Zirinsky will lead the new See It Now Studios, a new production unit that will create news, documentary and unscripted programming for the Paramount Plus streaming-video hub, the CBS broadcast network and other networks owned by parent company ViacomCBS. Zirinsky will serve as president of the new division and report directly to George Cheeks, president and CEO of CBS, and chief content officer of news and sports programming for Paramount Plus. The studio will also create spinoffs of CBS News brands, and produce “insta-docs” in the wake of major current events.
“This is a studio built on the foundation of the incredible journalism and storytelling of CBS News but with a broader remit,” Cheeks said in a prepared statement. “See It Now Studios will have the flexibility to work across a range of production formats and concepts to meet the growing needs of linear and streaming platforms, including producing premium documentary content for Paramount Plus. There is no one better to lead this new unit than the journalistic and producing force of nature that is Susan Zirinsky. She and her team have already hit the ground running.”
Zirinsky starts her new role as demand is intensifying for documentary and news-related programming. ABC News has started to build a pipeline of quick-hit programming that runs on Hulu, the Disney-owned streaming site. Fox News Media’s Fox Nation has taken to showing documentary-style programming, enlisting personalities such as Lara Logan and Nancy Grace to present it. CNN is slated to launch a new streaming hub, CNN Plus, in early 2022, and has already established itself as hub for documentary-style shows led by Lisa Ling, W. Kamau Bell and Stanley Tucci.
The studio already has several projects in its pipeline. “The 26th Street Garage: The FBI’s Untold Story of 9/11” debuts Thursday on Paramount Plus. Narrated by actor Tom Selleck, the program tells the story of how the Federal Bureau of Investigation maneuvered in the days after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. “Race Against Time: The CIA and 9/11” debuts Friday on CBS and Paramount Plus, and features former top officials inside the CIA, sharing first-person accounts of their efforts to stop Osama bin Laden and the catastrophic 9/11 attack they knew was coming but not when.
“We’ve got a slate of powerful projects that use immersive storytelling to illuminate people and places that rarely grant access,” said Zirinsky, who has gained fame as a top TV-news producer and as the first woman to work as president of CBS News. She began her CBS News career in its Washington bureau two weeks after the infamous Watergate break-in and has stayed with the company. “These are strong, story-driven projects, with engaging narratives and compelling characters that will keep viewers watching.”
The new studio’s name has ties to the hallowed past of CBS News. The program “See It Now,” produced by Edward R. Murrow and Fred Friendly, launched on Nov. 18, 1951, and opened with the first live simultaneous coast-to-coast broadcast TV transmission. “See It Now” was a major influence on television journalism and led to the launch of “CBS Reports” and “60 Minutes.”
Terence Wrong, who has produced more than 200 hours of documentaries and docuseries for broadcast, premium and cable, will join the new unit as its senior executive producer of content oversight, while Aysu Saliba will serve as its supervising producer of development. Grace Kim is the unit’s production manager, and Amy Gardner is an associate producer. Zirinsky will also draw on Mitch Weitzner, an executive producer at CBS News’ documentary unit, and his established team of Sasha Reuther and Danielle Levy.
The unit is also working on a project called “Ghislaine,” a four-part series for Paramount Plus that examines allegations against Ghislaine Maxwell, who is slated to face a jury on charges of sex trafficking in connection with her relationship with the late Jeffrey Epstein. Another six-part series for Paramount Plus, “Unsealed: The Insurrection,” will examine the world of far-right extremism, and is a co-production with XG Productions.
See It Now Studio will also produce content for outside parties, and distribution of its work will be supervised by the ViacomCBS Global Distribution Group.