For 13 seasons On the Case with Paula Zahn has brought viewers on the Investigation Discovery Channel gritty hour-long documentaries about some of the most heinous crimes ever committed in America, often by those we’d least suspect—neighbors, friends, lovers, family members, and of course strangers with no connection whatsoever to their victims.
Until 2007 Zahn was enjoying a prosperous career as a major network anchor until she ventured into crime investigations on cable. Admittedly, it was a rather turbulent career, leapfrogging from one network to another—first ABC in 1987, then CBS, FOX, and finally CNN —until it appears that a need to balance career and family prompted her to enter a development deal with producers Scott Weinberger and Scott Sternberg for a true crime series for Investigation Discovery. On the Case with Paula Zahn premiered October 18, 2009, and the show has plowed a steady uphill track ever since. In May, Investigation Discovery announced that it had enjoyed its best quarter ever—a trend starting to sound a bit repetitive since the cable channel had been announcing that it broke into the elite club of top-10 channels a number of years ago. In its latest season On the Case was consistently among ID’s highest-rated shows.
Not bad considering competition from the likes of Homicide Hunter: Lt. Joe Kendra, featuring an actual former homicide detective with over 400 cases under his belt, or rivalry from another retired network anchor, Barbara Walters, in American Scandals. Perhaps the “not-to-secret” secret is that all of these shows are also produced by Investigation Discovery, and few other channels have taken up the gauntlet to compete with the formula ID has mastered, meaning On the Case rarely faces another show in its niche genre during its Sunday, 10 PM time slot.
Even Barbara Walters presents American Scandals did not make it beyond its inaugural 2015 season, although its suspected this had more to do with politics and paychecks rather than ratings. Bloggers continually feud over whether they prefer Paula Zahn or Lt. Joe Kendra, with Kendra’s fans usually more vocal, defending his credentials as a “real” detective and Zahn as a lightweight. Other complaints about Zahn are that her age lines continue to deepen or that her voice is increasingly grating. This seems partially due to a voice affectation much like her former competitor, Barbara Walters. In Walters case, the oft-lampooned lisp is associated with a difficulty in pronouncing the letter “r”. Zahn’s challenge is related to the letters “s” or “sh”, particularly by combining these sounds with a hard “k”. Her scriptwriters are often sensitive to this and try to avoid such combinations.
Those who criticize Homicide Hunters: Lt. Joe Kendra often point to corny re-enactments by Hollywood actors, while On the Case with Paula Zahn sticks by the philosophy that “less is more”, striving to creatively represent their re-enactments by never showing faces and highlighting props, such as weapons, blood stains, and shattering glass.
On the Case with Paula Zahn has certainly proven its staying power by building up a devoted following and remaining on the air since 2009. Its 13th season finale and 156th episode was broadcast on June 5. Currently in summer reruns, no formal announcement have been made whether a 14th Season is in the works. Presuming the terms are kosher, Paula Zahn is willing, and Investigation Discovery can contemplate no particular reason to cancel one of its consistently top-rated shows, viewers can soon expect a new line-up of grisly investigations.
Tell us what you think? Do you remain a staunch fan of the brand of investigative crime journalism that On the Case with Paula Zahn has brought its viewers since 2009? Is there anything the show should change or do you like it just the way it is?