Mixing deduction and character-driven drama, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation follows a team of Crime Scene Investigators, employed by the Las Vegas Police Department, as they use physical evidence to solve murders. The team is originally led by Gil Grissom (William Petersen), a socially-awkward forensic entomologist and career criminalist who is promoted to CSI Supervisor following the death of a trainee investigator. Grissom's second-in-command, Catherine Willows (Marg Helgenberger), is a single mother with a cop's instinct. Born and raised in Vegas, Catherine was a stripper before being recruited into law enforcement and training as a blood spatter specialist. Following Grissom's departure during the ninth season of the series, Catherine is promoted to Supervisor. After overseeing the training of new investigator Raymond Langston (Laurence Fishburne), Willows is replaced by D.B. Russell (Ted Danson), and recruited to the FBI shortly thereafter. Russell is a family man, a keen forensic botanist and a veteran of the Seattle Crime Lab. In the series' twelfth season, Russell is reunited with his former partner Julie Finlay (Elisabeth Shue), who like Catherine, is a blood-spatter expert with an extensive knowledge of criminal psychology. Together with the rest of the team, they work together to tackle Las Vegas' growing crime rate and are on the case 24/7, scouring the scene, collecting the evidence, and finding the missing pieces that will solve the mystery.
During the 1990s, Anthony Zuiker caught producer Jerry Bruckheimer's attention after writing his first movie script. Zuiker was convinced that there was a series in the concept; Bruckheimer agreed and arranged a meeting with the head of Touchstone Pictures. The studio's head at the time liked the spec script and presented it to ABC, NBC and Fox executives, who decided to pass. The head of drama development at CBS saw potential in the script, and the network had a pay-or-play contract with actor William Petersen, who said he wanted to do the CSI pilot. The network's executives liked the pilot so much that they decided to include it in their 2000 schedule immediately, airing on Fridays after The Fugitive. Initially it was thought that CSI would benefit from The Fugitive (a remake of the 1960s series), which was expected to be a hit, but by the end of the year 2000, CSI had a much larger audience.
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation was produced by Jerry Bruckheimer Television and CBS Productions, which became CBS Paramount Television in the fall of 2006 and CBS Television Studios three years later. Formerly a co-production with the now-defunct Alliance Atlantis Communications, that company's interest was later bought by the investment firm GS Capital Partners, an affiliate of Goldman Sachs. CBS acquired AAC's international distribution rights to the program, though the non-US DVD distribution rights did not change (for example, Momentum Pictures continues to own UK DVD rights). The series is currently in syndication, and reruns are broadcast in the U.S. on the Spike and TV Land cable networks. The show has aired in reruns on the USA Network since January 14, 2011. The CSI catalog has been exclusive to the whole NBC Universal portfolio since September 2014.
CSI was shot at Rye Canyon, a corporate campus owned by Lockheed Martin situated in the Valencia area of Santa Clarita, California, but after episode 11, filming shifted to the Santa Clarita Studios, originally chosen for its similarity to the outskirts of Las Vegas. Occasionally, the cast would still shoot on location in Las Vegas (the Season 4 DVD set revealed that the episode Suckers was mostly shot near Christmas during December 2003 in Las Vegas, where they filmed a Gothic club scene on location for rent, and in January 2004 some scenes were filmed at Caesars Palace), although primarily Las Vegas was used solely for second unit photography such as exterior shots of streets. Other California locations include Verdugo Hills High School, UCLA's Royce Hall, Pasadena City Hall, and California State University, Los Angeles. While shooting took place primarily at Universal Studios in Universal City, California, Santa Clarita's surroundings had proven so versatile that CSI still shot some outdoor scenes there.
CSI's theme song was, since season one, "Who Are You", written by Pete Townshend with vocals by lead singer Roger Daltrey of The Who. Daltrey made a special appearance in the season seven episode "Living Legend", which also contained many musical references such as the words "Who's next" on a dry erase board in the episode's opening sequence. In certain countries, to avoid music licensing fees, a unique theme was used instead.
Throughout the series, music played an important role; artists like Ozzy Osbourne, The Wallflowers, John Mayer, and Akon (with Obie Trice) performed onscreen in the episodes "Skin in the Game", "The Accused Is Entitled", "Built To Kill, Part 1", and "Poppin' Tags", respectively. Mogwai was often heard during scenes showing forensic tests in progress, as were Radiohead and Cocteau Twins, but several other artists lent their music to CSI, including Rammstein and Linkin Park—used heavily in Lady Heather's story arc. Sigur Rós can be heard playing in the background in the episode "Slaves of Las Vegas", The Turtles in "Grave Danger", and Marilyn Manson in "Suckers". A cover of the Tears for Fears song "Mad World", arranged by Michael Andrews and featuring vocals by Gary Jules, was used in the pilot episode and during three episodes of season six ("Room Service", "Killer", and "Way to Go"). Industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails was also featured multiple times throughout the three series. One episode started with The Velvet Underground's excited rendition of "Sweet Jane" and ended with the downbeat version of Cowboy Junkies' revision of the song. Character David Hodges' good luck has, on occasion, been accompanied by Electric Light Orchestra's "Mr. Blue Sky". This song was first used in the season seven episode "Lab Rats," and last used during season ten's "Field Mice".William Petersen as Gil Grissom, the Graveyard Shift CSI Supervisor (regular: seasons 1–9; guest star: seasons 9, 11, 13, Immortality)
Grissom is a highly respected forensic entomologist with a degree in biology from the University of California. He became a CSI around 1985 and departed the Las Vegas Crime Lab in 2009. After a short stint as a researcher, Grissom becomes a sea-life advocate, and reunites with his ex-wife Sara. The series ends with the two sailing off together from the Port of San Diego.
Marg Helgenberger as Catherine Willows, the Graveyard Shift CSI Assistant Supervisor (regular: seasons 1–12; guest star: season 14, Immortality)
Catherine is a blood spatter analyst who joined the CSI team as a lab technician and worked her way up to assistant supervisor, later succeeding Grissom. After a stint as Grave Shift Supervisor, Catherine is demoted following a departmental scandal, and leaves Las Vegas in order to join the FBI as a Special Agent. During the series finale, a recently returned Willows is granted the directorship of the Crime Lab when Sidle leaves Las Vegas.
Gary Dourdan as Warrick Brown, a CSI Level III (regular: seasons 1–9)
Warrick is an audio-video analyst and a native of Las Vegas with a major in chemistry from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. A recovering gambling addict, Warrick is nonetheless skilled at his job. After being falsely accused, and acquitted, of murder, Brown is assassinated in his car by corrupt under-sheriff McKeen. He dies in Grissom's arms.
George Eads as Nick Stokes, a CSI Level III (regular: seasons 1–15)
Stokes graduated from Texas Tech and joined the Dallas Police prior to moving to Vegas. He was promoted to CSI Level III in the pilot episode of the series, and later became assistant night supervisor under Catherine Willows. Stokes was later demoted, and, after remaining in Las Vegas a CSI III, he transfers to San Diego when he is granted the directorship of the SDPD Crime Lab.
Jorja Fox as Sara Sidle, a CSI Level III (regular: seasons 1–8, 11–15, Immortality; recurring: seasons 9–10)
Sara is a materials and element analyst who majored in physics at Harvard University. Sara transferred from San Francisco at the behest of Grissom, whom she later marries. After a turbulent relationship and a divorce, Sara is promoted to Director of the Las Vegas Crime Lab, though she relinquishes this position in order to reunite with her ex-husband, Grissom. Catherine then succeeds her as Lab Director.
Eric Szmanda as Greg Sanders, a CSI Level III (regular: seasons 3–15, Immortality; recurring: seasons 1–2)
Greg is a DNA specialist who was educated in a private school for gifted students. Graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Stanford, Sanders joined the LVPD after a short stint with the SFPD. He later wrote a book about the history of Vegas. Greg believes in psychic powers, and is willing to sacrifice himself for what is right. Over the course of the series Greg has several love interests. He expressed a romantic interest in fellow CSI Morgan Brody after meeting her in Season 12.
Robert David Hall as Dr. Albert "Al" Robbins, the Chief Medical Examiner (regular: seasons 3–15, Immortality; recurring: seasons 1–2)
Robbins is the head county coroner of the LVPD. He is married with three children and has prosthetic legs, having lost his own legs after being hit by a drunk driver as a teenager. Al rarely leaves the Crime Lab, instead performing autopsies and referring specimens for forensic analysis. He forms strong bonds with both Gil Grissom and Raymond Langston.
Paul Guilfoyle as L.V.P.D. Captain Jim Brass from 2000 to 2014, returning for the series finale, Immortality, in 2015
Louise Lombard as Sofia Curtis, the LVPD's Deputy Chief (regular: season 7; recurring: seasons 5–6; guest star: seasons 8, 11)
Sofia was a CSI who became Assistant Supervisor on graveyard, following a demotion from supervisor at the behest of Conrad Ecklie. She later makes a career switch to Detective, working alongside Brass, and, rapidly rising through the ranks, becomes the Las Vegas Police Department's Deputy Chief. She develops a strong friendship with Grissom, much to the chagrin of Sara.
Wallace Langham as David Hodges, a trace technician (regular: seasons 3–15, Immortality; recurring: seasons 3–7)
Hodges is a lab technician with a B.A. from Williams College; he previously worked in the LAPD crime lab, where his superiors felt he had an attitude problem. Hodges has an uncanny sense of smell, and is able to identify many key chemical compounds by their scent alone. Although shown to be a loner throughout the series, he forms a close bond with Brody.
Lauren Lee Smith as Riley Adams, a CSI Level II (regular: season 9)
Adams is a former St. Louis police officer and a non-conformist who joined law enforcement to rebel against her parents, who are psychiatrists. She fits in well with the team initially, though seems to stop following Grissom's departure. Unhappy with the new leadership of Willows, she departs Las Vegas, leaving a damning exit interview criticizing Catherine's leadership skills.
Laurence Fishburne as Dr. Raymond "Ray" Langston, a CSI Level II (regular: seasons 9–11; guest star: season 9)
Langston comes into contact with the CSI team in the course of a murder investigation and joins the Las Vegas Crime Lab as a level I CSI. Working under the leadership of Willows, Langston worries about his genetic make-up and natural predisposition to crime. After murdering serial killer Nate Haskell, Langston is terminated, leaving a devastated crime lab in his wake.
Liz Vassey as Wendy Simms, a DNA technician (regular: season 10; recurring: seasons 6–9; guest star: season 11)
Simms worked in San Francisco, California, before moving to Las Vegas to take the DNA tech position left vacant by Sanders. Hodges complains that she thinks she's "too cool" for the lab, as, like Sanders, she expresses a desire to work in the field. She later becomes a Crime Scene Investigator in Portland to be closer to her sister. Simms had a brief relationship with Hodges.
David Berman as David Phillips, the Assistant Medical Examiner (regular: seasons 10–15, Immortality; recurring: seasons 1–9)
David, known as "Super Dave", is the assistant coroner to Chief Medical Examiner Al Robbins. He received his self-styled nickname after saving the life of a victim during an autopsy. Though early in the series his co-workers tease him about his supposed lack of social experience, he later marries and has a child. He is very close friends with his mentor, Robbins.
Ted Danson as D.B. Russell, the Graveyard Shift CSI Supervisor and Director of the Las Vegas Crime Lab (regular: seasons 12–15, Immortality)
Russell is a skilled botanist and veteran crime scene investigator. Previously a crime lab director in Washington State, Russell is hired to "clean house" in the wake of the Langston scandal. Russell seemingly becomes Director of the Las Vegas Crime Lab, a position he holds until his departure following the events of Immortality. He is married and has four children and a granddaughter. Sidle succeeds him as director.
Elisabeth Harnois as Morgan Brody, a CSI Level III (regular: seasons 12–15, Immortality; guest star: season 11)
Brody is a former member of LAPD SID and joins the Las Vegas PD CSI unit in the wake of the Nate Haskell scandal. She is the estranged daughter of Sheriff Conrad Ecklie, with whom she has a turbulent relationship. Brody is often seen partnered with Sanders, and she forms a strong friendship with Hodges, describing him as her "best friend". She is a skilled investigator.
Elisabeth Shue as Julie Finlay, the Grave Shift CSI Assistant Supervisor (regular: seasons 12–15)
Finlay, known as "Finn" or "Jules", is a blood spatter specialist who worked for, and was asked to resign by, Russell in Seattle. She is hired following the departure of Willows, and acts as a foil to D.B.'s laid back management style. She is later attacked by the Gig Harbor Killer and left in a car trunk. After a short time in coma, she succumbs to her injuries. Russell states that she will remain with him wherever he goes.
Jon Wellner as Henry Andrews, a DNA and toxicology technician (regular: seasons 13–15, Immortality; recurring: seasons 5–12)
Henry is the toxicology specialist of the Las Vegas Forensics Laboratory, who mainly deals with identifying toxic substances that have undergone human consumption. He later cross-trains as a DNA specialist, replacing Simms. Andrews has a strong bond with all the lab-rats, though particularly Hodges, with whom he has had a love-hate relationship. However, the two were seen having a much better relationship in later seasons.
During the course of the series, 337 episodes of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation aired over 15 seasons.
During its fifteen years in production, CSI secured an estimated world audience of over 73.8 million viewers (in 2009), commanded, as of the fall of 2008, an average cost of $262,600 for a 30-second commercial, and reached milestone episodes including the 100th ("Ch-Ch-Changes"), the 200th ("Mascara") and the 300th ("Frame by Frame"). CSI spawned three spin-off series: CSI: Miami, CSI: NY, and CSI: Cyber; a book series; several video games; and an exhibit at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry. At the time of its cancellation, CSI was the seventh longest-running scripted U.S. primetime TV series overall and had been recognized as the most popular dramatic series internationally by the Festival de Télévision de Monte-Carlo, which awarded the series the "International Television Audience Award (Best Television Drama Series)" three times. CSI became the second most-watched show on American television by 2002, finally taking the top position for the 2002-2003 season. CSI was later named the most-watched show in the world for the sixth time in 2016, making it the most watched show for more years than any other show.
Critical reception to the show has been positive, with an IMDB average score of 7.8/10, while early reviews showed a mixed to favorable review of the opening season. The Hollywood Reporter noted of the pilot "...the charismatic William Petersen and the exquisite Marg Helgenberger, lend credibility to the portrayals that might be indistinct in lesser hands. There's also a compelling, pulsating edge at the outset of CSI that commands instant attention, thanks in part to dynamic work from director Danny Cannon.". Entertainment Weekly gave the opening two seasons "B+" and "A-" ratings, respectively, noting: "The reason for CSI’s success is that it combines a few time-tested TV elements in a fresh way. Each episode presents a murder case and a group of lovable heroes armed with cool, high-tech gadgets who do the sleuthing and wrap things up in an hour." The show has won six Primetime Emmy Awards (out of 39 nominations) and four People's Choice Awards (out of six nominations) and was nominated for six Golden Globe Awards, among other awards.
CSI has often been criticized for the level and explicitness of graphic violence, images, and sexual content. The CSI series and its spin-off shows have been accused of pushing the boundary of what is considered acceptable viewing for primetime network television. The series had numerous episodes on sexual fetishism and other forms of sexual pleasure (see especially the recurring character of Lady Heather, a professional dominatrix). CSI has been ranked as among the worst prime-time shows by the Parents Television Council from its second through sixth seasons, being ranked the worst show for family prime-time viewing after the 2002–2003 and 2005–2006 seasons. The PTC has also targeted certain CSI episodes for its weekly "Worst TV Show of the Week" feature. In addition, the episode "King Baby" that aired in February 2005, which the PTC named the most offensive TV show of the week, also led the PTC to start a campaign to file complaints with the FCC with the episode; to date, nearly 13,000 PTC members complained to the Federal Communications Commission about the episode. The PTC has also asked Clorox to pull their advertisements from CSI and CSI: Miami because of the graphically violent content on those programs.
A grassroots campaign started on August 2007, upon rumors of Jorja Fox leaving the show, organized by the online forum Your Tax Dollars At Work. Many of its nineteen thousand members donated to the cause, collecting over $8,000 for gifts and stunts targeted at CBS executives and CSI's producers and writers. The stunts included a wedding cake delivery to Carol Mendelsohn, 192 chocolate-covered insects with the message "CSI Without Sara Bugs Us." to Naren Shankar and a plane flying several times over the Universal Studios of Los Angeles with a "Follow the evidence keep Jorja Fox on CSI" banner. Other protests included mailing the show's producers a dollar, in order to save Fox's contract "one dollar at a time". By October 16, 2007, according to the site's tally, more than 20,000 letters with money or flyers had been mailed to the Universal Studios and to CBS headquarters in New York from forty-nine different countries since the campaign started on September 29, 2007. Fox and Mendelsohn chose to donate the money to CASA, a national association that supports and promotes court-appointed advocates for abused or neglected children.
On September 27, 2007, after CSI's season eight premiered, a miniature model of character Gil Grissom's office (which he was seen building during season seven) was put up on eBay. The auction ended October 7, with the prop being sold for $15,600; CBS donated the proceeds to the National CASA Association.
Another criticism of the show is the depiction of police procedure, which some consider to be decidedly lacking in realism. For instance, the show's characters not only investigate ("process") crime scenes but they also conduct raids, engage in suspect pursuit and arrest, interrogate suspects, and solve cases, all of which falls under the responsibility of uniformed officers and detectives, not CSI personnel. Although some detectives are also registered CSIs, this is exceedingly rare in actual life. It is considered an inappropriate and improbable practice to allow CSI personnel to be involved in detective work, as it would compromise the impartiality of scientific evidence and would be impracticably time-consuming. Additionally, it is inappropriate for the CSIs who process a crime scene to be involved in the examination and testing of any evidence collected from that scene. CSI shares this characteristic with similar British drama series Silent Witness.
However, not all law enforcement agencies have been as critical; many CSIs have responded positively to the show's influence and enjoy their new reputation. In the UK, Scenes of Crime Officers (SOCO) now commonly refer to themselves as CSIs. Some constabularies, such as Norfolk, have even gone so far as to change the name of the unit to Crime Scene Investigation. Also, recruitment and training programs have seen a massive increase in applicants, with a far wider range of people now interested in something previously regarded as a scientific backwater.
The "CSI effect" is a reference to the alleged phenomenon of CSI raising crime victims' and jury members' real-world expectations of forensic science, especially crime scene investigation and DNA testing. This is said to have changed the way many trials are presented today, in that prosecutors are pressured to deliver more forensic evidence in court. Victims and their families are coming to expect instant answers from showcased techniques such as DNA analysis and fingerprinting, when actual forensic processing often takes days or weeks, with no guarantee of revealing a "smoking gun" for the prosecution's case. District attorneys state that the conviction rate in cases with little physical evidence has decreased, largely due to the influence of CSI on jury members. Some police and district attorneys have criticized the show for giving members of the public an inaccurate perception of how police solve crimes. However, the evidence cited in support of the supposed effect is mainly anecdotes from law enforcement personnel and prosecutors. Little empirical examination of the effect has been done to date, and the one study published to date suggests the phenomenon may be an urban myth.
From CSI, CBS produced a franchise starting in 2002 with a spin-off entitled CSI: Miami. Set in Miami, Florida, and starring David Caruso, and Emily Procter, Miami would later launch CSI: NY in 2004. Starring Gary Sinise, Sela Ward, and Melina Kanakaredes, NY was set in New York City and was based upon the idea that "Everything is Connected". In 2015 a fourth CSI series, entitled CSI: Cyber and starring Patricia Arquette and Ted Danson was created. It focuses on the FBI's elite Cyber Crime Division. The CSI series exists within the same fictional "universe" as fellow CBS police dramas Without a Trace and Cold Case. A number of comic books, video games, and novels based on the series have been made.
In 2006, The Fort Worth Museum of Science and History developed a traveling museum exhibit called "CSI: The Experience". On May 25, 2007, Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry was the first museum to host the exhibit, and the exhibit's opening featured stars from the TV series. There is also a supporting website designed for the benefit of people who cannot visit the exhibit, designed by Rice University's Center for Technology in Teaching & Learning and Left Brain Media. "CSI: The Experience" also has an interactive attraction at the MGM Grand Las Vegas in Las Vegas, and there is also an interactive attraction at the Mall of America in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Seasonal rankings (based on average total viewers per episode) of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation on CBS.Note
: U.S. network television seasons generally start in late September and end in late May, which coincides with the completion of the May sweeps.
The show ranked number three in DVR playback (3.07 million viewers), according to Nielsen prime DVR lift data from September 22 to November 23, 2008.
The U.S. box sets are released by CBS DVD (distributed by Paramount), while the Canadian box sets are released by Alliance Atlantis (distributed by Universal Studios). The first season DVD release differs from all subsequent seasons in that it is available only in 1.33:1 or 4:3 full frame, rather than the subsequent aspect ratio of 1.78:1 or 16:9 widescreen, which is the HDTV standard aspect ratio.
The first season is also the only DVD release of the series not to feature Dolby Digital 5.1 surround audio, instead offering Dolby Digital stereo sound.
The Blu-ray disc release of Season One is 7.1 DTS sound and 1.78:1 widescreen.
Regions 2 releases have followed a pattern whereby each season is progressively released in two parts (each of 11 or 12 episodes [except for Season 8, in which part 1 contained 8 episodes and the Without a Trace crossover and part 2 contained the remaining 9 episodes] with special features split up) before finally being sold as a single box set. After having been almost 12 months behind region 2 releases after the first four series, region 4 releases are speeding up, with distributors simply releasing season five as a complete box set.
* = Re-released in slimline full-season packaging. Seasons 1–8 were released in 2 parts between 2003 and 2009.
CBS Home Entertainment (distributed by Paramount) released the first season on High Definition Blu-ray disc on May 12, 2009. Unlike its DVD counterpart CSI: Crime Scene Investigation#DVD releases, this release is in its original 16:9 widescreen format and feature 7.1 surround sound. Features on the Season 1 BR set are also in High Def.
Season 10 was released on November 18, 2011 in Region B. Like the Season 1 Blu-ray release, it features a 16:9 widescreen transfer, but it only has DTS-HD 5.1 sound.
Season 9 was released on September 1, 2009. Like the Season 1 Blu-ray release, it features a 16:9 widescreen transfer with DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround sound. Extras include commentaries, featurettes and BD-Live functionality.
Season 8 was released on Blu-ray on May 29, 2009 in Region B.
CSI has also been released as a series of mobile games. In Fall 2007, CBS teamed up with game developer Gameloft to bring CSI to mobile phones. The first of the series to be published was CSI: Miami. The game features actual cast members such as Alexx Woods and Calleigh Duquesne who are trying to solve a murder in South Beach with the player's assistance. The game is also available for download on various iPod devices.
In spring 2008, Gameloft and CBS released "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation – The Mobile Game" which is based on the original series in Las Vegas. This game introduces the unique ability to receive calls during the game to provide tips and clues about crime scenes and evidence. As for the storyline, the game developers collaborated with Anthony E. Zuiker (the series creator) to ensure that the plot and dialogue were aligned with the show's style.True Stories of CSI: The Real Crimes Behind the Best Episodes of the Popular TV Show (published August 2009) – Katherine Ramsland follows the evidence and revisits some of the most absorbing episodes of the phenomenally popular C.S.I. television franchise, and explores the real-life crimes that inspired them. She also looks into the authenticity of the forensic investigations recreated for the dramatizations, and the painstaking real-life forensic process employed in every one of the actual cases—from notorious mass-murderer Richard Speck, through the massacre of Buddhist monks in an Arizona Temple, to a baffling case of apparent spontaneous combustion.
In 2003, comic book publisher IDW Publishing began releasing a series of one-shots & miniseries based on all three CSI series, with the majority being based on the original Vegas-based series.
In September 2009, Tokyopop released a manga version of CSI written by Sekou Hamilton and drawn by Steven Cummings. It centers around five teenagers working at the Las Vegas Crime Lab as interns as they try to solve a murder case of a student at their high school, which leads to a shocking discovery. Grissom and Catherine are seen now and then, as well as other CSI characters.
CSI airs on the Nine Network and TVHits (formerly TV1) in Australia, on Channel 5 in United Kingdom, on CTV in Canada, on Italia 1 in Italy, on Prime in New Zealand, on RTÉ2 in Ireland, on TF1 in France, AXN in Asia and Latin America, Skai TV in Greece, on HOT Zone in Israel, on TV3 in Estonia and on Kanal 5 in Sweden and Denmark.