William A. Leonard, a CBS News veteran who influenced network media stars from Edward R. Murrow to Dan Rather and helped develop such shows as 60 Minutes, died Sunday of a stroke. He was 78.
Mr. Leonard died at Laurel Regional Hospital, according to Tom Goodman, a spokesman for CBS. He lived in nearby Washington, D.C.
Mr. Leonard was responsible for the selection of Rather to succeed Walter Cronkite as anchor of the CBS Evening News. Earlier, he had been a key figure in the creation of 60 Minutes, as well as of techniques for rapidly predicting the outcome of political races.
"Bill Leonard was the only on-air network journalist ever to be president of CBS News, and his bravura, warm and iconoclastic style reflected his years as a major broadcaster and made him a brilliant, unique executive," said Howard Stringer, president of the CBS Broadcast Group. "He presided over all of the great documentaries of the 1960s and 1970s and was the godfather of 60 Minutes. In recent years, he has been a benevolent and inspired adviser to the network _ wise, witty and above all, generous."
Mr. Leonard joined CBS in 1945, anchoring a program that became This is New York on the radio and later Eye on New York on television. The series, which ran for 15 years with Mr. Leonard as host, was one of the forerunners of today's electronic magazine format.
He was a floor reporter at the 1952, 1956 and 1960 political conventions and went on to become head of the newly formed CBS News Election Unit. By 1965, he had become vice president and later, senior vice president of CBS News programing.
In 1975, Mr. Leonard went to Washington as CBS Inc.'s vice president for government relations. He returned to New York on his appointment as executive vice president and chief operating officer of CBS News and succeeded the retiring Richard S. Salant as president of CBS News in 1979. He retired in 1982 but continued to consult and contribute ideas to CBS News.
Mr. Leonard's many news and broadcasting citations included a George Foster Peabody award for his career contribution to radio and television, several Emmys and the Albert Lasker Award for Medical Journalism.