After leaving CNN in 2007, Paula Zahn has made a welcome return to prime time—she’s now anchoring a weekly series on the Investigation Discovery (ID) channel, called On the Case With Paula Zahn. The series looks at 13 true-crime cases, showing the drama from the various perspectives involved and landing some exclusive interviews with the principals. Zahn talked with MORE about "the totally different set of muscles" she’s using on the show.
MORE: What’s been exciting about doing On the Case?
PAULA ZAHN: The great delight for me is to be able to immerse myself in a story for, in some cases, several weeks to a month at a time. In my old life, I would parachute in and out of key interviews and I would get that piece on the air in a day or two. The pieces wouldn’t be an hour long, as they are in this format. I’m enjoying the process of being able to dig deeper, to test my skills, not only as a journalist but maybe as a prosecutor-slash-defense attorney wannabe, as I’m reviewing these explosive cases. I’ve found it really interesting intellectually. And at their core, these are just really great stories. They have everything—drama, DNA evidence, deceit, jealousy. They have conflicting legal accounts of what happened. And some really extraordinary characters driving the stories.
What have you found particularly surprising?
Each one of these cases is very different. Our first night out, we profiled a young woman named Ashley Reeves, who was left in the woods for some 36 hours in a driving rain and cold weather and had a traumatic brain injury—and miraculously survived. She sat down with me for an exclusive interview. I wanted to know why she’d even want to share the details of her recovery with us; she said it was part of the healing process. The other thing that surprised me about Ashley was the extent to which she wanted to know the details from the investigators. She could’ve gone on the rest of her life never looking at pictures of herself at the crime scene, but she asked to see them because had no recollection of the attack that happened that night. She said the rest of her life she will be haunted by the pictures the investigators ultimately showed her; but she said, "I will always ask myself the question, why did he do that to me?”
There’s another case, involving a guy who sat on Death Row for over a dozen years, who after appeal after appeal finally succeeded in getting his double murder conviction overturned. He discovered documents that had been kept from his attorney—two of the prosecution’s key witnesses had later recanted their testimony, and the defense was never told about these recantations. There’s always a little fact in one of these cases where you, as an observer or an investigator, scratch your head and say, "Well, how is it that the jury never saw that? Why wouldn’t the defense have had this?"
What do you think sets your show apart from others that look back at true crimes?
Obviously the shows that are part of this genre have been on the air for years and have been quite successful. It doesn’t come as any surprise to us that 48 Hours and 20/20 and Dateline have worked, as well as CSI and all those other Hollywood drama stories have. What sets us apart is my involvement as a producer and a host, because I’m doing the major reporting on these stories. Up until this point in my career, I’ve never had the luxury to work with a story for a month or two at a time. That’s allowing us to dig deeper and land some exclusive interviews that have gotten a lot of attention and have, I think, really changed the way people view the cases. I want that to be the hallmark of the show.
Is there an interview you’ve been working on or haven’t been able to get?
I have one that I’ve gotten but I’m not allowed to talk about it! But we’re constantly working cases; in the case of Ashley Reeves, we called for a good half year before we got a commitment from her.Are we going to be able to land that exclusive interview with every show? Maybe not, but we’re going to try.