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Science is the star on 'CSI: Miami'

Sunday, July 06, 2003

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

HOLLYWOOD, Calif. - The cast of the original "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" may be more popular with TV viewers, but the "CSI: Miami" gang proved more fun.

TV Preview
"CSI: Miami"
When: 10 p.m. tomorrow on CBS.
Starring: : David Caruso, Emily Procter.

In January press conferences, the original "CSI" stars came off as, well, stars in every sense of the word. The "Miami" cast, including the much-maligned David Caruso, seemed more like overgrown kids who still appreciate their great success.

Though the writing on "Miami" still leaves something to be desired, after shedding Kim Delany - an unnecessary last-minute addition last summer - the "CSI: Miami" characters have begun to jell.

On the show's soundstage in El Segundo, Calif., the tops of fake palm trees are propped up outside the windows of the trace analysis lab. The DNA lab has the outer casing of some analysis machines that real crime lab technicians wish they had.

It all serves as a reminder that no matter the marquee value of any actor, on both "CSI" shows, science is the true star.

"That's what people tune in to watch," said Rory Cochrane, who plays Tim Speedle. "It's like if you're on a freeway and you see somebody with jumper cables, you're not going to stop. But if you see a gory dead body on the side of the road, you're going to stop. It's human nature."

Matthew Mungle, who was in charge of special effects makeup during the first season of "CSI: Miami," said fake bodies made of urethane and silicone are designed based on real photos of actual crime victims.

"The real pictures sometimes really bother me," Mungle said. "I can't handle real blood. I faint."

That wasn't a problem for Elizabeth Devine, a real-life crime scene investigator before becoming co-producer and technical consultant to "CSI" and consulting producer to "CSI: Miami." She works to keep the science as real as possible on both shows but acknowledges some liberties are taken for the sake of drama.

"We cheat time on our show. There's just no way to do it otherwise. We do DNA in 15 minutes on our show," she said. "They can do DNA in 8 to 12 hours if you don't do anything else but that case at the time."

She said her biggest battle is trying to prevent characters from being shown eating in the lab.

"Nobody would ever eat or drink or do anything in the lab; that's what offices are for," she said. "I lost a couple battles, particularly Dr. Robbins [on the original 'CSI'] eating in autopsy. There's just no way anyone would do that because it's so disgustingly gross in there and it smells terrible."

She's been more successful in another area.

"One of the things that frustrated me watching the cop genre for so many years was that people write crime scenes based on television crime scenes," Devine said. "That's why you see chalk around bodies. I don't know who started that. Nobody does that [in real life]."

Another pet peeve of hers: Crime scenes swarming with people.

"I know it's interesting for the camera to have all these cops crossing and all this jazz, but the reality is, crime scenes are really quiet, lonely places."

Crime labs are, too, particularly for "CSI: Miami" coroner Alexx Woods, played by Khandi Alexander. Alexander coos at actors playing corpses on the autopsy table. Her sweet talk is easier to get through than some of the scripted technical terminology.

"It is not second nature yet," Alexander said. "It's still a challenge. It looks easy, but it's really quite hard to make it sound as if it's something you say every day. I think that's what is interesting about it to the audience at home, because I'm sure half of them don't know what we are saying, but they find it interesting."

Devine said a big joke among the shows' writers is that they're writing for "the housewife in Iowa."

"They have to be able to watch our show and understand it," Devine said. "When we have technical jargon, we bring you into the body and show you what we're talking about. When we say, 'The stab wound pierced the aorta,' we're going to take you in and show you where that is and why that wasn't necessarily good for the victim."

For the show's stars, staying interested in the script can be a challenge because neither "CSI" is character-driven. Their job is more likely to involve dishing out exposition, not showing emotion.

"We release our characters, our character dynamics, in dropperfuls," said "CSI Miami" Jonathan Littman, parroting "CSI" creator Anthony Zuiker.

"It's a different dissemination," Caruso said. "This is process first, but laced into the process, little gems tumble out."

Caruso said the process of elimination in crime solving involves strong discipline, which the actors must depict.

"You have to maintain a patience and a restraint that is not necessarily normal to your average dramatic setting in fictionalized drama. The fun we're having with it is finding that moment where we can lace in the humanity and lace in the character."

Whatever the dynamics, the cast members agree being on a hit series has its perks. Emily Procter, who plays ballistics specialist Calleigh Duquesne, said the show's success has brought her only incremental lifestyle changes.

"I bought a pair of shoes today that didn't quite fit," she said, "and I felt OK with it!"

You can reach Rob Owen at 412-263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com. Post questions or comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

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