spawned a flood of imitators, including ABC's "20/20" and NBC's "Dateline."

"I unashamedly admit I stole this program lock, stock and barrel, from Life magazine," he told The Times in 1980. "It's an illustrated anthology."

And, in time, it became the top-rated show on television.

" '60 Minutes" became the television viewer's "Sunday absolution," Av Westin, a former executive producer of "20/20" and a former ABC News executive who worked with Hewitt at CBS, said Wednesday.

"Even if you hadn't read a book or a newspaper all week, if you saw '60 Minutes,' the next morning at the water cooler, you could say, 'I am informed,' " he said. "It really became kind of a visceral attraction that people couldn't miss."

Bill Small, who served as a top executive at CBS News and NBC News, said that when "60 Minutes" began taking off in the ratings, "the other networks said, 'We ought to do something like that.' All the magazine shows -- even the lightweight entertainment shows -- owe their roots to what Hewitt was doing."

In the process, "60 Minutes" turned its correspondents -- Wallace, Reasoner, Morley Safer, Dan Rather and Lesley Stahl among others -- and the man behind the scenes -- into household names.

Respected innovator

Hewitt was already a highly respected TV newsman.

In a television career that started in 1948, when he began his association with CBS as an associate director on the network's evening news show, Hewitt's numerous accomplishments earned him a place in the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences' Hall of Fame in 1990.

Among them:

He produced and directed what ultimately became known as "Douglas Edwards With the News" from 1949 to 1962 and was executive producer the first year of the ensuing "CBS Evening News With Walter Cronkite," during which the traditional 15-minute news broadcast was expanded to 30 minutes.