“CSI: Everywhere” by Mary Murphy [from the March 8-14 TV Guide]
There's always a body, and this one is gray and naked on the field of the Mud Hens' stadium. An empty jar of Tony Packo's chili lies nearby. The detectives — two hot babes in spike heels, two muscled hunks and one schleppy middle-aged guy — snap on latex gloves and speak in great big words usually not heard outside junior-year bio class. Suddenly, the camera zooms up the corpse and inside its nose and focuses on something microscopic.
Cue the rock music and roll the credits for CSI: Toledo — CBS's newest spin-off of its hits CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and CSI: Miami.
Sound far-fetched? Well, maybe just a little, but CBS's move last fall to clone CSI — TV's No. 1 show — produced the biggest non-reality hit of the new season, CSI: Miami. Nearly 17 million viewers tune in each week, and the show's success has moved CSI into franchise territory, à la NBC's Law & Order. Although CBS president and CEO Leslie Moonves says it's too soon to discuss yet another spin-off, rumors already are circulating of a third CSI, possibly one set in New Orleans. Then there are the copycats, including a still-untitled show Moonves calls "JAG meets CSI." CBS is also developing Cold Cases, in which a detective tackles unsolved murders with new forensics, and Expert Witness, about a forensic psychiatrist. The influence of CSI has spread across the television landscape.
"Without a Trace, the show that follows CSI, pays a certain homage to CSI," says Moonves. "And NBC's Crossing Jordan, that's a forensics show. I was reading a story about the reopening of the investigation of a rape in Central Park and they called it 'CSI: Central Park.' So it's become part of the jargon."
Before its debut in 2000, few would have guessed that CSI, a show about decomposing bodies and other gag-inducing aspects of science — geek stuff — would launch a franchise for CBS. Even CSI creator Anthony Zuiker says he was shocked when he learned the original series would be branching out. He and executive producers Ann Donahue and Carol Mendelsohn had been called to a top-secret meeting in December 2001 with Moonves. The meeting was so clandestine that Zuiker couldn't tell his agent. "Pick a city, any city," Moonves told the producers. "We're going to do a [CSI] spin-off."
Says Zuiker: "I didn't know how we were going to do it. We had to brace ourselves for the reaction from the cast." That reaction was negative. "The whole cast wasn't happy in the beginning," he adds.
William Petersen, 50, CSI's star and a coexecutive producer, was especially upset. "The reason he had gone into business with me is that I had a fresh idea," Zuiker says. "And now to do another show with five or six characters over here that felt like five or six characters over there was weird. I think he wasn't happy about it. But we had a responsibility to the [president] of CBS to have a [new] show. It was either tell [Petersen] no or tell the president no."
Producers began the search for a CSI: Miami cast. David Caruso, 47, was mentioned for the lead role of Horatio Caine. But Caruso had a reputation to live down (on NYPD Blue he was known for throwing tantrums and dressing down the writer-producers), so Zuiker passed. "I thought, 'This is tough enough,' " he says. "Why bring on another problem?" Mooves insisted Zuiker reconsider Caruso after watching his acclaimed performance in the film "Proof of Life." A quiet dinner with Caruso finally convinced the show's creator. "He just screamed Miami," Zuiker says. Not only did Caruso "scream" Miami, he also lived there; he and his wife, Margaret, own a clothing shop called Steam.
"For somebody who fell to the place that I fell in terms of unemployment and a damaged reputation, the fact that this town [Hollywood] was willing to give me another chance is incredible," Caruso says.
The cast was rounded out with Khandi Alexander (ER, NewsRadio), Rory Chochrane ("Dazed and Confused"), Adam Rodriguez (Roswell) and Emily Proctor, who had won praise for her turn as conservative advisor Ainsley Hayes on The West Wing. "I'm a blond girl In Hollywood," says Proctor. "I had [played] sleazy and stupid for so long. To play two smart, committed women...I just felt so excited."
Plans were made to fly certain members of the original CSI cast to Florida to film an episode with the newly hired players, an episode that would air in May 2002 and launch the CSI: Miami premise. Petersen did not make the trip, later telling a Chicago Sun-Times reporter: "I won't have anything to do with CSI: Miami because it is too [much of a] conflict of interest for me." Marg Helgenberger and Gary Zourdan did go. As they prepared to leave, Zuiker told Helgenberger: "CSI has become bigger than all of us." (Petersen also declined TV Guide's request for an interview and refused to pose with Caruso when it was communicated that this story was about both CSI shows.)
A month after the Florida episode aired on CSI, CBS announced that Kim Delaney had been added to CSI: Miami. Like Caruso, she was a veteran of NYPD Blue. With Delaney on board, Petersen sarcastically referred to the new show as "NYPD CSI."
When filming in El Segundo, California, producers were surprised to find Delaney, an Emmy winner for NYPD Blue, struggling. Hired to play a DNA specialist, she was less than convincing. "We weren't over the moon for her performance," says Zuiker.
"Our first notes to her were to tone it down," says Moonves. Still, in its debut last September, CSI: Miami drew an audience of 23 million. Despite the show 's ratings, Delaney was fired in November.
"She was ego-less and gentle, very sweet," says Proctor. "It's hard to exit a show. She stood in front of the class and then she had to sit down. It makes you feel for a person."
Delaney's departure had no effect on CSI: Miami's success. Nor has CSI suffered from the popularity of its clone. And as the months have worn in, the casts seem to have settled into their shows. Says Caruso, "We are truly part of the same family."
Caruso praises Petersen: "The guy is great," he says; without him "I wouldn't have a job." But the firstborn is still pouting. Asked recently at a press conference if he had overstated his initial concerns over CSI: Miami, Petersen replied frostily that he didn't have time to watch the new show. "We [CSI] don 't really have anything to with it," he said.