Tonight at 10 PM, Investigation Discovery’s “On the Case with Paula Zahn” will mark a significant–if somewhat arbitrary–milestone: 100 episodes.
While your run of the mill cable news shows can cross the hundred episode mark in half a year or so, “On the Case” has had a longer road. It launched in 2009, and set the tone for ID’s newsmagazine programs going forward. It was the first program on the channel to pass a 1.0 Nielsen household rating.
“I think in this world of ‘unreal’ reality television, she is the real deal, and I think people understand that, and benefit from that,” says Henry Schleiff, group president and GM of ID, Destination America and Military Channel, and the former CEO of Court TV. ”If you watch ‘On the Case’ you will see that Paula is not only such a great journalist in and of her own right, not only does she ask the questions that you want to know, but she asks the questions that I think are on the mind of the audience, and her reactions are real.”
For Zahn–a veteran of CNN, Fox News, ABC News and CBS News–”On the Case” was a chance to own the product she produced. It also allows her and her team to seek out stories of interest to them, with strong emotional resonance and powerful characters.
“What we have tried to do is find stories that will sustain an hour of coverage, and I think our audience is drawn to our stories on a number of levels,” Zahn told TVNewser recently in a studio green room, as a “100th Episode” cake was being wheeled under studio lights nearby. “Our audience is passionate about the pursuit of justice, they are fascinated with the lengths that law enforcement will go to find the truth, and they are drawn in to find the human drama of a family’s loss.”
Zahn’s program has become a cornerstone of ID’s lineup, routinely drawing some of its highest ratings, and inspiring similar programs on ID and on other channels.
“Imitation/flattery is probably true,” Schleiff said, reclining on a couch in the green room. “Paula has always been the touchstone, the hallmark if you will, in a number of things.”
For Zahn, while the milestone is significant and gratifying, it is the reaction from viewers that gives her the most pleasure.
“As hard as we work and as much as we are digging for great stories, you don’t really know until a show is on the air how the audience will react,” she says. “When people stop me to talk about the show, I am always amazed by the extent to which they are invested in the details of the stories.”
Stories, it should be noted, that are very real.
“The art of good storytelling, I challenge you, with rare exceptions, is lost,” Schleiff said, before departing to join Zahn in cutting the cake for the camera. ”Great stories in this day and age are few and far to find, and when you can get a great story, as you do with ‘On the Case,’ hour after hour on Sunday night, you are going to come back.”