‘CSI’ Creator Explains Why He’s Moving The Franchise Into Unscripted TV

The creator of “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” the beloved CBS procedural that for years was the most-watched TV show in the world, is taking the franchise that has already spawned five spinoffs in a new direction: true crime.

In “The Real CSI: Miami,” which premieres Wednesday in a primetime spot on CBS, Anthony Zuiker is depicting actual crimes, told through the eyes of real-life forensic investigators rather than actors. It’s a far cry from the notorious one-liners and “sunglasses moments” on “CSI: Miami.”

But “The Real CSI” retains the “emotional undercurrent” of the scripted drama — which almost instantly became a smash hit after its 2000 premiere — while adding a new element of authenticity, Zuiker told HuffPost during an interview at CrimeCon in Nashville at the end of May.

“There’s an authenticity when you have the real people speaking about the real case,” he said.

“CSI” creator Anthony Zuiker shared an inside look into television production, script writing and Hollywood lore at CrimeCon in Nashville on May 31.
“CSI” creator Anthony Zuiker shared an inside look into television production, script writing and Hollywood lore at CrimeCon in Nashville on May 31.

“There’s an authenticity when you have the real victim speaking about the real case, and there’s authenticity when you have the real police footage, the police photos. Anything that’s evidentiary that you can show the audience is really, really cool. [The original “CSI” viewers] are not really used to the real part of that, which is kind of neat.”

There is also a practical benefit to making a true crime show, Zuiker noted: cost.

Without getting too specific in the numbers, I would say that there’s an 85% discount in the budget from scripted to unscripted,” he said. But “Real CSI” has a “higher premium” than other ripped-from-the-headlines true crime shows, he added.

“We never want to do ‘CSI’ ‘on the cheap.’ We want to keep the quality up. And I think based on the budget of what they set it out for the 10 episodes, we’re able to do a quality product that should stand the test of time and give us the ability to spin off.”

Already, Zuiker said he sees the possibility to keep expanding the franchise with “Real CSI” series centered around New York or Las Vegas.

Between jokes and fascinating anecdotes during a panel at CrimeCon, Zuiker became emotional when he opened up about a defining moment in his life that inspired his work: crime scene investigators allowing him to see his estranged father’s body at his home after he died by suicide.

The original “CSI” was “built on pain,” he said.

“Emotionally, if you don’t have the pain to give, then the audience doesn’t have permission to receive,” he told HuffPost. “It can only be special when it comes from a place that’s a lot deeper than just a show creator. It comes from a deeper piece of pain or trauma that I’ve dealt with that I’ve sort of repackaged into allowing the public to receive it.”

Zuiker said he knew he had “a phenomenal show on [his] hands” when he realized the extraordinary way that forensics allows murder victims themselves to help investigators solve their cases.

“The body is the perfect specimen to solve a crime because it can speak for itself when it can’t speak for itself,” he said. “When you take a look at all of the clues that a body can give based on trauma or cause of death, it really is a masterpiece of clues for the taking for an investigator. It’s fascinating to me.”

Though the show aims to entertain its audience, he added he also hopes to balance being respectful to victims and survivors.

“You have to have a respectful candor when it comes to dealing with things that are real, that affect real people. It’s a balance … I think, just as a human being, that I have to strike with the franchise. We’re not an exploitative franchise, and I’m not an exploitative producer.”

Although its format is different, the first moments of “The Real CSI: Miami” will feel familiar to fans of its scripted counterpart: Each episode opens with “Won’t Get Fooled Again” by The Who.

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