Robert Chandler, a former CBS executive who played a crucial role in creating the highly rated and critically acclaimed weekly newsmagazine “60 Minutes,” died Thursday at his home in Pittsfield, Mass. He was 80. The cause was heart failure, his son Doug said.
Mr. Chandler was a producer and director of documentaries and election coverage in 1966 when his colleague Don Hewitt proposed a new format: a newsmagazine with several segments rather than the standard hourlong documentary.
“In the formative years, he was our biggest fan at CBS,” Mr. Hewitt, who was executive producer of “60 Minutes” for 36 years, said in an interview on Friday. “Chandler pushed ‘60 Minutes’ to replace ‘CBS Reports’ when Fred Friendly and Dick Salant were not enthusiastic about the idea of a weekly newsmagazine.”
Mr. Friendly was president of CBS News from 1964 to 1966 and Mr. Salant led the division from 1966 to 1979. The first “60 Minutes” was broadcast on Sept. 24, 1968. “Bob played a very important part in setting up the format,” Mr. Hewitt said, “and now almost everybody in the world, certainly in Europe and Asia, has a weekly newsmagazine.”
By 1973, Mr. Chandler was vice president for public affairs broadcasting and Mr. Hewitt’s boss, with budget oversight and a voice in story selection. As director of the network’s election unit in the late 1960s, Mr. Chandler created and operated the CBS News Poll. In that capacity, he negotiated the 1976 partnership that established The New York Times/CBS News Poll. He also supervised the network’s coverage of elections and conventions from 1968 through 1974.
Among the documentaries that Mr. Chandler produced, co-produced or wrote in his 22 years at CBS were “Under Surveillance” (1971), a report on the government’s surveillance of dissenters, and “The People of South Vietnam: How They Feel About the War” (1967).
In 1975, Mr. Chandler was promoted to vice president for administration and assistant to the president of CBS News. He retired from the network in 1985, but later worked at NBC and, in 1990, was executive producer of a two-hour PBS documentary, “Learning in America: Schools That Work.”
Robert Zuckerkandle was born in Brooklyn on Sept. 25, 1928, one of two sons of Louis and Minnie Gurin Zuckerkandle. (He chose Chandler as a pen name before legally changing his last name.) Mr. Chandler earned a degree in economics in 1949 at City College of New York, where he was also editor of the college newspaper. In his sophomore year he met Eleanor Reiff; they were married in 1951.
After college, Mr. Chandler was hired by Variety as a music reporter. He served in the United States Army in Germany from 1951 to 1953, then returned to Variety to cover radio and television. In 1961, MGM hired him as publicity director for its television division.
Two years later, he joined CBS as public relations director for the news division. In addition to his wife and his son Doug, Mr. Chandler is survived by another son, Larry; his brother, Martin; and one grandchild.
COMMENTARY By Gregory Hilton
I read the above obituary for Robert Chandler with real sadness. He produced many outstanding documentaries over a long career. I only met him briefly, but I felt I knew him because of my close friendship with his son. Doug Chandler followed his father into journalism.
For many years Doug lived in Israel and was able to reconnect with his family’s religious roots. His parents were always one of his favorite topics. They were married for 57 years, and his mother has also had a remarkable life. The above article mentions just some of Robert Chandler’s accomplishments, but the most significant is his outstanding family. My Dad passed away in May, and Doug and I were both fortunate to have had such wonderful fathers. The Torah tells us that a basic tenet of the Jewish faith is the belief that those who have died will be restored to eternal life. Death is but a temporary hiatus, and we will see them again.