Science, crime and real logic

A cSI screen­writer re­flects on the suc­cess of the crime se­ries.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - By LeiLa Ma­COR

So what makes a suc­cess­ful TV show? For screen­writer Carol Men­del­sohn, the most im­por­tant thing is an “emo­tional hook” that keeps cu­ri­ous view­ers com­ing back.

In her case, they have been com­ing back for 14 years to the pop­u­lar CSI TV crime se­ries, which has even sur­vived the de­par­ture of its lead ac­tor in its ninth sea­son.

“All writ­ers feel your project is like a child in a sense and you feel proud,” the 61-year-old, who is also the show’s ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer, told AFP in an in­ter­view.

That CSI: Crime Scene In­ves­ti­ga­tion has lasted 14 sea­sons is “such an ac­com­plish­ment, but ev­ery­body that works in tele­vi­sion knows it’s not one per­son, not one depart­ment.”

Seen by 63 mil­lion view­ers around the world and deemed the most watched show on the planet six times, Men­del­sohn said CSI’s suc­cess is based in part on the fact that it “brings clo­sure to vic­tims’ fam­i­lies.”

“Be­cause if there is a vic­tim, there is al­ways some­body who loved that vic­tim,” said the for­mer Chicago lawyer who made a name for her­self in the 1990s with her work on the drama se­ries Mel­rose Place.

“That clo­sure is the emo­tional hook of the show.”

She also linked the show’s mass fol­low­ing to the fact that view­ers are keen to learn new things.

“Peo­ple want to learn stuff, to know things,” she said. “And you can’t watch an episode of CSI without learn­ing about some­thing.

“Whether you’re learn­ing about science or you’re learn­ing that there are peo­ple that dress up like stuffed an­i­mals and that’s the only way they can in­ter­act with each other and have sex,” she added in a nod to a fa­mous episode based on a real case.

But keep­ing things in­ter­est­ing all this time hasn’t been easy and is a team ef­fort.

“These shows are re­ally hard to write be­cause there’s science, crime and real logic, plus, peo­ple don’t be­lieve it, but there is char­ac­ter,” she said.

“It’s very hard for one per­son to write it. So we use a writer’s room.”

There, writ­ers and foren­sic ex­perts who ad­vise them share ideas and work on mul­ti­ple screens where ev­ery­one can see what their coun­ter­parts are com­ing up with.

“I like to work col­lab­o­ra­tively. You never take away from some­one’s cre­ativ­ity but it al­ways helps some­one to have other ideas,” Men­del­sohn said.

“It’s a very chal­leng­ing show and one per­son just can’t fig­ure it out.”

Get­ting a lit­tle help from out­side has also helped.

The end of the fifth sea­son in 2005, di­rected by Quentin Tarantino, reached 35 mil­lion view­ers, ac­cord­ing to Nielsen rat­ings.

Since 2000, ev­ery episode of the CBS se­ries has fo­cused on a heinous crime that is sub­se­quently in­ves­ti­gated by a team of foren­sic sci­en­tists.

That team used to be led by Gil Gris­som, played by Wil­liam Petersen, who left in 2008 to pur­sue other projects.

His de­par­ture posed a big chal­lenge “be­cause Gris­som was so syn­ony­mous with the show and they were big shoes to fill,” Men­del­sohn re­called.

What fol­lowed was an un­suc­cess­ful try to re­place him with Lau­rence Fish­burne as a rookie.

But Fish­burne “was such an im­pos­ing phys­i­cal pres­ence and ac­tor on the screen, no­body wanted to be­lieve that he wasn’t the head of the team,” Men­del­sohn said. “It never quite worked.”

So when The Ma­trix star left in 2011, the crew de­cided to create D.B. Rus­sell’s “fam­ily man” char­ac­ter, por­trayed by Ted Dan­son, who breaks an un­writ­ten rule on the show.

“We have this funny rule and it’s true: we al­ways say that if you have sex on CSI, you die,” Men­del­sohn joked.

“It’s prob­a­bly very pu­ri­tan­i­cal and very Amer­i­can,” she added with a laugh.

“But peo­ple have great sex and they die. or are ac­cused of mur­der.”

But CSI – which is set in Las Ve­gas, and has spawned two spinoffs set in Mi­ami and New York – has been crit­i­cized by those who say it isn’t true to life.

When the se­ries first be­gan, DNA test re­sults would come in over the course of a com­mer­cial break, Men­del­sohn said. That made no sense re­al­is­ti­cally at the time, but sci­en­tific ad­vances have since been made.

“And foren­sic ex­perts through­out the coun­try said that’s not true, it takes weeks and some­times months to get re­sults,” she added. “But now the tech­nol­ogy has caught up with our show.” — AFP

Great part­ner­ship: elis­a­beth Shue and Ted dan­son head the cast of cSI Sea­son 14.

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