FBI TRUE's Craig Turk and Anne Beagan on Highlighting Real-Life Agents in a New Way - Give Me My Remote : Give Me My Remote

FBI TRUE’s Craig Turk and Anne Beagan on Highlighting Real-Life Agents in a New Way

October 10, 2023 by  

FBI True interview

FBI TRUE Photo: CBS ©2023 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

CBS is highlighting crime-solving in a different way this fall with FBI TRUE, a docuseries that highlights real cases—and the agents who worked on them.

The series comes from Craig Turk (who co-created CBS’ FBI franchise) and Anne Beagan (an FBI agent-turned-special advisor, who has worked on FBI and FBI: MOST WANTED), who also worked on the FBI-centric 2021 documentary 26TH STREET GARAGE.

“We feel really lucky to tell these stories,” Turk tells Give Me My Remote. “We’re working with really amazing women and men [on FBI TRUE]. A lot of these stories, like the Boston Marathon bombing—which I thought was an incredible moment in American history, and I thought I knew everything about it…until we got to making this episode. And then you realize, wow, there’s a whole throughline to the story that you didn’t know. And I’ve loved learning [about things]; even cases that I thought I knew really well, I realized I didn’t.” 

“And then there are other cases that once you become aware of them, you think, ‘Oh my gosh, how is this not front page headlines? How have there not been books and movies about this?’” he continues. “And so for me working on the show has felt like a real privilege.”

“Some of the stories that we’re telling have been in the mainstream media and people think they know the story,” adds Beagan. “But because we’re choosing to tell it from a different perspective or through the lens of someone who’s never been interviewed before about their role in the case, it really is eye-opening and it’s giving you a fresh look at something that you thought you knew about.”

Here, Turk and Beagan share insight into the show, how it varies from Paramount+ to CBS, how its success is leading to more cases to spotlight, and more.

Prior to FBI TRUE, how did your working partnership actually start?
Craig Turk: So I met Anne when I was researching in the scripted show FBI. A number of years ago, I was planning to spend a few months in New York, meeting with some agents to try to understand the Bureau as best I could. And everyone said, “You have to meet Anne Beagan.” And so Anne and I got together and clicked immediately. She obviously has an incredibly distinguished career in the FBI, and I think is just a great, natural storyteller. And so she really opened every conceivable door for me as I was trying to really get a sense for who are these agents? What are they like? What kind of stories can we tell? So I spent, gosh, six or eight months in New York, at the Bureau, mostly at the offices at 26 Fed, and also at the JTTF downtown—the Joint Terrorism Task Force. And while I was there, two interesting things happened. 

One, was in a lot of the interviews—because this was more than 15 years after 9/11 by the time that I was there—some agents had been in the Bureau during 9/11 and some hadn’t. Some of the 9/11 stories, you kind of got piecemeal. And I began to realize that there is this incredible untold story about what the FBI’s response was to 9/11. And while we were making the scripted show, I said to Anne, that’s an incredible story. And we had this idea that one day when we finished the scripted show, we would make a documentary about it, which we did, which was called the 26TH STREET GARAGE, and we made that during COVID for Paramount+. 

But the other more relevant thing that happened was one day I was meeting a friend for a drink after work. Anne and I had spent the day at the JTTF, which is down in Chelsea, and downstairs, there’s a bar called the Brass Monkey. I was downstairs waiting for this friend, and I saw two agents who I knew at the bar, so I went over and I was just kind of listening to them talk to each other. And the rhythm of the conversation, not stopping to explain acronyms or who people were or even know how things felt—there was this sense of this incredibly privileged view into how professionals talk. And I remember the next day, I said to Anne, “We have to capture that.” And that was really the birth of FBI TRUE. It coincided with thinking about the scripted series, FBI, but it wasn’t until years later that we decided to make it, and we’re thrilled that we did.
Anne Beagan: I’ve gotta say one of the best things, the most special things, for me about FBI TRUE is being reunited and working with Craig again.

Anne, as someone who knows this world inside out, is there something you feel the procedurals that portray this world (that you don’t work on) get wrong?
Beagan: I wouldn’t say inaccuracies is what jumps to mind; it’s more what they had time to tell in that network format. I think the one thing that is largely missing that we really highlight and capture in FBI TRUE is the personal side, the emotional, physical mental toll that the job takes on your life. It’s not just the investigation itself and doing the work, of course, in catching bad guys. But what it’s like to be a human being doing this job. But I think that’s one thing that we see missing [in scripted stories], that I notice missing, and one thing that I really love about our show, is that we really bring home who these humans are to the audience.

Looking at the show, what conversations did you have with CBS about how to bring the show to primetime? Some of the episodes exceed network length, there’s some not-network-friendly language, etc.
Turk: These are incredibly raw, high-stakes cases, emotional situations that we’re handling. The odd expletive does slip out! But it’s been an amazing move over to CBS. I think one of the things that we were really thrilled with was that so many of the executives there were fans of the show on Paramount+, so they were really familiar with that. They called and said, “Hey, we would really love for you to make this for the network.” It’s been an outstanding process in the sense that we’re still shooting new episodes all the time, and some of those we’ve shot specifically for CBS. So we have some episodes coming up that we’re incredibly excited about that will premiere for the first time on CBS. 

And then there are some episodes that we love, some of them I think are the best stories that we’ve taken from Paramount+. Sometimes we put them together with new episodes or added things or enhanced things. So they’re gonna be, I think, a really fresh take on some of our favorites. And [CBS has] not surprisingly been incredible partners. I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a better, more sophisticated group of people when it comes to telling these kinds of stories than CBS. And I think the same with the audience. So we’re pretty thrilled to be there.
Beagan:  I think it’s a perfect companion piece for CBS, just for that reason—there’s these three FBI scripted shows that are doing so well, and then you’ve got the real-life version, which is now on the same network. So it’s a perfect companion piece to complement those shows.

In terms of added things or things that have to get removed for time—how different will the episodes that have been previously released on Paramount+ feel in their CBS run?
Turk: I think they’ll feel fresh and also familiar. The Chelsea bombing, which is the first one [airing on Tuesday, October 10]…it was the first episode of this show that we ever shot. And is, we think, amazing for proof of concept. Because we knew what we wanted to do; we have a really clear idea of this format of agent speaking to agents really unfiltered, really honest, and pairing it with footage that’s never been seen anywhere before. And I think Chelsea bombing features, to this day, some of the most amazing footage that’s ever been on television…when this manhunt really intensifies, there’s body cam footage from a police officer who encounters this terrorist in the door and there’s shots fired; there’s dash cam of cars going down the street and people running down the street with guns firing weapons. And it’s pretty extraordinary footage. It’s an incredible job of storytelling…and for us it was really this incredible proof of concept of “we can put people in the shoes of an FBI agent,” which is really what we want to do: What were they seeing, what were they hearing, what were they feeling? And it’s still one of the most compelling half-hours that we’ve ever produced.

 FBI True interview

“The Manhattan Bomber” – A search ensues after a homemade bomb explodes in New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood injuring 30 people. When multiple additional bombs are discovered across Manhattan and New Jersey, the FBI works with local law enforcement to track down a suspect who comes to be known as “The Chelsea Bomber.” It culminates in a life-or-death standoff captured on bodycam. This episode takes you on the intense manhunt told by two of the key agents who led the charge, John Miller (a former assistant director of public affairs for the FBI) and Chuck Berger (a retired agent on the FBI’s NYC Joint Terrorism Task Force). Miller and Berger sit down with fellow agent Cindy Coppola and reveal never-before-shared details of the case, on the CBS Original series FBI TRUE, Tuesday, Oct. 3 (9:01-10:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network, and available to stream live and on demand on Paramount+. Photo: CBS ©2023 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Highest quality screengrab available.

There has been an incredible amount of footage in these episodes. How has that process changed for you as people became familiar with the show?
Beagan: It’s helped. The word is out, people are talking about the show, people are watching the show, agents are coming on the show and then calling their friends and saying what an incredible experience it was. One of the things about footage is it doesn’t just live in an archived library that you go to check it out; it’s in the courts, in the US Attorney’s Office, in the field offices. It’s not easy to find. And so using the agent network, we can be directed to where that footage is that no one has seen, which has been really helpful.

One of the fascinating things about the show is its tone. These cases are obviously serious, but there are moments of lightness with jokes—which I imagine is necessary in this kind of work. What kinds of discussions did you have about how to find the right tone for the show?
Turk: It’s a great question, because some of these cases…the bunker case, which aired last week, is [about an] abducted child. There’s a kidnapping [in] the Hannah Anderson case from this week. But you’re absolutely right. It’s a compensation mechanism. I think that anyone that works in these unbelievably high-stress environments uses—and we’ve had moments on set where agents have broken down in tears telling these stories. And in the same episode, while we’re shooting, people have told stories that also have people in tears, but they have them in tears laughing…The conversations, as Anne was saying, are really healing. We’re really looking to let people have an opportunity to tell a story that in a lot of instances they’ve never told before. And the emotions are really unfiltered, which we hope is one of the great parts of the show.

Speaking to the eavesdropping kind of feel to the show, the show has little on-screen explainers for terms and slang the agents use. How did you decide to showcase the explanations that way versus interrupting the flow of the conversation?
Turk: [Laughs.] It’s funny that you point that out, because it’s virtually identical to the conversation that Anne and I had the first day I was at the FBI. Anne said, “You’re gonna hear a lot of acronyms. Nobody loves acronyms like law enforcement, especially the FBI.” And…I thought if I stopped these guys [when they were using them], it’s gonna be really awkward. So I just had a little black notebook that I would sketch notes down. And then on a lunch break or at drinks, whatever, I would have all these things [I’d ask Anne], going back and reinterpreting all of these things that you’re being told—you don’t want to interrupt the flow of conversation. And so we felt like, if this is supposed to be this look into how agents talk to each other, there’s no way that two FBI agents or three FBI agents are gonna stop and explain; they all know what these things mean. And I think it adds to the sense of you’re really getting a peek into a world as opposed…trying to explain it to someone. So we like the pace of conversation to be fast and honest and make references that we’ll throw up on screen. We’ll put maps up on screen or we’ll build diagrams; we’ll do anything we can to make sure that the story is really crystal clear and easy for people to track, but also still feels like the way that one agent to another.
Beagan: It’s part of the magic of the show, too. We have another agent taking these stories [so] it’s inside baseball. They’re speaking the way they speak to one another. It’s not a news correspondent or someone that’s drawing a story. It’s another agent who’s lived in this world and walked the walk. So it really translates effectively.
Turk: The other thing is 90 percent of the time we’re discussing their cars. FBI agents love to discuss their cars and who got the good ones and the bad ones. I always like to point out to people that Anne Beagan had a parking space underneath the office at 26 Fed. Which…maybe the director and the Attorney General get to park there. And people were always like, “I got this amazing access, I spoke to the director, I did this.” The thing that most impressed other agents was, “How did Anne have a parking space in the building?” [Laughs.]
Beagan: The little things.

You’ve already produced 30 episodes that have debuted this year. Is this the kind of pace you’re hoping to put out going forward, or are you hoping to scale back a little bit?
Turk: We’ve been really fortunate that the show has gained momentum. As soon as we put it on Paramount+, we started hearing not just from viewers, but from agents who said, “Hey, I’ve got a story I would love to come on and tell.” And as Anne said, the word spreads really fast in that community. And I think people felt like it was a really good experience to come on…We want them to feel like this was the first-hand account; there’s no politics, there’s no “we really want this,” or “don’t say that.” We always say, we’re gonna turn on the cameras and you guys talk like you would. And sometimes we’re really surprised and amazed by the things that come up. And so the more episodes that have aired, the more we’ve heard from people. 

We now have a pretty wonderful list of episodes that we’re looking forward to doing. I don’t anticipate us slowing down anytime soon.

What can you tease about what’s ahead on this CBS run?
Beagan: Well, I think the other thing that we’re excited about is that we’re really showing the breadth and depth of the FBI and the diversity of the range of cases. The global footprint that the Bureau has, which I think people don’t necessarily have an appreciation for.

One case [coming up is] the worst spy case in the history of the world, the Robert Hanssen case, which we’re really excited to bring some agents on who have never talked together about it. And we’re excited to share more kidnapping stories.
Turk: A couple of the stories that we have coming up that are really special. There’s an episode called “Operation Knockout,” which is about the worst gang takedown in American history. Anne and I are both based in LA, and it happened right here in Hawaiian Gardens. And it is so deeply emotional and such an incredible story about the teamwork that goes on in law enforcement; and it was the FBI along with many, many other agencies. And so there’s really all different kinds of stories. 

Obviously there’s terrorists and there’s spies, there’s kidnapping, bank robbers…and we’re really venturing out. We’ve gotten some super interesting stories like from the world of sports, from the art world, these places that you don’t always anticipate there being an FBI angle. And then you go, oh, the FBI handles that. Like if the cases are big enough and complex enough, the FBI will eventually be called in. And we love featuring those kinds of cases. 

Then sometimes there’s a whole group of cases that we’ve been really interested in, where the FBI, if they are on a case, will not drop it. And we’ve had cases that are 20, 25, 30 years old [that] the FBI will then wind up solving…sometimes it’s time, sometimes it’s distance. 

There’s this pirate case that took place in Africa, that was on the original Paramount+ run and it will be on CBS, and it’s the same thing. The sort of doggedness of the FBI in pursuing these cases. It’s a great vindication of what the bureau was set up to do. We love telling those stories.


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