Say Goodbye! ‘CSI’ Sunday Finale Sees Landmark Show End 15-Year Run

28 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

CSI Insiders Look Back Before Finale, Remember a ‘Lippy’ Young Justin Bieber and How Taylor Swift Made Them Realize They’d ‘Made It’.

Appreciating the “CSI” finale – 15 years, countless bodies, piles of cash, and multiple spinoffs later – really requires going back to the beginning. Anthony Zuiker, 47, was not so far removed from his job driving a tram for a Sin City hotel when he managed to field the pilot for “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” for Jerry Bruckheimer TV and CBS in 2000.After 15 seasons, 337 episodes, countless autopsies, several cast changes, three spin-offs and some of the most inventive murder investigations in TV history, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation is ready to close the morgue drawer for good.

This was a show that CBS had relatively little faith in, placing it behind what the network saw as its likely star in the class of 2000, “The Fugitive,” on Friday nights. A well-arranged marriage of Zuiker with veteran showrunners Carol Mendelsohn and Ann Donahue set “CSI” off on a journey that would change the course of TV history and spawn three spinoffs, most recently the Patricia Arquette starrer “CSI: Cyber.” With the mothership wrapping its 15-year run with a two-hour movie airing Sunday night, creator/exec producer Zuiker spoke with Variety about the emotional experience of writing the finale, reuniting with original “CSI” stars William Petersen and Marg Helgenberger and his deep appreciation for Mendelsohn, Donahue, CBS’ Nina Tassler, Leslie Moonves and others who helped him along the way. As the now-iconic series airs its final two-hour installment on Sunday, several longtime cast members – including original star William Petersen, who returns as Gil Grissom for the finale – gathered recently at the Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills to look back on the fond memories, famous fans–turned–guest stars (Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift among them) and the creepy forensic details they’ll never forget.

Disney was so disappointed about the scheduling the studio, which developed it, backed out as a financier, one of those decisions that produce headaches and finger-pointing with eight or nine zeroes attached. Petersen, 62, remembers recognizing the remarkable spark happening behind the scenes with the cast and creators even as the show caught fire out of the gate with audiences, pushing boundaries of graphic content and reinventing the crime procedural as it become one of the fourth-longest-running and one-time highest rated series on television. “The first year of the show was pretty remarkable in terms of the creative energy that was displayed on a daily basis from everybody that worked on it,” Petersen tells PEOPLE. “It was very group-created. Multiple witnesses identified the shooter who tried to kill a man on a Brooklyn street. “We caught the guy dead to rights, and the jury said, ‘Why didn’t you guys do DNA?’ ” recalled the former assistant district attorney who handled the case.

I never thought the audience would also be everyone who’s NEVER done a crossword puzzle!” Though set in Las Vegas, CSI occupies the world of forensic investigators who solve criminal cases not in the streets or an interrogation room, but in the lab, where the truth reveals itself in the evidence they probe. That testing for DNA is rare, time-consuming and expensive, particularly in such a straightforward investigation, didn’t register with those sitting in judgement. By now, of course, the ratings had shrunk to a fraction of where they were in the program’s heyday, with multiple cast changes and different leads (William Petersen, Laurence Fishburne, Ted Danson) over the run. And there was that mysterious redheaded young investigator, proudly declaring that this was her first day on the job. “Where did that girl come from anyway?” asked Grissom. It was exhausting, but it was special.” Beyond being entranced by the newly sophisticated level of high-tech forensic investigation and the clever murder scenarios the show employed, fans also fell for the character’s personal dramas – most specifically Grissom’s slow-simmering romance with Jorja Fox’s fellow investigator Sara Sidle. “All we wanted to do was sort of have a real relationship that exists sometimes in the workplace where there’s a little thing that happens,” says Petersen. “And that becomes a little bit more of a thing.

It would spawn two long-running spin-offs, set in Miami and New York, and recently gave birth to a third, “CSI: Cyber,” which now will survive it as the 15-season run of the original CSI comes to an end Sunday at 21:00 EDT. The two-hour farewell brings back bygone stars including Marg Helgenberger (who played exotic-dancer-turned-investigator Catherine Willows until departing three seasons ago) and Petersen (who headlined for eight-plus seasons as lab boss Gil Grissom). In that respect, it has something in common with that other durable crime franchise, “Law & Order,” which has caused plenty of people to wonder why the legal system can’t neatly wrap up a trial in a mere 30 minutes. It felt really good to get a pat on the back from my dad … I have emotionally come to grips with the fact that TV shows have to go up and TV shows have to go down at some point.

Not surprisingly, there was a “the gang’s all here” quality to the finale (and SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t watched), which concocted an excuse to bring back Grissom (Petersen) to work a case alongside Catherine Willows (Marg Helgenberger) and ex-wife Sara Sidle (Jorja Fox), all in the ostensible service of solving a crime that tied into his past, involving the dominatrix Lady Heather (Melinda Clarke). CSI was something different, and while we didn’t know what it was going to be, we wanted a chance to figure it out.” He got his chance and loved the experience, he says, then moved on in 2008 to pursue theater work. (Now he is joining another series, WGN America’s Manhattan, for its second season starting 13 October) Petersen observes that just weeks after CSI premiered, a much-disputed presidential election left many Americans confused and disillusioned. Frankly, anyone who has watched TV in the last 20-some-odd years should have instantly known whodunit when Doug Hutchison (who has been playing a psycho as far back as Tombs in “The X-Files”) showed up, but that really wasn’t the issue. This all cemented a period of what Petersen calls “postmodern vagueness,” with people doubting themselves and their world and wondering, “What does it mean?

But the trail quickly leads to Lady Heather, which brings Grissom back from his pro bono adventures as, like, a maritime anarchist. (One of Grissom’s first lines in the movie: “Looks like somebody jumped a shark!”) The finale turned on a few very out-there flourishes, some pseudo-scientific (South American mind-control flower!) and some pseudo-psychographic (lots of talk about the metaphorical implications of “dominance” and “submissive”). Where is the truth?” “What our show did was give you the truth,” he declares. “You can be confused about many things, but this little piece of lint that we found on the floor, you can count on that.

And that gave me the inspiration to go below the tape with a forensic police drama and take a forensic point of view.” Problem is, “CSI” made things too cool. That said, if anyone can explain that whole bit of business about how the color-coded bees would lead Grissom and company to the murderer’s location, more power to them. Zuiker remembers how, along with launching the early careers of guest actors like Dakota Fanning, Jeremy Renner, Rumer Willis and Kellan Lutz, several celebrity fans wrangled appearances on the show, including emerging pop star Bieber, who played a serial bomber in two 2011 episodes. “He was huge back then,” recalls Zuiker. “We brought in a bunch of new viewers for us during that time. It often featured technology that was on the cutting edge of forensic science, innovations unavailable to the average police department — and even untested.

As Grissom told his colleagues on an early episode: forget personalities, ambitions and assumptions. “Concentrate on what cannot lie: the evidence,” he said. At one point in the finale, a mysterious bad guy sends in a face-scrambling video message straight to Grissom: “The grand finale is specifically designed for you.” That vibed like a meta mission statement for “Immortality,” which worked best as an extremely melodramatic triangle between Grissom, longtime antagonist/ambiguous love interest Lady Heather, and even-longer-time ally/ex-wife Sara. We don’t really get starstruck in the business, but it’s just really fun to kind of have somebody that huge on the globe to come do the show.” The teen idol also managed to terrorize the CSI team with a non-stop series of behind-the-scenes pranks, says Zuiker. “He locked our line producer in the closet.

The defense would always ask why law enforcement hadn’t looked for fingerprints on the plastic bags containing drugs, but “it never worked back then. The trip ends on Sunday, “by offering the fans who’ve been loyal so long with an opportunity to say goodbye to the people they fell in love with at the start,” says Danson, who vows, “It will be very satisfying.” “Right now, I really feel maniacally happy about it,” she says, having spent most of 15 seasons as forensics scientist Sara Sidle. “I feel like, wow, look at this amazing run we were able to have! So give the creative team some credit for seeking a way to make this feel like something approaching a proper sendoff, despite the somewhat clunky and unapologetically sappy nature of it.

In the final analysis, “CSI” remains a testament to Hollywood’s famous “nobody knows anything” maxim, a series that not only became the linchpin of CBS’ programming strategy for most of this century but which turned an unknown writer and former Vegas tram driver prone to talking about himself in the third person, Zuiker, into a millionaire many times over. Like every show in the franchise, it was set in a world where steadily more attractive philosopher-kings use futuristic technology and apparently bottomless reserves of funding to capture maniacs.

They were like, ‘You’re crazy, no one’s going to do that on a drug case.’ The only time fingerprinting occurred was on burglary and in homicide cases, and jurors were fine with it.” Now, Steiner said, half a prosecutor’s speech to prospective jurors explains how they “really don’t have ‘CSI’-type evidence, and ‘this isn’t ‘CSI,’ ” he said. On drug cases in particular, juries sometimes reject logic in favor of some kind of technological evidence, says New York City’s Special Narcotics Prosecutor, Bridget Brennan. Some cases simply don’t require expensive forensic science or high- tech TV wizardry, where show after show has a security camera on every block ready to catch footage of a crime, or a super-convenient database full of handy information, or lab results that are back in the blink of an eye, Brennan said. “Jurors should want certainty, I think that’s a good thing. We don’t have a database with everyone in the city in it and the car they drive and their fingerprints,” she said. “And if we did, many civil libertarians would object to that.” Investigators spotted a drug deal between a man and a woman go down in a Bedford-Stuyvesant car, but when they tried to slap the cuffs on the driver, all hell broke loose, said Kati Cornell, a spokeswoman for Brennan’s office. The driver had been arrested in a different drug case just six days earlier, and had past convictions for drug and weapons possession, but jurors cleared him of the top charge of third degree drug possession with intent to sell in the June 2012 case — because the investigators who tangled with the unruly man couldn’t testify they’d seen the drugs fall out of his pockets.

SHE QUIT ME… BECAUSE OF YOU!!!” This led Grissom to give a good long speech about the 52-Hertz Whale, a lovelorn semi-mythic mega-creature who sings a love song at a frequency far too low for a lady whale to ever hear him. And Sara got to take over as director of the CSI program. “Vegas is lucky to have you,” said Grissom. “The oceans are lucky to have you,” said Sara.

The show is limited only by imagination, not reality, so there are “all kinds of techniques that haven’t been validated, and some that haven’t been invented yet,” he said. The short answer is no. ‘CSI’ being my first TV script the last thing on my mind was ‘Is this a format that can last for 16 years.’ I was new to television and new to the industry. Even those accused of crimes don’t always realize TV science doesn’t measure up to real life, said criminal defense lawyer Melanie Marmer, a former prosecutor. “The clients ask you, ‘Why can’t they check my fingerprints and see that I was never there?’ . . . Hall recalls spending time coroners in Los Angeles and Las Vegas to familiarize himself in autopsies because “I wanted my character to appear to have done this 10,000 times before.

They just don’t do that in real life,” she said. “Or, ‘Didn’t they fingerprint the gun?’ You usually can’t get fingerprints from the gun. Maybe a thumbprint, but it really depends on the type of gun and the type of grip.” “It’s become so boilerplate that I could mouth the words,” he quipped. “They’ll talk about ‘blue lights,’ about how no one is coming in and putting a blue light over a bed sheet and finding semen, and then they joke, ‘You don’t want to put a blue light over a bed sheet in a motel anyway.’ ” In cases that do use forensic evidence, meanwhile, mistakes can creep in, says Erin Murphy, a professor at NYU and author of the new book, “Inside the Cell: The Dark Side of Forensic Science.” “Basically, if you watch these shows, they make it seem like the analyst just rolls onto the scene (usually in a skimpy T-shirt), swabs a couple objects, and then gets unimpeachable evidence of the suspect’s guilt,” she says. “But in reality, analysts must painstakingly take samples from a wide array of places and things, usually without knowing whether those efforts will pay off, and then have each tested to see whether there is any usable evidence. The testing process itself also involves a lot more subjectivity and precision than allowed in a fast-paced Hollywood drama.” “More science isn’t a bad thing if it helps ensure that only those whose guilt is proven beyond a reasonable doubt be convicted,” said defense attorney Mark Bederow. “The truth of the matter is, technology has advanced . . . someone’s life and liberty is at stake,” said Steiner. “I’ve won gun-possession cases where the prosecutor has argued that they cannot lift fingerprints off [a gun].

And hopefully, we’ve done a good enough job that they will feel that we have said thank you.” “I would have done it anyway because I wouldn’t have missed it,’ says Fox. “[But] it really, truly, is, I think, a love letter to our fans. I’ve had jurors approach me after and say that’s why they didn’t convict my client, because of a lack of evidence.” During trial, prosecutors keyed in on a bloody fingerprint from Cortez, found on a wall in Woods’ apartment.

Right after the announcement (of the finale movie) at the upfronts we threw ourselves into a room at Bruckheimer’s office and we broke this thing in a couple of weeks. I wrote this (spec movie) called ‘The Runner.’ A buddy of mine, Dustin Abraham, when he first got to L.A. in ’97, he gave it to an agent at William Morris.

I called them and I’m like ‘I’m at the bar.’ It was like Abbott and Costello — the Vegas guy goes to Barney’s Beanery and it’s actually Barney Greengrass at Barneys New York. When I get there Scott has my script and says ‘This is really good, do you have another one?’ I said, ‘This is what I got.’ They signed me right there.

I went into (Littman’s) office with lime-green index cards and talked to him about ‘CSI.’ He told me we had to get into this narrow window of pitching season. He called up Nina (Tassler, then head of drama at CBS) and told her ‘I don’t know if you’ll buy it but this will be the most entertaining 20 minutes of your life.’ By the grace of god Nina Tassler in October hears this pitch.

Jonathan told me ‘Don’t run around like you usually do because her office is small.’ And Jonathan told me ‘If you don’t sell it today it’s dead.’ So that was my motivation. (Tassler) told me ‘We’re going younger right now with a show we just bought called ‘Survivor.’ If you write me something great I will fight to get it on the air.’ I wrote the script in three days and the rest is history.

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