Saturday, December 30, 2006

CS Oh!

Yesterday the Freeview channel Five US held a special CSI Night. It included two episodes of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and a CSI: Miami, but bizarrely no CSI: NY. Sandwiched between the first two episodes was the hour-long documentary CSI: The Inside Story.

I came to the CSI party late. When Five started up in 1997, as Channel 5, I couldn’t get a signal, even though I was living virtually within spitting distance of Alexandra Palace. (Instead they were broadcasting from the Croydon transmitter, which was why I was shit out of luck).

Looking at the initial listings I figured it was no great loss, and only eventually began to take an interest when Five started to buy up US dramas like The Shield and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation along the rest of the franchise as it came off the production line.

So it’s only in the last couple of years that I’ve really had the change to catch up. While there are shows I like better, the Vegas-based CSI is certainly entertaining enough. (CSI: Miami I’ll occasionally catch, CSI: NY I generally don’t bother with).

Sitting down to the documentary last night seemed like a good way to discover how the show had become so phenomenally successful so soon out of the gate. How did Anthony Zuiker, a one-time ticket collector on Las Vegas’ trams with only one screenwriting credit, end up on sitting on top of a franchise so successful that, were he to run out of toilet paper tomorrow, he could probably switch to wiping his arse will $100 bills for the rest of his life and not worry about it?

What about Jerry Bruckheimer’s involvement? Obviously he has an incredibly successful film career, but up until putting his name to CSI, his sole involvement in television was the late 1990s Soldier of Fortune, Inc. Now he has his own little TV fiefdom.

CSI: The Inside Story may have seemed like a good idea in the planning, but when it came to the actual production the budget must have come out of what was left in petty cash at the end of the month. All the major players in front and behind the camera got some face time, but ultimately the show was just a shuffled deck of superficial soundbites and clips.

We did learn a few interesting tidbits, like CSI is apparently shown in every country in the world except for six. And the actual crime scene investigators in Las Vegas that Zuiker hung out with during his initial research were called Field Services. Except that now, on the back of the shows’ success, they have actually changed their name to CSI. But everything else barely dipped below the surface.

Outside of the cast and crew, there was commentary from good old Dick Fiddy from the BFI, who is an absolute must when a TV historian is called for. But, bizarrely, he was accompanied by the increasingly smug Jon Culshaw – solely because they eventually showed a clip from Dead Ringers that spoofed CSI; Five’s main news anchor, Kirsty Young, who had nothing interesting to say; and a couple of the UK’s media journalists who, as the programme progressed, managed to make spectacular tits of themselves.

While the US interviews were slickly done (though in some instances had the suspicious whiff of the EPK about them), the UK material was real bargain basement. No make up for the interviewees. In some cases, more shockingly, no proper lighting. It really had the feel that, by the time these filming days came around, the production was running on loose change. Which was a shame.

I’d have been happy just to find out about how, and why, they chose the red, yellow and blue colour palettes for the three shows. But nobody said nuffink about them.

The creation of the CSI franchise and its impact around the world would certainly make for an interesting documentary. Unfortunately CSI: The Inside Story wasn’t it.

Maybe it’s best to wait for the inevitable book. And in the meanwhile, start coming up with ideas for new shows that, with luck, will make an even bigger impression.


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