Les Crystal, Who Led NBC News And PBS’s ‘NewsHour,’ Dies At 85

Les Crystal, who was president of NBC News in the late 1970s before serving for more than two decades as the executive producer of PBS’s NewsHour, died on Wednesday. He was 85.

Crystal had stomach cancer and pneumonia, according to the broadcast.

“Rest in peace Les Crystal, a wonderful human being, @NewsHour‘s first Executive Producer, consummate television newsman, mentor and dear friend,” NewsHour anchor Judy Woodruff wrote on Twitter. “Our hearts go out to his wife Toby and their beautiful family.” 

Crystal joined the program as executive producer in 1983, when it was anchors by Robert MacNeil and Jim Lehrer and was known as The MacNeil/Lehrer Report. The show that year expanded to an hour that year, becoming the first national newscast to do so. He steered the show into a now familiar format of going in-depth on major stories each night, a contrast to the time constraints on commercial broadcast newscasts.

Lehrer, who died in January, credited Crystal with bringing “journalistic standards, a total grasp of television as a news medium and superb managerial skills to public television.”

Born in Duluth, MN, Crystal graduated from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. He started his career as a news writer for KDAL, a radio and TV station in Duluth.

He served as executive producer of NBC Nightly News from 1973 to 1976, and president of the network news division from 1977 to 1979. During that time, he even appeared on the cover of TV Guide with other network news chiefs, including Roone Arledge from ABC and Richard Salant from CBS.

Crystal stepped down as executive producer of NewsHour in 2005 and remained at MacNeil/Lehrer Productions until 2010. He then served several years as a consultant.

Crystal is survived by wife Toby Wilson and children Brad, Alan and Liz.

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