Mixing deduction and character-driven drama, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation follows a team of crime-scene investigators, employed by the Las Vegas Police Department, as they use physical evidence to solve murders. The team is originally led by Gil Grissom (Petersen), a socially awkward forensic entomologist and career criminalist who is promoted to CSI supervisor following the death of a trainee investigator. Grissom's second-in-command, Catherine Willows (Marg Helgenberger), is a single mother with a cop's instinct. Born and raised in Las Vegas, Catherine was a stripper before being recruited into law enforcement and training as a blood-spatter specialist. Following Grissom's departure during the ninth season of the series, Catherine is promoted to supervisor. After overseeing the training of new investigator Raymond Langston (Fishburne), Willows is replaced by D.B. Russell (Danson), and recruited to the FBI shortly thereafter. Russell is a family man, a keen forensic botanist, and a veteran of the Seattle Crime Lab. In the series' 12th season, Russell is reunited with his former partner Julie Finlay (Elisabeth Shue), who like Catherine, is a blood-spatter expert with an extensive knowledge of criminal psychology. With the rest of the team, they work to tackle Las Vegas' growing crime rate and are on the job 24/7, scouring the scene, collecting the evidence, and finding the missing pieces that will solve the mystery.
Concept and development
During the 1990s, Anthony Zuiker caught producer Jerry Bruckheimer's attention after writing his first movie script. Zuiker was convinced that a series was in the concept; Bruckheimer agreed and began developing the series with Touchstone Pictures. The studio's head at the time liked the spec script and presented it to ABC, NBC, and Fox executives, who decided to pass. The head of drama development at CBS saw potential in the script, and the network had a pay-or-play contract with actor William Petersen, who said he wanted to do the CSIpilot. The network's executives liked the pilot so much, they decided to include it in their 2000 schedule immediately, airing on Fridays after The Fugitive. After CBS picked up the show, the Disney owned Touchstone decided to pull out of the project, since they didn't want to spend so much money producing a show for another network (ABC is also owned by Disney). Instead of the intended effect of making CBS cancel the show (since it no longer had a producer), Bruckheimer was able to convince Alliance Atlantis to step in as a producer, saving the show and adding CBS as another producer. Initially, CSI was thought to benefit from The Fugitive (a remake of the 1960s series), which was expected to be a hit, but by the end of 2000, CSI had a much larger audience.
CSI was shot at Rye Canyon, a corporate campus owned by Lockheed Martin situated in the Valencia area of Santa Clarita, California, but after episode 11, filming shifted to the Santa Clarita Studios, originally chosen for its similarity to the outskirts of Las Vegas. Occasionally, the cast still shot on location in Las Vegas (the season-four DVD set revealed that the episode "Suckers" was mostly shot during December 2003 in Las Vegas, where they filmed a Gothic club scene on location for rent, and in January 2004, some scenes were filmed at Caesars Palace), although primarily Las Vegas was used solely for second unit photography such as exterior shots of streets. Other California locations include Verdugo Hills High School, UCLA's Royce Hall, Pasadena City Hall, and California State University, Los Angeles. While shooting took place primarily at Universal Studios in Universal City, California, Santa Clarita's surroundings had proven so versatile, CSI still shot some outdoor scenes there.
CSI's theme song was, since the last episode of season one, "Who Are You", written by Pete Townshend with vocals by lead singer Roger Daltrey of The Who. Daltrey made a special appearance in the season-seven episode "Living Legend", which also contained many musical references such as the words "Who's next" on a dry-erase board in the episode's opening sequence. In certain countries, to avoid music licensing fees, a unique theme was used, instead.
William Petersen as Gil Grissom, the graveyard shift CSI supervisor (regular: seasons 1–9; guest star: seasons 9, 11, 13, "Immortality")
Grissom is a highly respected forensic entomologist with a doctoral degree in biology from the University of California. When testifying in court he is often addressed as "Doctor Grissom". He became a CSI around 1985 and departed the Las Vegas Crime Lab in 2009. After a short stint as a researcher, Grissom becomes a sea-life advocate, and reunites with his ex-wife Sara. The series ends with the two sailing off together from the Port of San Diego.
Catherine is a blood spatter analyst who joined the CSI team as a lab technician and worked her way up to assistant supervisor, later succeeding Grissom. After a stint as the graveyard shift CSI supervisor, Catherine is demoted following a departmental scandal, and leaves Las Vegas to join the FBI as a special agent. During the series finale, a recently returned Willows is granted the directorship of the crime lab when Sidle leaves Las Vegas.
Warrick is an audio-video analyst and a native of Las Vegas with a major in chemistry from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. A recovering gambling addict, Warrick is nonetheless skilled at his job. After being falsely accused, and acquitted, of murder, Brown is assassinated in his car by corrupt under-sheriff McKeen. He dies in Grissom's arms.
Stokes graduated from Texas A&M and joined the Dallas Police prior to moving to Las Vegas. He was promoted to CSI level III in the pilot episode of the series, and later became assistant night supervisor under Catherine Willows. Stokes was later demoted, and after remaining in Las Vegas a CSI III, he transfers to San Diego when he is granted the directorship of the SDPD Crime Lab.
Jorja Fox as Sara Sidle, a CSI level III (regular: seasons 1–8, 11–15, "Immortality"; recurring: seasons 9–10)
Sara is a materials and element analyst who majored in physics at Harvard University. Sara transferred from San Francisco at the behest of Grissom, whom she later marries. After a turbulent relationship and a divorce, Sara is promoted to director of the Las Vegas Crime Lab, though she relinquishes this position to reunite with her ex-husband, Grissom. Catherine then succeeds her as lab director.
Greg is a DNA specialist who was educated in a private school for gifted students. Graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Stanford, Sanders joined the LVPD after a short stint with the SFPD. He later wrote a book about the history of Las Vegas. Greg believes in psychic powers, and is willing to sacrifice himself for what is right. Over the course of the series, Greg has several love interests. He expressed a romantic interest in fellow CSI Morgan Brody after meeting her in season 12.
Robbins is the head county coroner of the LVPD. He is married with three children and has prosthetic legs, having lost his own legs after being hit by a drunk driver as a teenager. Al rarely leaves the crime lab, instead performing autopsies and referring specimens for forensic analysis. He forms strong bonds with both Gil Grissom and Raymond Langston.
Brass was initially the CSI team's supervisor, until losing the position after Holly Gribbs, a rookie CSI under his command is murdered on her first day on the job. He is then given a position as a homicide detective; from then on, Brass serves as the legal muscle for the CSI team and the one who does most of the arresting and interrogating of suspects. Brass later retires from the force to focus on his daughter, and takes a job at Catherine's casino, The Eclipse, as head of security, as seen in "Immortality".
Sofia was a CSI who became assistant supervisor on graveyard, following a demotion from supervisor at the behest of Conrad Ecklie. She later makes a career switch to detective, working alongside Brass, and, rapidly rises through the ranks and becomes the LVPD's deputy chief. She develops a strong friendship with Grissom, much to the chagrin of Sara.
Hodges is a lab technician with a BA from Williams College; he previously worked in the LAPD crime lab, where his superiors felt he had an attitude problem. Hodges has an uncanny sense of smell, and is able to identify many key chemical compounds by their scent alone. Although shown to be a loner throughout the series, he forms a close bond with Morgan Brody.
Adams is a former St. Louis police officer and a nonconformist who joined law enforcement to rebel against her parents, who are psychiatrists. She fits in well with the team initially, though seems to stop following Grissom's departure. Unhappy with the new leadership of Willows, she departs Las Vegas, leaving a damning exit interview criticizing Catherine's leadership skills.
Langston comes into contact with the CSI team in the course of a murder investigation and joins the Las Vegas Crime Lab as a level I CSI. Working under the leadership of Willows, Langston worries about his genetic make-up and natural predisposition to crime. Langston murders serial killer Nate Haskell during a brutal fight, while rescuing his ex-wife, who had been kidnapped, tortured, and raped by Haskell. Captain Brass is the first police officer at the crime scene. After seeing the condition of Langston's ex-wife he ensures that Haskell's death is ruled as a justifiable homicide by self defense. Langston resigns to care for his traumatized ex-wife, leaving a devastated crime lab in his wake.
Liz Vassey as Wendy Simms, a DNA technician (regular: season 10; recurring: seasons 6–9; guest star: season 11)
Simms worked in San Francisco before moving to Las Vegas to take the DNA tech position left vacant by Sanders. Hodges complains that she thinks she's "too cool" for the lab, as like Sanders, she expresses a desire to work in the field. She later becomes a crime-scene investigator in Portland to be closer to her sister. Simms had a brief relationship with Hodges.
David, known as "Super Dave", is the assistant coroner to Chief Medical Examiner Al Robbins. He received his self-styled nickname after saving the life of a victim during an autopsy. Though early in the series, his co-workers tease him about his supposed lack of social experience, he later marries and has a child. He is very close friends with his mentor, Robbins.
Ted Danson as D.B. Russell, the graveyard shift CSI Supervisor and director of the Las Vegas Crime Lab (regular: seasons 12–15, "Immortality")
Russell is a skilled botanist and veteran crime scene investigator. Previously a crime lab director in Washington, Russell is hired to "clean house" in the wake of the Langston scandal. Russell becomes director of the Las Vegas Crime Lab, a position he holds until his departure following the events of "Immortality". He is married and has four children and a granddaughter. Sidle succeeds him as director.
Brody is a former member of LAPD SID and joins the Las Vegas PD CSI unit in the wake of the Nate Haskell scandal. She is the estranged daughter of Sheriff Conrad Ecklie, with whom she has a turbulent relationship. Brody is often seen partnered with Sanders, and she forms a strong friendship with Hodges, describing him as her "best friend". She is a skilled investigator.
Finlay, known as "Finn" or "Jules", is a blood-spatter specialist who worked for Russell in Seattle; Russell asks her to leave Seattle to join the Las Vegas CSI crew. Finlay is hired following the departure of Willows, and acts as a foil to D.B.'s laid-back management style. She is later attacked by the Gig Harbor killer and left in a car trunk. After a short time in a coma, she succumbs to her injuries. Russell states that she will remain with him wherever he goes.
Jon Wellner as Henry Andrews, a DNA and toxicology technician (regular: seasons 13–15, "Immortality"; recurring: seasons 5–12)
Henry is the toxicology specialist of the Las Vegas Forensics Laboratory, who mainly deals with identifying toxic substances that have undergone human consumption. He later cross-trains as a DNA specialist, replacing Simms. Andrews has a strong bond with all the lab rats, though particularly Hodges, with whom he has had a love-hate relationship. However, the two were seen having a much better relationship in later seasons.
In 2006, the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History developed a traveling museum exhibit called "CSI: The Experience". On May 25, 2007, Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry was the first museum to host the exhibit, and the exhibit's opening featured stars from the TV series. Also a supporting website designed for the benefit of people who cannot visit the exhibit was developed, designed by Rice University's Center for Technology in Teaching and Learning and Left Brain Media.
"CSI: The Experience" also has an interactive attraction at the MGM Grand Las Vegas in Las Vegas, and the Mall of America in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Critical and commercial reception
During its 15 years in production, CSI secured an estimated world audience of over 73.8 million viewers (in 2009), commanded, as of the fall of 2008, an average cost of $262,600 for a 30-second commercial, and reached milestone episodes including the 100th ("Ch-Ch-Changes"), the 200th ("Mascara") and the 300th ("Frame by Frame"). CSI spawned three spin-off series, a book series, several video games, and an exhibit at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry. At the time of its cancellation, CSI was the seventh-longest running scripted U.S. primetime TV series overall and had been recognized as the most popular dramatic series internationally by the Festival de Télévision de Monte-Carlo, which awarded the series the International Television Audience Award (Best Television Drama Series) three times.CSI became the second-most watched show on American television by 2002, finally taking the top position for the 2002-2003 season. It was later named the most-watched show in the world for the sixth time in 2016, making it the most-watched show for more years than any other show.
Critical reception to the show has been positive, with an IMDB score of 7.8/10, while early reviews showed a mixed to favorable review of the opening season. The Hollywood Reporter noted of the pilot "...the charismatic William Petersen and the exquisite Marg Helgenberger, lend credibility to the portrayals that might be indistinct in lesser hands. There's also a compelling, pulsating edge at the outset of CSI that commands instant attention, thanks in part to dynamic work from director Danny Cannon.".Entertainment Weekly gave the opening two seasons "B+" and "A-" ratings, respectively, noting: "The reason for CSI’s success is that it combines a few time-tested TV elements in a fresh way. Each episode presents a murder case and a group of lovable heroes armed with cool, high-tech gadgets who do the sleuthing and wrap things up in an hour." The show has won six Primetime Emmy awards (out of 39 nominations) and four People's Choice awards (out of six nominations) and was nominated for six Golden Globe Awards, among other awards.
CSI was often criticized for its level and explicitness of graphic violence, images, and sexual content. The CSI series and its spin-off shows have been accused of pushing the boundary of what is considered acceptable viewing for primetime network television. The series had numerous episodes on sexual fetishism and other forms of sexual pleasure (notably the recurring character of Lady Heather, a professional dominatrix). CSI was ranked among the worst primetime shows by the Parents Television Council from its second through sixth seasons, being ranked the worst show for family prime-time viewing after the 2002–2003 and 2005–2006 seasons. The PTC also targeted certain CSI episodes for its weekly "Worst TV Show of the Week" feature. In addition, the episode "King Baby" that aired in February 2005, which the PTC named the most offensive TV show of the week, also led the PTC to start a campaign to file complaints with the FCC with the episode; to date, nearly 13,000 PTC members complained to the Federal Communications Commission about the episode. The PTC also asked Clorox to pull their advertisements from CSI and CSI: Miami because of the graphically violent content on those programs.
A grassroots campaign started on August 2007, upon rumors of Jorja Fox leaving the show, organized by the online forum Your Tax Dollars At Work. Many of its 19,000 members donated to the cause, collecting over $8,000 for gifts and stunts targeted at CBS executives and CSI's producers and writers. The stunts included a wedding cake delivery to Carol Mendelsohn, 192 chocolate-covered insects with the message "CSI Without Sara Bugs Us" to Naren Shankar, and a plane flying several times over the Universal Studios of Los Angeles with a "Follow the evidence keep Jorja Fox on CSI" banner. Other protests included mailing the show's producers a dollar, to save Fox's contract "one dollar at a time". By October 16, 2007, according to the site's tally, more than 20,000 letters with money or flyers had been mailed to the Universal Studios and to CBS headquarters in New York from 49 different countries since the campaign started on September 29, 2007. Fox and Mendelsohn chose to donate the money to Court Appointed Special Advocate, a national association that supports and promotes court-appointed advocates for abused or neglected children.
On September 27, 2007, after CSI's season eight premiered, a miniature model of character Gil Grissom's office (which he was seen building during season seven) was put up on eBay. The auction ended October 7, with the prop being sold for $15,600; CBS donated the proceeds to the National Court Appointed Special Advocate Association.
Law enforcement reaction
Real-life crime scene investigators and forensic scientists warn that popular television shows like CSI (often specifically citing CSI) do not give a realistic picture of the work, wildly distorting the nature of crime-scene investigators' work, and exaggerating the ease, speed, effectiveness, drama, glamour, influence, scope, and comfort level of their jobs, which they describe as far more mundane, tedious, limited, and boring, and very commonly failing to solve a crime.
Another criticism of the show is the depiction of police procedure, which some consider to be decidedly lacking in realism. For instance, the show's characters not only investigate ("process") crime scenes, but they also conduct raids, engage in suspect pursuit and arrest, interrogate suspects, and solve cases, all of which falls under the responsibility of uniformed officers and detectives, not CSI personnel. Although 'some' detectives are also registered CSIs, this is exceedingly rare in actual life. It is considered an inappropriate and improbable practice to allow CSI personnel to be involved in detective work, as it would compromise the impartiality of scientific evidence and would be impracticably time-consuming. Additionally, it is inappropriate for the CSIs who process a crime scene to be involved in the examination and testing of any evidence collected from that scene. CSI shares this characteristic with similar British drama series Silent Witness.
However, not all law enforcement agencies have been as critical; many CSIs have responded positively to the show's influence and enjoy their new reputation. In the UK, scenes of crime officers now commonly refer to themselves as CSIs. Some constabularies, such as Norfolk, have even gone so far as to change the name of the unit to Crime Scene Investigation. Also, recruitment and training programs have seen a massive increase in applicants, with a far wider range of people now interested in something previously regarded as a scientific backwater.
The "CSI effect" is a reference to the alleged phenomenon of CSI raising crime victims' and jury members' real-world expectations of forensic science, especially crime-scene investigation and DNA testing. This is said to have changed the way many trials are presented today, in that prosecutors are pressured to deliver more forensic evidence in court. Victims and their families are coming to expect instant answers from showcased techniques such as DNA analysis and fingerprinting, when actual forensic processing often takes days or weeks, with no guarantee of revealing a "smoking gun" for the prosecution's case. District attorneys state that the conviction rate in cases with little physical evidence has decreased, largely due to the influence of CSI on jury members. Some police and district attorneys have criticized the show for giving members of the public an inaccurate perception of how police solve crimes.
In 2006, the evidence cited in support of the supposed effect was mainly anecdotes from law enforcement personnel and prosecutors, and allegedly little empirical examination of the effect had been done, and the one study published by then suggested the phenomenon may be an urban myth.
However, more recent research suggests that these modern TV shows do have an influence on public perceptions and expectations, and juror behavior.
Citing the "CSI effect", at least one researcher has suggested screening jurors for their level of influence from such TV programs.
The first season is also the only DVD release of the series not to feature Dolby Digital 5.1 surround audio, instead offering Dolby Digital stereo sound.
The Blu-ray disc release of Season One is 7.1 DTS sound and 1.78:1 widescreen.
Regions 2 releases have followed a pattern whereby each season is progressively released in two parts (each of 11 or 12 episodes [except for Season 8, in which part 1 contained 8 episodes and the Without a Trace crossover and part 2 contained the remaining 9 episodes] with special features split up) before finally being sold as a single box set. After having been almost 12 months behind region 2 releases after the first four series, region 4 releases are speeding up, with distributors simply releasing season five as a complete box set.
Season 10 was released on November 18, 2011, in Region B. Like the Season 1 Blu-ray release, it features a 16:9 widescreen transfer, but it only has DTS-HD 5.1 sound.
Season 9 was released on September 1, 2009. Like the Season 1 Blu-ray release, it features a 16:9 widescreen transfer with DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround sound. Extras include commentaries, featurettes and BD-Live functionality.
Season 8 was released on Blu-ray on May 29, 2009, in Region B.
CSI has also been released as a series of mobile games. In Fall 2007, CBS teamed up with game developer Gameloft to bring CSI to mobile phones. The first of the series to be published was CSI: Miami. The game features actual cast members such as Alexx Woods and Calleigh Duquesne who are trying to solve a murder in South Beach with the player's assistance. The game is also available for download on various iPod devices.
In spring 2008, Gameloft and CBS released "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation – The Mobile Game" which is based on the original series in Las Vegas. This game introduces the unique ability to receive calls during the game to provide tips and clues about crime scenes and evidence. As for the storyline, the game developers collaborated with Anthony E. Zuiker (the series creator) to ensure that the plot and dialogue were aligned with the show's style.
True Stories of CSI: The Real Crimes Behind the Best Episodes of the Popular TV Show (published August 2009) – Katherine Ramsland follows the evidence and revisits some of the most absorbing episodes of the phenomenally popular C.S.I. television franchise, and explores the real-life crimes that inspired them. She also looks into the authenticity of the forensic investigations recreated for the dramatizations, and the painstaking real-life forensic process employed in every one of the actual cases—from notorious mass-murderer Richard Speck, through the massacre of Buddhist monks in an Arizona Temple, to a baffling case of apparent spontaneous combustion.
In 2003, comic book publisher IDW Publishing began releasing a series of one-shots & miniseries based on all three CSI series, with the majority being based on the original Vegas-based series.
In September 2009, Tokyopop released a manga version of CSI written by Sekou Hamilton and drawn by Steven Cummings. It centers around five teenagers working at the Las Vegas Crime Lab as interns as they try to solve a murder case of a student at their high school, which leads to a shocking discovery. Grissom and Catherine are seen now and then, as well as other CSI characters.
^"CBS and Gameloft Use Real Phone Calls to Unravel Clues and Solve Crimes in 'CSI: Crime Scene Investigation(TM) – The Mobile Game'", Thomson Reuters. Retrieved October 13, 2008. Reuters.comArchived 2009-08-13 at the Wayback Machine