- The Washington Times - Monday, November 18, 2002

NEW YORK
In the matter of CBS' "Crime Scene Investigation" triumph, here are some numbers to ponder: No. 1: the season-to-date rank for "CSI," which not only unseats past champs "ER" and "Friends," but has boosted its audience by 29 percent from a year ago.
No. 1: the rank among new fall shows seized by its spinoff, "CSI: Miami."
No. 60: the grade of sunblock worn by that show's star, David Caruso, the famously fair-skinned actor who walked away from "NYPD Blue" a decade ago and is savoring his TV comeback in the Florida sun.
"It works great," says Mr. Caruso, who coincidentally lives in Miami and looks pleasantly pale, not a bit burned. "It saves my life every day."
The original "CSI" surprised everyone when it became the sleeper hit of the 2000-01 season. When "CSI: Miami" premiered this fall to excellent reviews and spectacular ratings, nobody blinked.
Its expected success has sealed the status of the CSI franchise's co-creators, Ann Donahue, Carol Mendelsohn and Anthony Zuiker, as one of television's hottest producing teams.
It also may have redeemed Mr. Caruso after years in career purgatory.
He plays chief forensic investigator Horatio Caine, who, like his Las Vegas-based "CSI" counterpart Gil Grissom, leads a team of scientific sleuths as they analyze blood, fiber and random body parts to discover how a murder went down and who did it.
Airing Mondays at 10 p.m., "CSI: Miami" had the most-watched September drama debut since "ER" in 1994, with an audience of nearly 23 million. It has since put the squeeze on time-slot rival "Crossing Jordan," a second-year NBC drama about a smart, sexy Boston medical examiner.
It was CBS boss Leslie Moonves who devised a plan last January for an authorized spinoff of "CSI" as he cast an envious eye on another NBC show, "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" the third in the "Law & Order" drama line.
But how to supplement the quirky "CSI" with anything but a rip-off?
Fans delight in how "CSI" (Thursday nights at 9) lets them have their whodunit both ways. A mystery is unraveled methodically by lab geeks in rubber gloves. Then, without warning, tidy science erupts into gross theatrics including those flash "fly-throughs," when the camera plunges into a bloody bullet wound or careens through a ruptured digestive tract.
The cast includes Jorja Fox, George Eads and Gary Dourdan along with fetching Marg Helgenberger and William Petersen as nerdy hunk Grissom.
All in all, "CSI" seemed one of a kind.
Not true, Mr. Zuiker says. "The difference in cities changes the storytelling."
When Miami got the nod, Miss Donahue and her partners realized that "the heartbeat of the city would dictate the show." Where "CSI" was arid, nocturnal and neon-lit, "CSI: Miami" would be balmy, brooding and as orange as the sun.
Emily Procter (the Southern-belle Republican on "The West Wing") was signed, followed by Rory Cochrane, Adam Rodriguez and Khandi Alexander.
Just days before the scheduled start to film the "CSI" season finale which was set in Miami to introduce the spinoff there still was no Caine.
Then Mr. Caruso got a phone call.
"Grissom is analytical. He enjoys figuring out mysteries," Miss Mendelsohn says. "Caine wants to get the bad guy. That gives a different tone to the entire show, and David Caruso had the right urgency."
Mr. Caruso and his wife, Margaret, a former flight attendant he married in 1996, were already happily residing in Miami. The 46-year-old native New Yorker made his first trip to South Florida to film a 1997 TV movie, "Elmore Leonard's Gold Coast." Before long, he and Margaret had made their home in South Beach and partnered with friends in a clothing boutique.
During a recent visit to New York City, the red-haired actor known for searing, sometimes combustible performances seems affable, open, even lighthearted.
Without prompting, he addresses the indiscretion for which, until now, no statute of limitations has seemed to apply: his defection eight years ago from the hit drama that launched him, just a few episodes into its second season.
The high-profile movies Mr. Caruso left "NYPD Blue" to make flopped, and once that box-office verdict was handed down, he received the maximum sentence from the industry and public alike.
"I lost everything; I was at zero," he recalls matter-of-factly. "And it's easy to connect that to a sense of death: 'I'm gonna perish if I lose this career.' But while that is devastating when it's happening, you get this gift, this pearl of knowledge: You don't die."
Mr. Caruso might have been pardoned in 1997 if his initial comeback bid had been in a series that caught on. The swift demise of the crime drama "Michael Hayes," however, obscured the fact that not only was Mr. Caruso's on-screen performance up to snuff, but no reports of his off-screen performance squared with the "difficult" image that had dogged him since "NYPD Blue."
Mr. Moonves, who had taken a chance on Mr. Caruso for "Michael Hayes," recommended him to the "CSI" producers. In May, Mr. Moonves officially announced "CSI: Miami" to advertisers at the network's annual fall-season "upfront" presentation at Carnegie Hall.
As production commenced in July on "CSI: Miami," producers began to think the show needed a stronger female presence to work in conflict with Caine. That meant a new character and another big casting decision made under the gun.
After Sela Ward turned down their offer, Kim Delaney, whose lawyer drama "Philly" had failed to get a second-season pickup from ABC, signed on for the role of DNA specialist Megan Donner. (Then, apparently, the thinking changed again: A bit more than a week ago, the show announced that Miss Delaney will make her final appearance Nov. 25 because "the character of Megan Donner was becoming less integral to the series.")
Meanwhile, "CSI" stars fumed over "CSI: Miami."
"If our show starts to suffer," Mr. Petersen warned, "I'll go beserk." Miss Helgenberger, interviewed on NBC's Emmy pre-show in September, told Matt Lauer, "As far as I'm concerned, there's only one 'CSI,' and that's the one nominated tonight."
Apparently, nerves were calmed with conciliatory talk and pay raises. (The Chicago Sun-Times reported that the per-episode salaries of Miss Helgenberger and Mr. Petersen were doubled to $150,000 and roughly $250,000, respectively).
Mr. Zuiker and his partners remain focused on "CSI." Another team produces the spinoff under their diminishing supervision and fine-tunes its personality.
"Those producers are finding what the show is, through us," says Mr. Zuiker, reckoning that "CSI: Miami" will take as much as 18 months "to find its voice."
"It will only be a great show when we step off," he declares but a smash variation on the "CSI" theme is not such a bad way to start.


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