Philip Scheffler, whose half-century career including a long stint as creator Don Hewitt’s right-hand man on CBS’ 60 Minutes, died today at New York Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center in Manhattan. He was 85.
Scheffler had a direct hand in producing every 60 Minutes report for nearly a quarter-century — from when he was named newsmagazine’s senior producer in 1980 until his retirement in 2003. He later was executive editor for several years. Before his senior posts, Scheffler produced 60 Minutes segments for Mike Wallace, Morley Safer, Harry Reasoner and Dan Rather for nine years. When tempers flared in the screening room between Hewitt and one of his correspondents, it was the professorial Scheffler — sporting a bow tie and close-cropped beard — who played referee. “My job was to tell Don Hewett ‘no,'” he said in 60 Minutes Overtime interview (watch it above).
“Phil was a guiding force behind the success of 60 Minutes for more than two decades,” said the program’s current EP Jeff Fager, to whom Scheffler was a mentor and friend. “Don Hewitt often said he couldn’t have done it without him. He was a first-class journalist, an admirable human being and a great friend to many of us. We will miss him very much.”
A native New Yorker Scheffler’s relationship with Hewitt dates to 1951, when the exec hired him as a copy boy on CBS’ Douglas Edwards with the News. Produced and directed by Hewitt, it had debuted in 1948 as the first network TV news program. Also in 1951, Scheffler became its first street reporter. His initial field assignment was to ask people whether they thought Gen. Dwight Eisenhower should enter politics and run for the Republican presidential nomination.
Scheffler was drafted into the Army in 1953 and served his two years. During this period, he helped write and produced a weekly CBS series in which a Korean War recruit was followed through basic training at New Jersey’s Fort Dix. Scheffler returned to CBS and continued working as writer, reporter and producer for the nightly network news and other regularly scheduled CBS News programs through the 1950s.
From 1960-63. Scheffler served as associate producer and on-air reporter next gig for the news program Eyewitness. He briefly served as an associate producer on The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite, where he covered the Kennedy assassination, before joining the documentary unit in 1964. There, Scheffler would produce more than 100 documentary and special news broadcasts. In 1981, he received the Alumni Award for distinguished contributions to journalism from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He also once taught classes there.
Scheffler is survived by his wife, Dr. Linda Weingarten Scheffler; daughter Ramsay Klaff; and son Adam.