'48 Hours' Last 20 Years; 'We're Happier Than '60 Minutes''

Two decades ago, CBS’s 48 Hours was rolling around in the horrors of "Crack Street." Last night, it was celebrating in a plush Manhattan lounge.

Around 7 p.m., a throng of TV luminaries gathered on the 20th floor of 230 Fifth Avenue to fete the resilient news documentary show, which recently marked its 20th anniversary on the air, making it the third-longest-running prime-time series on network TV, behind ABC’s 20/20 and CBS’s 60 Minutes.

Susan Zirinsky, the show’s executive producer (who, years ago, served as the model for Holly Hunter’s character in Broadcast News) was the night’s master of ceremony. Along the way, she introduced a series of rah-rah speeches by the likes of CBS chairman Leslie Moonves and CBS News president Sean McManus.

"I think people were overwhelmed by the depth of the feelings they had about their commitment to the show," Ms. Zirinsky told the Media Mob on Friday morning.

"There were no embarrassments," she added.

She said the party was packed with 48 Hours dignitaries, alumni and well-wishers, including CNN president (and former 48 Hours producer ) Jonathan Klein; Sony Corporation chairman (and 48 Hours creator) Sir Howard Stringer; Kid Nation executive producer Tom Foreman; and former CBS News president (and erstwhile 48 Hours EP) Andrew Heyward.

In between speeches, the crew sipped drinks and exchanged TV gossip in the lounge’s many nooks. "I wanted some place that had couches and what I call ‘chatty corners,’" said Ms. Zirinsky. "So people could back away and see people they haven’t seen in 10 or 20 years."

Ms. Zirinsky took over as the show’s third executive producer in 1996. She noted that since then, 48 Hours Mystery (né 48 Hours Investigates) has expanded its role at CBS.

In recent years, the 48 Hours team has grown into something akin to an in-house production boutique. While true-crime stories remain their staple, Ms. Zirinsky’s crew has also helped produce documentaries and specials on everything from major news events (Sept. 11, Hurricane Katrina, Iraq) to pop stars past and present (Britney Spears, Tyra Banks, Elvis Presley).

"Look, we’re not to the manor born," said Ms. Zirinsky. "That’s just the reality I live in. I admire 60 Minutes. Would I like to do 60 Minutes at some point? Yeah, that’s not going to happen. But I feel incredible pride in what we do. … I think we’re a lot happier than 60 Minutes."

Ms. Zirinsky said the expansion of 48 Hours‘ duties dates back several years, to when her crew was working on the CBS ground-zero documentary "9/11." At the time, Mr. Moonves was directly overseeing the project.

"I formed a personal relationship with him because he was really running that show," said Ms. Zirinsky. "My screeners went to him for notes. I said, this is an interesting model for us. I said, I want to be your go-to team. I feel that has happened now."

Ms. Zirinsky said she now gets calls from every division in CBS entertainment. "Creatively we love it because we’re good storytellers," she said. "We can step out of certain journalism boxes to tell a good story. It’s like a journalist writing a novel. … Ultimately, we always come back home."

After the party, Ms. Zirinsky returned home literally. There, she received a late-night phone call from Sir Howard Stringer. He told Ms. Zirinsky that he missed having 48 Hours in his daily life and considered the show one of the greatest achievements of his career.

Also, he was happy to see all the old faces. "He told me that he recognized 70 percent of the people and that they looked great," said Ms. Zirinsky. "I told him it must have been the good lighting."

'48 Hours' Last 20 Years; 'We're Happier Than '60 Minutes''