‘48 Hours’ Harnesses Social Media to Launch Cold Case Franchise

CBS’ long-running newsmagazine “48 Hours” is trying a new variation on its true-crime theme with this week’s telecast focusing on a unsolved murder in Florida.

48 Hours: Cold Case: Who Killed Amy Gellert” adds a touch of “America’s Most Wanted” in that it will lay out all the existing evidence and details about multiple suspects, and ask viewers to come forward via a tip line with information they might have to help law enforcement crack the case.

Susan Zirinsky, senior exec producer and the longtime steward of “48 Hours,” said the hope is to produce three “Cold Case” episodes a year starting next fall. The plan is to use social media platforms to further spread the word about the case in the hopes that someone who knows something will finally come forward.

“48 Hours” already has a sizable online following through its “Crimesider” website and via Twitter and other platforms, which Zirinsky and her team have stoked by live-tweeting every episode and seeding digital platforms with extra material.

“We are live on social media every week,” Zirinsky told Variety. “The conversations we have (with viewers) are fantastic.”

In fact, it was the depth of the engagement that “48 Hours” team has with the public that made Zirinsky realize they could harness that communication to possibly help law enforcement.

Over the years, producers have often noted how emotionally connected law enforcement officials become to solving cold cases. The sense of being “haunted” by the desire to see justice done for a victim is big part of most cold-case stories, she said.

“This is not about us trying to do the cops’ job,” Zirinsky said. “This is about giving a voice to the families of the victims and the investigators in these cold cases who have never given up.”

Saturday’s edition has been reported for months by correspondent Erin Moriarty (pictured). Gellert was a 21-year-old woman stabbed in 1994 by a masked man as she tried to enter her parents’  home. The man had been holding her mother and stepfather hostage. Police have long focused on multiple suspects but have never had enough evidence to charge anyone with the crime.

“Somebody out there knows something,” Zirinsky said. “Somebody has a guilty conscience and maybe seeing this report can shake things loose. … If we can do something with our broadcast that helps that — that is enormously gratifying to us.”

The cold-case focus is one of several elements that “48 Hours” has added in recent years to keep the newsmag fresh. It also has the “Live to Tell” series recounting stories of those who survived or witnessed brutal crimes.

“Our niche that we evolved to many years ago is law and justice,” Zirinsky said of “48 Hours.” “I’m always looking for anything I can do to enhance and evolve that brand that is distinctive.”


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