Policeman to producer: Translating personal reality to the TV screens

Scott Weinberger

Scott Weinberger

By Scott Weinberger, executive producer, Weinberger Media

After spending more than 10 years in law enforcement in Florida in a variety of roles – detective, street patrol, narcotics, K-9 handler and fugitive taskforce, followed by a job as a television investigative reporter – my expertise as a producer comes from pure experience. This background allows me to bring a different, honest perspective to the shows I produce. I pride myself on understanding the mechanics of law enforcement and investigative journalism to make reality on TV even more real.

There is a thirst from TV viewers both in the U.S. and internationally to learn more about crime, investigations and the judicial system – it’s why you can turn your TV on any time of the day or night and stumble upon programming fitting into these categories. As a former member of this world, however, it is sometimes difficult for me to watch these scripted shows. On the surface, these programs have all of the mechanisms of what could happen, but rarely adhere to a realistic timeframe.

Put simply, it’s not interesting to watch grass grow. We joke in the law enforcement field that only 20% of our time is exciting and the remaining 80% is boring. Investigations happen under a microscope and take time – a simple task such as bringing samples to a lab to get information on a potential suspect can take weeks to turn around.

On a scripted show, it happens after a commercial break! But there are exceptions: Shows like Homeland and Southland clearly have producers and writers pushing the envelope to give viewers a raw, inside perspective that makes them think.

That kind of raw perspective was what led me to launch Weinberger Media in 2007, focusing on only producing unscripted programming.

On the Case with Paula Zahn, now in its 11th season (which I created and executive produce) proves that it’s possible to strike a very delicate balance between journalism and law to present a real story in an ethical and balanced way. We strive to both honor the memory of someone who has been lost and is now gone from the headlines, but also showcase police officers and prosecutors in an accurate light, including the time, effort and dedication put into investigations. Our program can reopen some very serious and powerful wounds that families have suffered – so while exposing true relationships in our show is important we are doing it in an honest, respectful, kind, understanding, trustworthy way.

“My goal is to break down barriers and bring viewers into crime and legal worlds they never knew even existed.”

Having served as a law enforcement official, I’d be hard-pressed to not discuss another area of programming where police have been recently again been in the limelight – the news. Everyone has a personal reason of becoming a police officer – some want to help the community they grew up in, others just want to help people. Personally, I entered law enforcement to fulfill a childhood fascination – my next door neighbor growing up was a member of the NYPD. Saluting him when he’d leave for work left a lasting impression on me, and early on in my career I realized it would be the most rewarding job I ever had.

But some people enter this profession for the wrong reasons: retaliation, power trips, etc. Any workforce as large as police officers’ is bound to have some bad apples, but this image shouldn’t reflect the entire law enforcement community. The news media needs to be cognizant of this when reporting police stories.

Henry Schleiff, Paula Zahn and Weinberger celebrating the 100th episode of "On the Case with Paula Zahn."

Henry Schleiff, Paula Zahn and Weinberger celebrating the 100th episode of “On the Case with Paula Zahn.”

I am trying to do that with unscripted shows like American Vice, which bring viewers into the criminal underground by following real characters and experiences exposed on-camera. My goal is to break down barriers and bring viewers into crime and legal worlds they never knew even existed. This empowers them to raise questions on crime, law and the judicial system in this country, and ask, “Can this really happen?” It also helps portray a different image of the law enforcement community than often presented on the nightly news, that of caring, compassionate, hard-working people who truly love what they do, and want to help keep this country safe.

Over the past few years I’ve seen Weinberger Media become a viable force in the production of unscripted crime programing, and looking ahead, I hope to continue to show the real, raw world I know all too well. It’s arresting TV!

Former law enforcement officer Scott Weinberger has appeared on Cops, worked in TV news as an investigative reporter, and created scripted dramas (The Marshal) and unscripted shows alike. He currently has projects with Lifetime and CNBC.

The Cynsiders column is a platform for industry leaders to reach out to colleagues, followers, and the public at large. In their own words and in targeted Q&As, columnists address breaking news, issues of the day, and the larger changes going on in the ever-evolving world of television, video and digital. Cynsiders columns live on Cynopsis’ main page and are promoted across all daily newsletters. We welcome readers’ comments, queries, and column ideas at RDawn (@) cynopsis.com

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