Bensinger Turns Old-School Syndication Into New Success

The titular star of the syndicated In Depth With Graham Bensinger has always liked to do things his own, old-school way. It took years of effort and experience, but it’s finally paid off.

When Bensinger was in high school in St. Louis, instead of spending his time going out for sports, he would go to Cardinals baseball games and find local stars to interview for his online sports radio talk show.

He began that show at age 14, and by the time he was 17, it was airing on Sporting News Radio. It moved to ESPN Radio the following year.

When he was 19, Bensinger scored an exclusive interview for ESPN with NFL star Terrell Owens, the ever-controversial wide receiver. A sound bite from the interview—in which T.O. criticized the Philadelphia Eagles and the team’s quarterback at the time, Donovan McNabb—became national news. While T.O. earned himself a four-game suspension and a fine for his comments, Bensinger was making the rounds on the late-night network talk shows.

“That was a unique time for me professionally,” says Bensinger, now 28. “While that interview created a lot of opportunities for me personally, I was really uncomfortable with how everything transpired.”

Bensinger had taped an hour-long interview with Owens, but only the most controversial five minutes aired on SportsCenter.

He went on to work for ESPN for 3½ years and NBC Sports for one year, but the entire time he struggled with “not having control over what was aired nor having the platforms to appropriately tell these stories,” he says.

In March 2009, an opportunity came along for Bensinger in the guise of a challenge. He was laid off from NBC Sports, and suddenly found himself without a job for the first time since he was 14.

So he spent the next year and a half devising a way to create the interview sports show he envisioned. The result was In Depth With Graham Bensinger, a half-hour weekly syndicated program that features extensive interviews with prominent sports stars, including Charles Barkley, Kobe Bryant, Brett Favre, Ray Lewis, Manny Pacquiao, Emmitt Smith and many others. Bensinger spends hours researching, writing and producing each interview, whittling them down to a half-hour episode, with extras and clips running on Yahoo Sports.

Producing the show is only one part of Bensinger’s job. In order to maintain the control he craved, he determined that syndicating the show would be the best way to distribute it. While it does air on several regional sports networks, he’s spent the last five years getting it on TV stations across the country.

In Depth, which started its fifth season last September, is currently cleared in 77% of the U.S., reaching 90 million homes, including Fox- and NBC- owned stations in top markets and on Raycom stations in many markets. It also airs internationally on Rogers Sports Net in Canada and on Setanta Sports in Australia, Africa, Europe and Asia.

“Part of Graham’s commitment to himself when he started out was that he wanted to be on one of the Big Four stations in every market,” says Liz Mullen, In Depth’s director of distribution. “The unique selling point of this show is that it’s one of very few shows that’s fresh and first-run every week.”

“It’s refreshing to see an in-depth interview, especially with [Bensinger], who has such great doggedness,” says Spencer Koch, general manager of Tribune-owned Fox affiliate KTVI St. Louis.

Most affiliates run the show, which they acquire for a 50-50 barter split, in late fringe on Sunday nights after their regular sportscasts.

While Bensinger currently has a team of nine full-time employees helping him, including Mullen, he still does much of the legwork himself, including selling national advertisements and brand integrations to sponsors such as Bank of America, Bud Light, Geico, Hugo Boss, Snickers, Subway and others.

“I’ve gone from doing everything myself five-and-a-half years ago to having a team,” says Bensinger. “This is far and away the most satisfying work I’ve ever done.”

Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for nearly 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for entertainment marketing association Promax. She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997-September 2002.