NEW YORK — "60 Minutes" executive producer Don Hewitt said Wednesday he had no objection to the network's decision to begin using his five star correspondents on the "CBS Evening News," although he had balked at the idea when it was first proposed last year.
Hewitt, in charge of CBS' Sunday night news program since it went on the air in 1968, said his change of heart came after the proposal was revised to make his reporters irregular--instead of regular--contributors to the "Evening News."
The five are Mike Wallace, who next week will be the first contributor, Morley Safer, Harry Reasoner, Ed Bradley and Diane Sawyer.
"This will work out all right," Hewitt said. "If I didn't think that, I would have objected."
The five are to take turns appearing on CBS's weeknight newscast with their former "60 Minutes" colleague Dan Rather, joining the anchorman in the program's New York studio to do reports that provide perspective and background on major stories.
This analytical segment, originally employing correspondents Bob Schieffer and Bruce Morton on alternating weeks, began last summer during the Iran-Contra hearings.
However, with those and other top correspondents now heavily involved in covering the presidential campaigns or working other assignments, including CBS' new prime-time series "48 Hours," the "60 Minutes" quintet is being brought in to help out on Rather's program, CBS officials said.
CBS News President Howard Stringer conceded that some critics may say the move is merely cosmetic, intended to add the luster of five top news "names" who in reality won't be fully involved in the stories they are explaining.
"But we're not doing that," he said. "That was what they did not want to do; that's what Don Hewitt was afraid of before when we thought about it."
When they appear on the "CBS Evening News," he emphasized, it will be as fully involved journalists, and "they have the contacts and the connections to make the phone calls, and they have the writing skills.
"So they're doing real work, and they help us--particularly in an election year when, with coverage of the candidates, you're spread thinner than usual, and we've also got '48 Hours' to work on too."
Scheduled to premiere Jan. 19, "48 Hours" is a weekly documentary series giving an in-depth look at one subject. Rather will anchor the broadcast.
There seemed to be some uncertainty within CBS News on how often and for how long the "60 Minutes" correspondents would be appearing on the "CBS Evening News."
Late Tuesday, when CBS News disclosed their planned appearances, a spokesperson said that they would contribute to Rather's program on a regular basis, depending on their availability from "60 Minutes."
However, Hewitt said Wednesday that "each one is going to do it one week a year."
In a separate interview, Tom Bettag, executive producer of Rather's program, said that nothing is definite and that "there's no commitment that it's one time in the whole year or that it's going to be three or four or whatever.
"It's just, 'Let's start it and see where it takes us.' "
Asked about Hewitt's assertion, Bettag replied that "we'll do whatever Don feels he can spare. What I'm going to do is start the thing and see where it leads."