For most TV producers, getting a new show on a network’s fall schedule involves months of ulcerous writing, revising, and obsessive recalculating of the slim odds that you’ll see airtime in September. But most TV producers aren’t peddling ”CSI: NY.”
Here’s how the third entry in CBS’ hit forensic-investigation franchise, this one starring Gary Sinise and Melina Kanakaredes, got picked up for the 2004 – 05 season. ”[Our] creative team had dinner with [CBS chairman Les] Moonves about six months ago,” says Anthony Zuiker, creator of ”CSI” and cocreator of ”CSI: Miami.” ”Mr. Moonves said, ‘Pick a city.’ I said, ‘New York,’ and he said, ‘Great,’ and that’s about how fast it happened.” It’s that simple, writers: Just get two top 10 shows on television, then Mr. Moonves will buy you dinner and a series, too.
Clearly, ”CSI”’s whodunit format, punctuated with close-ups of maggot-ridden brains, works. The brand is so powerful that the network didn’t even ask for a traditional pilot; instead, they’re introducing Sinise’s new pack of bloodhounds on a May 17 episode of ”CSI: Miami” (just as the Miami team was previewed in a 2002 ”CSI” episode). Miami’s Horatio Caine (David Caruso) will meet NY’s Detective Mac Taylor (Sinise) and his partner of eight years, Stella Bonasera (Kanakaredes), when he travels north to track a double murderer. ”In New York, there’s theater and politics, and nothing’s ever what it seems, everything’s changing,” says Zuiker. ”Those things alone put you in an interesting land to do a crime drama.” (The Big Apple vibe is only so seductive: Like ”NYPD Blue,” ”CSI: NY” will shoot in L.A., only coming to Manhattan for occasional exteriors.)
NY will differ from its predecessors in more ways than just locale: Though cases will still last just one episode, viewers will get more insight into the characters’ lives. ”We won’t serialize stories, but we will serialize attitudes,” says Zuiker. This change was key in luring Sinise, who won an Emmy for the 1997 TNT movie ”George Wallace,” but has never done a series. Upon meeting Zuiker, Sinise asked him, ”Why do you want me to come look for clues for six years? There’s gotta be somewhere for the characters to go.” As a result, we’ll see Taylor struggle with the loss of his wife in the World Trade Center on 9/11, while Bonasera is driven by her suspicion that her father, who died and left her in charge of the family when she was young, might have been involved in illegal activities. ”She strives for the truth because she was never told the truth in her life,” says Kanakaredes. (In the ”CSI” tradition, they’ll lead a team of impossibly hot DNA nerds: ”24”’s Vanessa Ferlito, ”The Handler”’s Hill Harper, and ”Black Hawk Down”’s Carmine Giovinazzo.)
But the new ”CSI” won’t turn into ”As the Corpse Turns.” ”Science is always at the forefront,” says Zuiker, stressing that viewers who miss an episode will never be lost. ”You’re working in a franchise that’s successful because of a certain blueprint,” says Sinise. ”We want to satisfy the audience by delivering on that front.” Because of Zuiker’s inexperience in television – he was working as a casino tram driver in Las Vegas when he created ”CSI” – this is the first show that he’ll run (along with ”CSI” vet Andrew Lipsitz). But the protective scribe will continue to check in with his other series, especially to make sure everyone isn’t picking at an exploded brain the same week. ”I’m not fearful of us running out of story lines,” says Zuiker. ”I am always fearful of us doing the same forensic procedure the same week. There’s only so many ways to do a fingerprint.” Yes, but there are always new cities where one can find them.