Is David Caruso Too Good to be True?

That red-haired guy and CSI: Miami put us back on the media map

Cameras and crime come together in strange ways in Miami. In the Eighties, during the filming of the movie The Mean Season with Kurt Russell, the crew gathered one dawn to shoot a scene on the beach at Matheson Hammock in South Miami. Edna was there. "Just a couple of hundred feet down the beach there was a [real] murder scene where this young couple had been down on a lover's lane," she recalls. "Some guy [came] and claimed he was a policeman, and when they opened the door for him, he beat the guy to death with a baseball bat and kidnapped and raped the girl. It was horrible. Then he drove around for a while and dropped her off downtown." So far, merely a tragic coincidence. But when the cops brought the girl back to the beach to get her eyewitness account, she saw the commotion farther up and asked what was going on. The cops told her they were making a movie with Kurt Russell. "And," Edna continues, "here's this sobbing, hysterical girl who just saw her boyfriend beaten to death and just got raped. She said: 'Kurt Russell? Do you think I can meet him?'

"Kurt Russell, nice guy that he is, the cops came down, asked him. Kurt goes trudging up the beach and he sits with the girl and sort of talks to her for a while and counsels her. You know, it's like Kurt Russell, rape counselor."

Another true incident:

Caruso and Procter: Forensic sleuthing
Caruso and Procter: Forensic sleuthing

When attorney Ellis Rubin relied on television to zealously defend Ronnie Zamora in 1977, he claimed the teenage boy couldn't be held accountable for brutally beating an elderly woman to death during a burglary due to "insanity by reason of television intoxication." Effectively, he argued, the line between reality and fantasy in the boy's mind had been so blurred by TV that Zamora couldn't tell right from wrong. The jurors didn't buy it. They convicted.

Rubin may have crapped out on Zamora, but he was right about television. The line between fact and fiction is increasingly opaque. In fact a huge part of CSI: Miami's success may be due to the demanding realism with which it probes the arcane aspects of forensic investigation. Zuiker loves it. That's what first attracted him to the possibility of a "forensic procedural drama," after his wife called him over to watch Forensic Files on Court TV one day. He wound up spending five weeks with Las Vegas crime scene investigators before writing the pilot for CSI. "The thing that freaked me out about this was when I was researching the human body in terms of forensics," he says. "It was just the perfect specimen. It would tell you what happened in every respect. The whole body is designed to talk to CSIs. It's the freakiest thing. Whether it be hair follicles, blood, DNA, whether it be bones.... You know, if you saw someone's leg off, it'll actually have the striate marks on the bone so you can match the actual tool that cut the bone off. I mean, the entire body is designed to nail the bad guy."

And America in 2002 seems to share his grotesque awe of it all. Plodding around bug-infested corpses, examining blood spatters and brain matter has made The FBI Files the top-rated regular program on the Discovery Channel, and given birth to The New Detectives on the same network. The phenomenal popularity of Forensic Files has helped propel the growth of Court TV. And it has put CSI and its Miami-based progeny firmly atop (or near the top) of CBS's sweeps.

Zuiker learned a lot during his research, including such nuggets as this: Forensics experts tend not to eat rice because it looks like maggots. Still no quality show gets made nowadays without a technical advisor, a TA in their lingo, to watch over the details -- make sure the illusion of reality appears as true as possible. CSI got Elizabeth Devine, the most experienced criminalist in the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department. By the time they met her, she'd spent fifteen years collecting and analyzing bloody clues, including the evidence that helped put the Menendez brothers behind bars in 1996 for the shotgun killings of their parents.

"The problem with television," she says, "up to the point of our show, is that people thought they knew what crime scenes looked like from [TV shows of the past]. You know, chalk marks around bodies. I mean nobody does that. They just perpetualized the 'look' of a TV crime scene by watching other TV shows. Ludicrous."

Devine started as a TA, but within a few months the show's producers convinced her to quit the crime lab and join them full-time as a writer.

"In order to make the story interesting we do have to twist and turn it a little, but in doing that we never compromise the reality of the science," she says. "And that really is something that I'm very proud of. So we can say that it takes two minutes to do DNA on the show -- I don't care about that. Of course we're not going to do DNA in real time or we'd still be solving the first case at the end of the first season. But I'm adamant that we not make up any science. It's not X-Files."

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