Not-So-Suddenly Susan!

nytvuse this susan zirinsky Not So Suddenly Susan!It doesn’t surprise many that Susan Zirinsky, the CBS News producer, was the inspiration for Holly Hunter’s Jane Craig character in Broadcast News.

On a recent Monday afternoon, she was uncharacteristically static for a moment as she stared at a framed poster for Three Days in September, a documentary about the 2004 Chechen terrorist attack on a school in southern Russia.

Normally a compact blur of energy, she wears her brown hair in a signature bob and stares out at the world with intense brown eyes, framed by round rimless glasses with bright pink temples. On Monday afternoon, she was dressed in a dark skirt, with knee-high boots and a navy blue overcoat.

It doesn’t surprise many that Susan Zirinsky, the CBS News producer, was the inspiration for Holly Hunter’s Jane Craig character in Broadcast News.

On a recent Monday afternoon, she was uncharacteristically static for a moment as she stared at a framed poster for Three Days in September, a documentary about the 2004 Chechen terrorist attack on a school in southern Russia.

Normally a compact blur of energy, she wears her brown hair in a signature bob and stares out at the world with intense brown eyes, framed by round rimless glasses with bright pink temples. On Monday afternoon, she was dressed in a dark skirt, with knee-high boots and a navy blue overcoat.

The film, Ms. Zirinsky said, started out as an episode on CBS’s long-running true-crime show 48 Hours Mystery, on which she is the executive producer, before it was spun off into a film for the cable channel Showtime and was nominated for a prime-time Emmy.

Below the main image in the poster, a photo of a bloodied hostage, was a sentence that Ms. Zirinsky had composed years earlier. It read: “In the proud tradition of broadcasting excellence, CBS News is honored to have produced this powerful documentary for Showtime.”

Ms. Zirinsky’s eyes widened. “We’re not a cable operation,” she said. “But we’re always looking for more platforms.”

To wit: In recent years, Ms. Zirinsky has somewhat improbably transformed her 48 Hours team of editors and producers into a kind of all-purpose production boutique that is constantly moonlighting projects for CBS media partners outside the news division. 

Along the way, her team has worked on a reality series about Britney Spears for the now defunct UPN; a Web series about the fictional show Jericho for CBS’s entertainment division; several Top Model specials for the CW; and a number of documentaries, on everything from Hurricane Katrina to Elvis Presley to the war in Iraq.

Ms. Zirinsky said that when 48 Hours aired its initial story about the Chechen terrorist attack, it put up horrendous numbers. But she believed that the project deserved a second life and, despite the bad ratings, managed to talk Showtime executives into making the documentary.

“You can say ‘no’ to me 50 times, I’m still going to call you on Monday with an idea,” said Ms. Zirinsky. “I think the truly successful people in this business are ravenous.”

The Observer gazed around Ms. Zirinsky’s office, which was stockpiled with three decades of memorabilia from her professional life at CBS News. There were photos of a young Dan Rather, of a ’70s-era Ed Bradley, and of Ms. Zirinsky’s mentor, Lesley Stahl. A gas mask hung on the wall, not far from a Vladimir Putin souvenir clock, a photo of tanks in Tiananmen Square and a pack of band-aids, designed to look like crime scene tape. “I know, sensory overload,” said Ms. Zirinksy. “My mother once said, ‘Put everything out.”

Ms. Zirinsky’s assistant popped her head into the office. One of Ms. Zirinsky’s past collaborators, David Friend, the editor of creative development for Vanity Fair, was on the phone.

These days Ms. Zirinsky is teaming up on a number of side projects with Katie Couric, who, like Ms. Zirinksy, is an insatiable newswoman always on the prowl for more stories, platforms and airtime. “For Katie and us, it’s a perfect marriage,” said Ms. Zirinsky. “It’s a total connection. We’re her secondary team.”

Not long ago, The Observer asked Ms. Couric, on the heels of her game-changing interviews with vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, what more she would like from CBS. “I really would like more time,” said Ms. Couric.

Wish: granted.

In recent weeks, Ms. Couric has been popping up all over the network’s schedule. On Jan. 18, during CBS’s halftime coverage of the AFC championship game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens, Ms. Couric made a surprise news blitz. Two nights later, she was back in prime time, hosting an hour-long inauguration special from the National Building Museum, interviewing President Barack Obama, grooving on Bon Jovi and presidential history and civil rights and playfully mocking her tuxedo-clad colleague Chip Reid, whom she called a fashionista.

The surge continues.

On Wednesday, Jan. 28, Ms. Couric will push aside Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ comedy show The New Adventures of the Old Christine for a special edition of the CBS Evening News. And on Wednesday, Feb. 4, Ms. Couric will host an hour-long prime-time special about the Grammy Awards, featuring freestylin’ interviews with the likes of Justin Timberlake and Lil Wayne.

The 48 Hours crew helped conceive, pitch and execute both the inauguration and the Grammy specials. “We are riding Katie,” said Ms. Zirinsky. “She’s a powerhouse. The more venues we can have her on, letting Katie be Katie, the better it plays for us.”