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Tuned In: 'CSI' spin-off to have its own identity

Wednesday, July 17, 2002

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

PASADENA, Calif. -- TV's hottest show is about to get hotter, as "CSI" gives birth to a Miami-based spinoff.

Executives expect great things from "CSI: Miami," the first spinoff from No. 1 Thursday night drama "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation."

Regular viewers already got a sneak peek at what to expect when the "CSI" investigators followed a case from Las Vegas to Miami in an episode that aired in early May. That episode served as a back-door pilot, introducing several "CSI: Miami" characters, played by David Caruso ("NYPD Blue"), Emily Procter ("The West Wing"), Khandi Alexander ("NewsRadio") and Adam Rodriguez ("Roswell").

More recently, CBS added Kim Delaney to the cast, giving the series not one but two former "NYPD Blue" stars in its ranks.

Executive producer Anthony Zuiker said other cities were talked about before settling on Miami for the new show. Then the challenge was to "think of a way to do a new show that didn't feel like a clone yet didn't spin off into something that was unfamiliar."

"CSI: Miami" may have a little more intimacy between characters than what viewers are accustomed to on the original. Producers said top investigator Horatio Caine (David Caruso) and DNA specialist Megan Donner (Kim Delaney) immediately come into conflict due to a shared history that will be explored throughout the series' run.

Executive producer Carol Mendelsohn said the "Miami" characters will be more extroverted and have more of a life than the science geeks on the original "CSI." The look of the show will be different too, according to executive producer Ann Donahue.

" 'CSI' is a night show about the night shift," Donahue said. "This is a day show with sun and ocean and blue sky and is of the streets and in the streets. [The original] 'CSI' is kind of full of secrets with the casinos, and it's just the opposite in Miami."

The show will keep the trademark "CSI" special effects that show the course of a bullet through the body, but there will be new visual tricks added to the mix.

"CSI: Miami" gives Caruso another chance at redemption. After his raucous departure from "NYPD Blue," he tried TV again with "Michael Hayes," but it lasted only one season on CBS.

"It's been an interesting nine years," he said about the time since he left "NYPD Blue." "I don't think I could have helped but grow up, which I think is crucial. In a funny way, when the press are tapping you on the shoulder to look at something, there may be some merit to it. I've gotten to do that. We all understand that while I mishandled my 'NYPD Blue' situation quite handily, I've had a number of opportunities to grow up and realize what has been provided for me."

When "CSI: Miami" was announced, it appeared Procter would be Caruso's primary co-star in the ensemble. Just a few weeks ago, Delaney joined the cast.

"It just means another fabulous actor to work off of," Donahue said.

After the press conference, the always genuine Procter said she learned from her work as Republican lawyer Ainsley Hayes on "The West Wing" that more cast members makes a better show.

"It's nice for David to have someone to spar with and compete with, and hopefully, as the season goes on, she and I will have a relationship," Procter said. "But I cannot thank you enough for worrying about me because it makes me feel really good."

She's not expected to return to "The West Wing" anytime soon, but "West Wing" creator Aaron Sorkin won't write Ainsley out of the show.

"Aaron said he wished me well and hoped I had a great time and would cross his fingers and secretly hoped it failed," she said, laughing. The Ainsley character, who could be a little odd sometimes, suited her. "Just when I think I have the art of acting cool mastered, I will inevitably do something horribly embarrassing. I'm a very goofy girl. I don't know how I got trapped in this body because it doesn't really reflect the personality that's underneath."

A former part-time TV news reporter and weekend weather anchor, Procter made the jump to acting after covering a murder on Christmas Eve.

"I thought, I don't know if I have the constitution for this job, and somehow I mistakenly thought it took a lighter constitution for Hollywood," she said. "I don't know what I was thinking."

On "CSI: Miami," Procter plays ballistics expert Calleigh Duquesne, a Southerner like Ainsley and Procter herself, who is a native of Raleigh, N.C.

"When I first started acting, I tried to cover my accent, and I didn't have a lot of success with that," she said. As a proud, eighth-generation North Carolinian, she's happy to use the accent to give viewers a look at a Southern character that defies stereotypes. "You usually only see one shade of Southern represented on TV, and it's not the most flattering. I'm proud of my roots and heritage and proud to portray Southerners in a way we don't see them most often."

That effort to go against cliches will extend to the writing of "CSI: Miami," Zuiker said. "We'll not show the girls in bikinis," he said, explaining why the series will avoid South Beach and go off the beaten path. "Our show is about the scientific process. Just like in Las Vegas, if we merely saw crime scenes in casinos, we'd be off the air in six episodes."

The show's first episode will follow a plane crash in the Everglades, inspired by the ValuJet crash of a few years ago.

CBS president Leslie Moonves said spinning off "CSI" was obviously inspired by the "Law & Order" model, but he's not sure how far it will extend.

"Would I like to see 'CSI' five days a week? Yes, but I'm not going to do 'Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.' We're not going to burn it out," he said. "We'll watch it very carefully. There's no plans in place for a 'CSI: Toledo' yet, no offense to the Toledo newspaper nor anybody else from Ohio."

Crime Broadcasting System?

It's been suggested the CBS initials stand for something different this season because of the wealth of procedural crime dramas. Four of the network's five new dramas follow the work of law enforcement officers.

It's obviously influenced by the success of "CSI," but CBS's Moonves said it was more a matter of survival of the fittest in the development process.

"There was no ... game plan," he said. "Those were the best pilots that fit in best with our schedules. They are very different in tone, very different in characters, they feel very different."

Three of CBS's new dramas (two crime shows, one medical show) air at 10 p.m. in a move likely to satisfy two important constituencies: Local stations wanting a strong lead-in for 11 p.m. newscasts and "Late Show" host David Letterman.

Indeed, Letterman's people asked, as part of his contract negotiations earlier this year, that his new contract include the guarantee that "CSI: Miami" would air in a 10 p.m. time slot to give Letterman a popular promotional platform.

"We were not about to put scheduling things in the contract, but I knew what they were saying," Moonves said. "They've always said that if the 10 o'clock shows are better, [the 'Late Show'] will do better, and they're right."

Breaking up with 'News'

Bravo's new drama series "Breaking News" premieres tonight at 8, but it's been a long road. Set in the newsroom of a 24-hour cable news channel, 13 episodes of "Breaking News" were produced for TNT, but after production ended, the network decided never to air the series.

Brad Siegel, president of Turner Entertainment Networks, said "Breaking News" was a good show, but that he doubted its ability to draw viewers.

"I did not think -- and this is what we're paid to guess -- it was going to be an out-of-the-box hit," Siegel said.

Jamie Kellner, chairman of TNT parent company Turner Broadcasting, said the merger of Time Warner and America Online allowed the combined companies to write off "operations that are not going to be ongoing." By canceling "Breaking News" before its premiere, the show could certainly never be considered ongoing. Also, by not airing the show, TNT saved thousands of dollars in promotional expenses.

For the show's producers and cast, this unprecedented situation was a frustration, especially because they felt as they were making the 13 episodes that they were doing good work.

"We were aware we were in the middle of something very special. Sometimes you know you're in the middle of something that you maybe would prefer to get paid and not seen," said actress Lisa Ann Walter, who followed "Breaking News" with a role in NBC's failed sitcom "Emeril."

Tim Matheson, who stars as the lead anchor, researched the role by spending time at MSNBC, shadowing anchors such as Brian Williams and Chris Jansing. Clancy Brown, who plays the network's news director, spoke with bureau chiefs in Los Angeles but admitted his character may not be as realistic as some others.

"My character's mostly the fantasy character. You know, I'm supposed to have a heart," Brown said. "I don't know any news directors that have a heart."

He's kidding -- mostly. Executive producer Gardner Stern said in his research he gained respect for people who work in TV news.

"They're not as cynical as everybody thinks," Stern said. "They really do care about presenting as even-handed a picture of what's going on in the world as they can."

Post-Gazette TV Editor Rob Owen is attending the Television Critics Association summer press tour.

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