By Stephen M. Silverman
Updated January 27, 2003 10:37 AM

In what will truly mark the end of an era, Don Hewitt — who invented the CBS flagship newsmagazine “60 Minutes” and has been its executive producer since its debut nearly 35 years ago — announced on Monday he is stepping down next year.

Jeff Fager, 48, executive producer of “60 Minutes II,” will succeed him, the Associated Press reports.

The announcement regarding the future leadership of the Sunday-night fixture — starring correspondents Mike Wallace, Morley Safer, Ed Bradley, Steve Kroft and Lesley Stahl — follows a recent lengthy article in The New York Times that revealed Hewitt and executives at CBS were locked in gentlemanly combat over his retirement plans (or lack thereof).

The network, citing Hewitt’s age, reportedly wanted the newsman (who’d been with CBS since 1948) out, while Hewitt, whose motto was, “I want to die at my desk,” had repeatedly emphasized that he had no intention of leaving.

After stepping down from the program, Hewitt will become executive producer at CBS News, in charge of developing new projects and offering advice to Fager. Terms of the deal between the network and Hewitt were not revealed.

“There is no way to overstate what Don Hewitt has meant to CBS, and there aren’t too many people who have literally created standards by which an entire industry has operated,” CBS president Leslie Moonves said in a statement. “Don has done all of that and more.”

As quoted in Tuesday’s New York Times, Hewitt said: “Today, I feel like I can take on tigers. Nobody knows what tomorrow’s going to be like. Now I know what tomorrow’s going to be like. I’ve got a contract that sounds pretty good to me. It’s a bird in the hand versus who knows what?”