Josh Wolk
September 10, 2004 AT 04:00 AM EDT


Even if you hadn’t already heard where CBS was setting the newest installment of its wildly successful forensic-mystery CSI franchise, watching Gary Sinise shoot a scene for the show’s third episode would provide a dead giveaway that it’s New York. No, he’s not standing in front of the Empire State Building, or riding the A train, or even skipping rope double dutch with Rudolph Giuliani and Derek Jeter. Instead, he’s leaning over a tray with a scalpel, giving an autopsy to. . . a rat, Manhattan’s unofficial mascot. Somebody cue Sinatra and start spreadin’ the news, they’re bleeding today. . .

Yes, New York’s fictional murder rate just went up, as CSI: NY pits Sinise and Providence‘s Melina Kanakaredes against the DNA of the Big Apple’s baddest murderers. ”There’s an energy in New York that’s just inexplicable,” says Kanakaredes. ”Everything’s different here.” Adds Sinise, ”We’ve certainly seen cop shows in New York before, but this is an unusual type of investigative show.” In the most high-profile time-slot battle of the fall season, CBS is pitting its newest CSI spawn against the mother of all New York cop shows, the original Law & Order, which invented the TV franchise model that CSI has so lucratively followed with two series in the top 10. Last May’s CSI: Miami crossover episode introducing the New York crew gave that series its highest rating since its premiere, but CBS is determinedly humble when asked if CSI: NY is a sure thing. ”We have the benefit of the other two shows’ success,” says CBS programming head David Staph, ”but I don’t think you can call anything a gimme these days.” Anthony Zuiker, a creator of all three CSIs, is also deferential to his opposition. ”There’s no reason why Law & Order and CSI can’t be successful in the same time period, like Without a Trace and ER,” he says. ”Mr. Wolf [Dick Wolf, creator of L&O] has done amazing things to break ground in television. There’s no such thing as competition for us, there’s just good company.”

Huh? That kind of politeness is no way to survive in the big city! But costar Hill Harper (The Handler), who plays the team’s reclusive coroner Sheldon Hawkes, is a little more pumped: ”My dad always said, ‘If you want to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best!”’ Ahhh, blind bravado and a willingness to kick ass — that’s even more New York than a dead rat.

Zuiker wants New York to be as integral a character to this CSI as the investigators, so he and his staff — this is the first time he’s running one of his creations — have developed stories far more authentic than just having corpses turn up in smaller, more expensive apartments. In addition to Sinise’s rat, which is being cut open because it swallowed some crucial evidence, there will be such indigenous crimes as a Central Park rape, a mystery springing up at a naked sushi restaurant (where food is served on nude models), and a DJ’s murder that takes the investigators to a hip-hop underworld in Queens. ”New York City is a microcosm of the world,” says executive producer Andrew Lipsitz, a CSI vet. ”It gives us a wide range of access to people, ethnicities, and motives.” And the dark world of homicide will be given an even darker feel, with the show’s picture being hued with a blue metallic tint, as first demonstrated in the Miami episode. ”When you shoot New York from the air,” says Zuiker, ”it has a very raw, steely, monolithic look, and it makes for really interesting drama.” (All this verisimilitude will only go so far: Though some of the show’s exteriors will be shot in New York, everything else will be done in L.A.)

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