Susan Zirinsky by John Paul Filo/CBS
Most network newsmagazines have had to reinvent themselves to survive in recent years and none have done it as successfully as CBS's 48 Hours Mystery
. Entering its fifth year in its true crime format, executive producer Susan Zirinsky has made the program appointment viewing for fans of the genre. The Biz caught up with Zirinsky before the show's Saturday, Sept. 27, season premiere (at 10 pm ET). TVGuide.com: Your show is great at telling crime stories. But do they have much impact on the people involved?
I recently attended an event for a young man, Marty Tankleff, who had been in prison for 17 years. We did six separate hours over a more than seven-year period on this man. We feel we played a part in his being released from prison for being wrongfully convicted of the murder of his parents. It was an incredible event with hundreds of people who had been working on his case. He was a high school junior (when he was arrested) and now he's in his thirties. That's incredibly satisfying. TVGuide.com: You must get a lot of mail from prisoners who think they deserve another day in court.
We do. We've made a huge difference on the ones we've chosen to take on. There's a case we have coming up in November of another young man who was haunted and hounded for 20 years [over a crime he didn't commit]. This cop wouldn't let it go. Finally, they arrested and him put him in jail. And now he walked out. We didn't play the kind of role we did in the Tankleff case, but we reported on this unbelievable miscarriage of justice. TVGuide.com: You produced 72 hour-long shows this past season. Why not make a spin-off or a second show?
The one thing we're going to do this season is to try a couple of new franchises. We want to branch out into doing a different type of story. It would be presented as a limited run series from the producers of 48 Hours
. Four shows under a certain title - it's not going to be called 48 Hours Mystery
. It's going to be something else. Stories under a different umbrella that will be [crime- based], but very different. TVGuide.com: Your season opener about kidnapping victim Shawn Hornbeck sounds pretty intense.
[CBS News correspondent] Troy Roberts came to me with this story over a year ago. He was very taken with the story of this boy, who was kidnapped at age 11 and held for 4-1/2 years before the FBI rescued him. Troy worked it for almost a year. He built up a confidence and trust with the family. Did the kid experience some incredible cruelty and abuse? Yes. We deal with that only peripherally. It's really an inspiring story. The kid is amazing. And the FBI is amazing as they tell how it went down. TVGuide.com: Are you still doing true-crime books based on the show?
Our fourth book hits on Oct. 28. It's a series with Pocket Books. The correspondents and producers write them and they love it. Peter Van Sant has written one, Erin Moriarty has written one.... We have so much research. People love to tell the stories and the stuff they couldn't get into the hour on TV. TVGuide.com: There must be a huge library of shows by now. Where can viewers see them after they air on CBS?
They're shown on a number of other channels. We're on ID (Investigation Discovery). We're on ION. We are on WE. All are packaged as 48 Hours
. There is a conscientious effort to update them. ID Discovery once had a 36-hour marathon. TVGuide.com: When did you realize that the show had respect in the law enforcement community?
There was a conference of homicide investigators and one of our producers was asked to speak at the "bite mark" breakfast. I knew we had arrived.