The Mystery Behind the Hit Show ‘48 Hours’ Revealed

The lives of homicide squads has fascinated audiences for years. This is probably why the show 48 Hours is so popular. This strenuous job demands long hours and dangerous locations that can take a toll on these officers, both physically and mentally.

48 Hours / 48 Hours / Crime-Scene Investigation / Interrogation Room.
Source: A&E tv

Essentially the show tracks the entire process from finding the victim’s body to gathering intel about potential suspects through phone calls and informants. One of the most challenging aspects considered on the job is sharing the reality with the victims’ families. Here is an inside scoop on the making of the show.

No Script is Used

It’s hard to believe that a TV show is not scripted. Even reality TV shows that supposedly display honest reactions of the characters receive some instruction for scenes. However, in 48 Hours, there really is no script. Yes, the show is greatly edited, but that is because they must cut down the footage to fit it in the 48 hour time span.

A promo shot for the show.
Source: YouTube

The success of the show has also led to numerous spinoffs. Some familiar titles include The First 48: Missing Persons, Marcia Clark Investigates The first 48 Hours, The Killer Speaks, and more.

Demographics and Controversy

The show gained popularity over the years, but some parts of the US have taken a liking to it more than others. The South-Eastern areas that have watched the show had a rate of 3 to 4 more times than other parts of the country.

A still from the detectives in the interrogation room.
Source: A&E tv

There has been controversy, of course. How can you have a show of this nature without it? For example, there has been questionable police officer behavior. Additionally, it is possible that the people convicted didn’t actually end up going to jail. Controversy always reels people in when watching a show, especially one that has been on for so long.

It’s Not a Perfect Show

The show gathers firsthand accounts and information to crack the cases. However, logically not all the witnesses want to be interviewed. For example, someone who comes in as a witness might fear that the person being convicted might come after them at some point or doesn’t see jail time.

A still of a witness sitting on the stand.
Source: A&E tv

The show changes the sound of the people being interviewed and disguises their faces to reduce the fear. Another issue is that the show has tended to cause tension between the city leaders and the police departments.

Not Everyone Wants the Lime Light

Imagine a camera filming your every reaction, movement, and conversation on the job. It could be a little invasive to have people follow you around to catch your every move. There is no doubt that it will influence your job, even more so for police investigators whose job is already hard enough.

A detective is speaking to the camera.
Source: A&E tv

What would a crime investigation show be without concrete evidence? 48 Hours has been credited with gathering information during the show that was later used to continue the case. Essentially, the show itself could be considered as a source of evidence.

Not All the Detectives Are Camera Shy

Most of the detectives on the show prefer to keep a low profile on the show and don’t share too much personal information about themselves. However, in 2018, Detective Rayell Johnson was an anomaly in this category. He has both Twitter and Instagram accounts where you can find pictures of his department and selfies.

The detectives pose for a promo shot.
Source: A&E tv

He also wrote his own rap song called “9ine to 5ive” and took on ‘Ray-L’ as his rapper name. The music video can be found on YouTube showing the detective on a death investigation call while shocked observers melt over the display.

Doing a Service to the Public

The officers on the show do not get paid or receive any financial earnings for being filmed. Many are content with having a film crew follow them as it gives the average citizen a better understanding of homicide investigations.

A police officer in a still from the show.
Source: A&E tv

Sometimes the show displays some merchandise like hats, stickers, and water bottles found on officers’ desks. But this is to hint at the show. However, this setup led to retiring one of the original cities with the show’s most famous squad.

Why Did They Leave?

Broward County of Miami had been working with The First 48 Hours for nine years. In 2013, the producers were confronted with a deal for a donation. The request was to give a pre-determined number of proceedings to a volunteer softball league organized by law enforcement for at-risk minors.

A still from the show.
Source: YouTube

They saw it as a way of the show giving back to the city that they had worked with for years. Negotiations were disputed, and they never reached a formal agreement, although requesting this contract be saved as an open option for future production staff.

Heart of the Show

The original city of the show was Miami, and the main detective was none other than Joe Schillaci. He was one of the longest working detectives on the homicide squad. He did some voiceover narrations highlighting his career and his struggles with PTSD.

A photo behind the scenes.
Source: YouTube

He also ended up writing a book in detail about his struggle with PTSD. Schillaci was promoted outside the squad’s department near the end of the show’s filming in Miami. He was later featured in a true-crime program called Dead Again that wasn’t on the air for very long.

Expanding Careers

Maybe the detectives don’t get paid, but they gain a particular level of fame and exposure with the true-crime entertainment circle. Some are asked to participate in other criminal investigation shows or have kicked off their own programs as a result.

A still of a detective from the show.
Source: A&E tv

For example, Detective Summer Benton has been featured in a few Atlanta episodes. Other detectives from the Cincinnati location took part in Inside Homicide, an Investigation Discovery program. The program features detectives Jenny Like and Jennifer Mitsch, but aired for a limited time.

A Different Perspective

Inside Homicide portrayed the women’s point of view, considering that women make up only 15% of officers in municipals, regions, and states. Another detective that took his recognition to a new program was Chris Anderson. He starred in Reasonable Doubts with a Los Angeles attorney.

A still from Inside Homicide.
Source: YouTube

On the show, they reopen previously closed cases whose materials are so obvious. It reinvestigates convicts to see if they were truly guilty of murder. The detective was optimistic regarding the show as this was surrounding a time where the criminal justice system was taking a lot of heat.

Cities Aren’t Picked at Random

Cities featured on the show aren’t picked at random. There is a method kept under wraps by the producers; however, much of it has to do with their personal connections to police departments and professional associations. For example, they have cooperated with the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

Detectives at the station in a still from the show.
Source: A&E tv

They do avoid major cities such as New York and Los Angles because enough crime is covered in those cities. Usually, the chief decides if the show can film in their city; however, an official city council voting before permission is finalized.

Not Being Chosen

Being voted out is also a possible scenario. Cities could be chosen or the production team leaves with time. For example, the city council in Memphis began worrying that the show made the city dangerous. They decided against the productions regardless of the department Chief’s agreement.

A screengrab from an episode.
Source: YouTube

The show’s narration sometimes shares devastating crime rates and gang activity statistics to turn people away from visiting. There is a downside because there are cities with talented squads that are fully capable of solving homicide cases.

Blurred Faces

The show often displays suspects, witnesses, and people related to the crimes with blurred faces. However, not everyone is given the privilege. There are clear things that demand obscurities, such as personal documentation and email addresses.

A still from the television show.
Source: YouTube

When it comes to people’s faces, the decision to blur one out comes only after the production crew is made filming an episode. They are offered a waiver to sign that allows their face to be displayed on the camera; however, their faces are blurred if they disagree.

Considering a Situation

The First 48 Hours has received its criticism focusing on how the show uses murder victims’ suffering for entertainment purposes. Although the show displays graphic and challenging situations, it tries to help those affected.

An image from a victim in a still from the show.
Source: A&E tv

Most of the show’s episodes end credits have a website that allows those affected to have access to outreach programs. Contact information for such programs can be found through the A&E link post. There is also a list of non-profit organizations that help, such as The Parents of Murdered Children.

What Do They Provide?

Services include grief and trauma counseling, while others provide support in trial proceedings for extensive survivors if requested. Such organizations and programs are heavily based on donations and do not receive support from the state or local Police Department.

Officers in a still from the show.
Source: A&E tv

There is no such thing as perfect. A&E is a television network. However, they are trying to provide some sort of accommodation for people affected by the investigations and their challenges once the cameras are off and the police take on other cases.

Why Filming is Good

To some, filming is a distraction; to others it’s an opportunity to put their best foot forward. Detectives featured on the show have shared that being filmed has motivated them to do a better job. They try to work in a positive and professional work atmosphere.

A family speaks during a televised interview.
Source: A&E tv

Some have even said that being on the show has assisted in changing the citizens’ point of view of their city’s police officers. Rather than seeing them as authorities who are barging in and taking over, they would view them as people who are doing their best to protect their citizens.

Why Filming is Bad

Legal challenges have presented themselves because of the footage in the show without anyone necessarily doing something out of place. In 2015, a Minneapolis murder case headed to court, and attorneys working on the case tried to take hold of all the raw footage, stating that it could be hazardous to the case.

A still from the show.
Source: YouTube

48 Hours was not happy and indicated a misrecognition of their first amendment right (Freedom of Speech/Press) to access sources given to journalists. The footage was never handed over because of the contract the show signed with the city.

A Famous Voice Over

Noted for his delicate and mild voice, Dion Graham is the man behind the show’s narration. He has taken on other well-recognized TV roles, such as attorney Rupert Bond on The Wire. He was also cast as Lieutenant Felix Iresso on Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.

Dion Graham attends an event.
Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images

Graham has taken on single character roles on crime shows, such as Homicide: Life on the Street to Elementary and a federal agent on Gossip Girl. However, his most respected work has been as an audiobook narrator that has led to several awards.

Confusion for Audiences

Fighting crime and seeking justice has made fans stick around for years. The show focuses on solving a case within a 48 hour time frame, which is not always realistic. Usually, cases take much longer to conclude. As a result, the pace is picked up, and sometimes details can be left out.

A promo shot for the TV show.
Source: YouTube

Initially, it could seem that certain depictions and scenes aren’t so explicit. Some interesting and curious portrayals on the show demand some transparency, so it is essential to take note.

Adding Drama for Effect

The overlap between entertainment and realistic portrayal is something people have taken note of. Some believe that officers exaggerate their roles to make it more entertaining or add drama for audiences.

A still from the television show on the news broadcast.
Source: YouTube

Other city officials see the participation of cities in the show as a mistake. In 2017, a mayoral candidate spoke up against having 48 Hours filming in St. Louis and called it a mistake. At the time, she was the city treasurer and didn’t adhere to the show exhibiting her community.

Anti-Balloon Releases

Many times, the show features people releasing balloons, which is a custom used to commemorate the victims of homicide. Many people have spoken against it as it harms wildlife and the environment.

A photo of balloons released to the sky.
Photo by Ercin Erturk/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

However, with climate change and environmental issues becoming more apparent and people understanding the role people play in maintaining the planet’s health, the show should perhaps consider an alternative for the world and ecologically conscious audiences. Therefore, many have called upon A&E to ban this custom altogether.

In the Beginning

The inspiration to name the show came from a news documentary that already existed on CBS called 48 Hours on Crack Street. For the first 14 years, the show’s primary host was a CBS news anchor named Dan Rather, who anchored the CBS Evening News.

Dan Rather in a still from the show.
Source: YouTube

It was renamed 48 Hours Mystery in the mid-2000s. But since then, it was changed back to its original name. It became the last news magazine that aired on broadcast television to screen in high definition in primetime. The change was made in late 2011.

Changing the Show’s Title

In 2002, the show’s title changed to 48 Hours Investigates with a new host, Lesley Stahl. In 2004, the name was again changed to 48 Hours Mystery, but there was no single consistent host this time. A report in charge of the story became the narrator for each episode.

A photo of Lesley Stahl speaking on stage.
Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images

Each episode covers one topic, usually a crime story or a real-life mystery. The scheduled timing of the show was also used to display breaking news, such as the special program dedicated to the September 11th attack that aired in 2006.

Live to Tell and NCIS

In the “Live to Tell” version of 48 Hours, the show portrays stories told from the perspectives of the victims and those close to them as opposed to a single narrator. Other topics of the show included life-threatening instances.

A promo shot of NCIS.
Source: CBS

Other spinoffs include” NCIS: The Cases They Can’t Forget.” The setup is similar to the original format; the cases used for this version are taken from the Naval Criminal Investigative Services. The narrator for the show was Leon Vance, who was the director of the TV show NCIS.

Recognition and Appraisal

The show did expand to an international audience, including Canada on the channel Global. The show began airing in Australia as recently as 2015 on CBS’s sister network, Network 10. People and critics must appreciate the show if it has been on the air for this long.

The cast of 48 Hours poses backstage at the Emmy Awards.
Source: CBS

48 Hours has received more than 20 Emmy Awards. It also received an Ohio State Award and a couple of Peabody Awards: One for “Heroes Under Fire” (2000) and one for two reports, “Abortion Battle” & “On Runaway Street.”

The Best Episodes

After having been on for so long, there are certainly episodes that have ranked higher in terms of viewer preference over others. Aired on April 9th, 2005, Blood Feud was a top recommended episode to watch.

A still from the episode.
Source: A&E tv

An elementary school teacher in the suburbs of Detroit murders her husband with a hatcher in May of 2004. She said it was out of self-defense following years of abuse. One son testifies on her behalf, while the other utterly denies any abuse mentioned by his mother that was going on for 30 years.

A Prescription for Murder

According to his attorneys, something must have caused the generally well-behaved 12-year-old boy who apparently adored his grandparents to shoot them and then set their house on fire. This is season 17, episode 9, that aired on April 16th, 2005.

The 12-year-old boy in a still from the episode.
Source: CBS News

On November 10th, 2001, in Chester, South Carolina, a local pastor got a phone that Joe and Joy Pittman’s home was on fire. His grandparents had recently finished the house. Suspicions for the reason behind his actions are potentially placed on the subscribed medication he received, Zoloft, before he committed the murders.

Written in Blood

In Bellevue, Washington, the neighborhood was quiet until one summer in 1994, tragedy would overtake the Rafay family. The original episode aired on September 25, 2004, as episode one of season 18.

A portrait of the Rafay family.
Source: YouTube

The mystery took 10 years to be brought to justice. A senior deputy prosecutor named James Konat in King County called and said, “It was a plan. A well-rehearsed, well-thought-out plan.” The killers had initially gotten away, and he, together with his team of detectives, would face the challenges of the first triple homicide in that town.

Black Dahlia Confidential

A struggling actress’s body was found in an empty parking lot in January 1947 in one of the largest cities in the United States, Los Angeles. The episode aired on November 27, 2004, as episode 10 of season 18.

A portrait of Miss Elizabeth Short.
Photo by Bettmann/Getty Images

The case that was 57 years old at the time bewildered the Los Angeles Police Department for an impeccable amount of time. The correspondent reporting on the episode was Erin Moriarty. It must have been one heck of a mystery for it to have taken decades to solve.

Secrets of the Well aka Cold Case Clay

“Cold Case Clay” is the nickname given to criminal investigator Clay Bryant. While working for the district attorney’s office in LaGrange, California, Bryant was awarded the handle. This episode highlights the 48 Hours Mystery version that chatted with the investigator airing March 5, 2005, on episode 20 of season 18.

Clay Bryant in a still from the show.
Source: CBS News

Susan Well is the correspondent reporting for the episode. The focus is interesting considering Bryant was working on two unsolved mysteries that were similar in nature as both bodies in the investigation were discovered in wells.

The Man Who Knew Too Much

As he was leaving the headquarters of the Moscow Forbes Magazine, Paul Klebnikov (an American Journalist) was shot nine times on July 9, 2004. The episode aired on April 30th, 2005, as part of Season 18, Episode 26.

Paul Klebnikov poses for a picture in his office in Forbes magazine.
Photo by Oleg Nikishin/Getty Images

It is no secret that Russia’s economy is the epitome of corruption , where only the wealthy can override the law. As editor in chief, Klebnikov wanted to expose the Russians for this economic abuse. As he gathered up the secrets, it seemed like his work might have cost him his life.

The Other Woman

A scandalous murder occurred in the city where “everybody knows your name,” referring to Hattiesburg, Mississippi. The episode aired on January 7th, 2004, as episode 15 of season 17. The quiet, bible-characterized city displayed a story filled with tragedy, gossip, and betrayal.

A still from the show.
Source: CBS News

A surgeon dies under mysterious circumstances. His wife shared that he likely committed suicide, but she was taken into custody for murder. Harold Dow, the show’s correspondent, shows us the courtrooms, bedrooms, and operating rooms of the mystery.

Murder for Hire

This episode looks like someone hired services to do their dirty work for them—the episode aired on May 13, 1999, as episode 32 of season 12. In Sarasota, Florida, a mother of six named Sheila Bellush was murdered on Nov 7th, 1997.

A portrait of Sheila Bellush with her husband and children.
Source: CBS News

Three men were arrested as a result of the murder; however, they had never actually met her before. Her ex-husband, a wealthy San Antonino businessman, had hired a private investigator to find Bellush weeks before the murder. He has also been playing golf with one of the men arrested.

Kidnapped a Year Later

Jamie, daughter of Stam Voulgarelis, was adamant that her father had never sexually assaulted her. Her father even requested correspondent Susan Spencer to speak with her privately to ask if she had been sexually abused. The episode aired on July 1st, 1999, as episode 36 of season 12.

A promo shot for the show.
Source: CBS Reality

Jamie asserted that her father had never touched her inappropriately and that she enjoyed living with him. She also tried to communicate to her mother that she wanted to live with her father and shouldn’t bother getting her.

Ghosts of Mississippi

A nice place to live with loads of friendly people was how local resident Jane Harmon defined Columbus, Mississippi. The small, southern populated city of 30,000 seems like a peaceful place, “But there are a lot of strange things happening,” said Harmon.

A promo shot for the episode.
Source: CBS

The episode aired on June 26, 2000, as episode 28, season 13. Five murders remained to be solved and it looked like the same serial killer might be behind all the murders.

Invisible Killers

Sometimes the murderer isn’t a person but a bacteria or virus that can harm and destroy people’s lives. It certainly turned a million-dollar home into a worthless piece of real estate as it was infested with such poison.

Peter Van Sant speaks in a still from the show.
Source: CBS News

The episode aired on March 2nd, 2000, as episode 23 of Season 13. Mold spread throughout the house, forcing the family living there to leave. Peter Van Sant takes us behind how the contaminated water overtook the lives of a family who was presumed to be living in their dream home.

Murder They Wrote: Murder in Spokane

Remember Ted Bundy? He didn’t seem like a mass serial killer. Rather he portrayed a handsome, polite gentlemen that fathers would have wanted their daughters to marry. An account by Mark Fuhrman revealed that a serial killer had murdered as many as 20 prostitutes in as little as three years.

Mark Fuhrman speaks during an interview.
Source: YouTube

The episode aired on August 24th, 2001, as episode 39 of Season 14. It seemed like a poor job was done by the police officers who initially caught the guy because the murders didn’t stop after his arrest. Later, three more women getting murdered.

Murder in Las Vegas

What do you think about when you hear Las Vegas? Probably casinos, expensive real estate, and non-stop partying. Ron Rudin, a real estate millionaire, disappeared from his home in the glamorous city on December 18th, 1994. 45 miles away, his school was found in the middle of the desert just about a year later.

A portrait of Ron Rudin and his wife.
Source: ABC News

The episode aired on November 16th, 2001, as episode 8 of season 15. His wife ran off as police were trying to arrest her only to catch her two years later in Massachusetts to bring her back to Vegas.

Two Wigs, a Gun and a Murder

A Richmond University Professor named Fred Jablin walks out to grab the daily newspaper on October 30th, 2004, when he gunned down in his driveway. The episode aired on May 21st, 2005, as episode 29th of season 18.

A photo of Fred Jablin in class.
Source: YouTube

The main suspect is his ex-wife, Piper Rountree. An interesting turn of events distracts and confuses the investigation due to her weird relationship with her sister. As a result, mismatched clues distract from getting to the bottom of the case in Richmond, Virginia.

The Mystery of Slide Mountain

An ordinary and seemingly happy couple lives in a fancy village close to Lake Tahoe, California. Her original job was that of a well-respected pharmaceutical consultant; however, she had just switched careers and became an international tour guide.

A still from the episode.
Source: CBS News

The job wasn’t paying nearly as well and required her to travel a lot. The episode aired on March 8th, 2002, as episode 20 of season 15. The wife was killed near Reno in a mysterious car crash. Her husband became the main targeted suspect in the investigation.

34 Seasons in the Making

It’s a little bit crazy to think that a show has been going on for this long. I mean, even if a show is a huge success, 34 seasons is undoubtedly impressive. The show has been going on since 1988 and is still going strong.

A promo shot for the show.
Source: CBS

The CBS series is broadcast on Investigation Discovery, TLC, and The Oprah Winfrey Network. Inspiration for the show came from the drug infestations taking over various American neighborhoods. 48 Hours initially had low ratings, but it seemed to have picked up once their scheduling was changed.

Why Do People Like the Show?

One of the biggest reasons people have liked the show for so long is because they connect to the stories shared; some even experienced it in their own cities and lives. The true-crime series covers numerous instances of human experiences.

A publicity shot for the television show.
Source: CBS

The show has also changed people’s lives. It has also set free wrongly convicted people and has reopened and resolved forgotten cases. The show focuses on the core details of each investigation, giving people and overall understanding of the course of events.


Do murder mysteries and crime investigation shows like 48 Hours fascinate you? Here are some recommended shows that will keep you at the edge of your seat. Although initially focused on investigative journalism, the show shifted its focus in 2018.

A promo shot for the shoe 20/20.
Source: ABC

The two-hour formatted show (20/20) adheres to celebrity scandals and true crime stories. It is also recognized for its hard to forget theme music. Having gone through various changes over the years along with new graphics, the theme was revamped by DreamArtists Studios in 2012.

60 Minutes

A thrilling reporter-focused investigation program, 60 minutes was listed number 6 on TV guide’s “50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time” by TV guide. The New York Times was deemed “one of the most esteemed news magazines on American Television” by New York Times.

A publicity shot for the program.
Source: CBS

The show investigates the stories through its own viewpoint and catches up on previous investigations and by major newspapers and various sources. The show can also be listened to on CBS radio flagship stations and as a podcast, iTunes Store, and streaming services.