Alec Sirken ’78
Have you ever come face to face with a murderer? For Alec Sirken ’78, standing beside a convicted felon would be just another day on the job. As a producer for the popular CBS News television series 48 Hours, the seasoned journalist reports on some of the most high-profile crime cases in the country. From deadly spousal fights in Los Angeles to unsolved murder mysteries in Louisiana, Sirken leaves no case uncovered.
With the help of his crew, he not only interviews all the characters off-camera, but also determines the flow of the story line and directs the camera crews through each scene.
An English major at Colgate, Sirken interned with Washington Monthly in Washington, D.C., worked as a press secretary for U.S. Representative Peter Peyser ’43 of New York, and was a sports and news reporter for newspapers in the Washington, D.C., area before starting his career as a broadcast journalist.
“After working in print journalism, I decided I wanted to be the person asking the questions and finding the stories, rather than providing the information as a press person,” Sirken explained.
Following his work as a local news reporter in Peoria, Ill., and St. Louis, Mo., he joined CBS in 1994. At that time, 48 Hours was a much different show: for 48 hours, Sirken and a crew would film topics ranging from bank robberies, to rodeos, to — his personal favorite — miracles in Rome. With the rising popularity of crime shows such as CSI and NCIS, 48 Hours eventually evolved into the true-crime show of today.
When CBS offered Sirken a position as an international producer in Asia, working on stories for all the CBS News broadcasts, he jumped at the opportunity. Having lived in Argentina and England as a child, Sirken was an experienced world traveler and had, as he called it, “a bit of an overseas bug.” From 2002 to 2006, he split his time between Toyko and Beijing.
“It turned out to be the greatest experience of my career. I was able to do so many different stories, on everything from China’s economic boom and pollution problems to the SARS epidemic and the infamous 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami,” Sirken said.
In 2007, with his four-year overseas tour finished, Sirken returned to 48 Hours as one of the show’s producers. Now in its 26th season, the show has earned three Peabody awards and 18 Emmys. Although television seems to be saturated with various crime shows, Sirken attributes 48 Hours’ popularity to its elaborate production process.
“We [the CBS team] go to great lengths to make sure everything is accurate and portrayed honestly,” he explained. “The episodes are really stories of life and death. It’s a very delicate process where you have to be sensitive to people’s feelings, and empathetic. Because the stories involve such intense personal emotions and events, the stakes are really high.”
Each episode not only details the personal relationships of the many people involved, but also follows the court cases as they play out. According to Sirken, 48 Hours offers viewers a better understanding of the intricacies of the legal system and the role of police officers in law enforcement.
“I think one of the greatest values of this show is that it shows viewers how smart, resourceful, diligent, and hardworking these police officers and lawyers are,” Sirken said. “Preparing a trial has to be one of the most time-consuming, grueling, and intellectually demanding jobs. In this show, you really see the justice system at its best.”
When Sirken isn’t searching for the next unsolved murder mystery, you might find him watching one of his favorite TV shows — 60 Minutes, Homeland, or Mad Men. Or he might even be cooking the tomato sauce for his acclaimed homemade lasagna — a recipe he got from his mother.
Still no luck? He could be biking through the hidden landscapes of France, Italy, or Switzerland, while stopping along the way to sample local foods. Wherever he is, there’s no denying that Sirken is the definition of a thrill seeker.
— Laura D’Angelo ’14