He Got Laid Off. Then Created an Interview Series That Gets Millions of Downloads and Features Stars Like Tom Hanks. Here's How Graham Bensinger Did It.
The industry-vet explains what it's like to corral and question guests like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sir Richard Branson or Monaco's Prince Albert all while being his own boss.
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In Depth with Graham Bensinger showcases stories of the famous, infamous and personalities on the ascent. The 35-year-old, Emmy-winning journalist's interview series (which averages 2.5 million digital views per episode) has hosted Tom Hanks, Bob Costas, the late/great Kobe Bryant, Mike Tyson and too many other A-Listers to, well, list.
The midwesterner's father often recalls the time the kitchen phone rang, when Graham was a teenager, only to hear Hall of Fame infielder, Ernie Banks, on the other end, calling his son back for an interview. Then there was the viral moment when Bensinger interviewed former NFL receiver, Terrell Owens, and found himself as the highlight on ESPN's SportsCenter.
Loving what your learning
"After getting laid off from NBC Sports, I realized nobody was going to give me the type of opportunity that I was looking for and figured out how to do it on my own," recalls Graham. "I lucked out that the landscape was changing and there was more receptiveness to new ways of storytelling."
Bensinger is grateful that he gets the chance to travel to so many interesting places in the world while meeting even more interesting personalities.
"We are lucky to have the chance to profile some of the most notable figures on the planet, whether that's Matthew McConaughey, Richard Branson or Lewis Hamilton," adds Graham of sitting across from bold-faced names and learning about their paths in life. "They are larger-than-life figures who have achieved a great deal of success."
Selling the telling
Most of Bensinger's time is spent preparing, setting up both interview and profits.
"I view my job as mostly sales," says Graham. "I'm on the road 250 days a year for work, meeting business partners, trying to sign on a big distribution deal, advertising or booking a guest of significance—it's all sales, really."
Reflecting on future growth, Bensinger is all about staying true to quality.
"We primarily feature athletes or people with some connection to sports," notes the host. "I would like the show to eventually include someone like President Obama one week, Julia Roberts the next and a big-name athlete after that."
Bensinger looks to evolve at the pace of new media, while expanding operations and accessibility.
"We have the linear product that airs on broadcast and cable," he adds. "There are the digital products and we are developing a streaming one, where everything's going in the OTT space."
Expecting the unexpected
"One of the challenges of building a business is becoming comfortable with the uncomfortable," says Bensinger. "Over time, you have to work with so many different personality types and egos."
Graham maintains that the job of an interviewer is to first make the subject feel at ease.
"I'm going in hoping to ask the person about their deepest, darkest moments of life," adds Bensinger. "So it's on me to make them and their representatives comfortable, otherwise I'm not doing my job."
Running after Forrest
"I tracked down Tom Hanks' contact info and emailed him off and on for over four years," recalls Bensinger of a recent get. "The process sort of went like this: no response, a response every once in a while, scheduling, rescheduling, canceling a couple of times and then it was happening."
Bensinger exudes a quiet confidence and remains the poster child of persistence paying off.
"Tom was willing to clear one-and-a-half hours for the interview, But ended up giving us almost three because he genuinely appreciated that we did our homework and were prepared to dive into subjects not often broached by other journalists," recalls Graham. "It turned out to be one of the most fun experience."
Something inside Bensinger encouraged a path divergent from the traditional media networks and setting up a new content paradigm driven by his efforts.
While quiet and deferential, Bensinger's confidence seems to be bubbling at the surface. Maybe the 1965 framed photo of Muhammad Ali standing over Sonny Liston, behind Graham's desk, is meant to convey that the mogul has mastered his own right hook.