"You go to Vegas to escape," Zuiker says. "You go to Miami to be seen."
Or to hide. While it's true that Vegas is a place for every brand and variety of fun, Miami also is a place to run. "It's always been that way," says Pulitzer Prize-winning Miami Herald crime reporter and mystery novelist Edna Buchanan. "Because even when Miami was a sleepy Southern resort city, it was the destination for people [fleeing] from all over the country -- people running from the law, from each other, from bad experiences.... And if they ran long enough, they'd wind up [here]. It's like the last jumping-off place."
Zuiker grew up in Vegas. He'd never been to Miami until he and the other producers came to research the show. They went for a ride-along with Miami-Dade Police and wound up in a room with the badly decomposed naked body of a man, dead on his bed for three days and grossly swollen from body gases, with porn playing on the TV. A cop lit a cigar to cover the stench, which Zuiker and the others thought was very cool. Then somebody yelled, "Stand back for the piercing!" And Zuiker and the others watched as the man deflated, making a farting sound.
"It was a rocking good time," he says. "Yes, it was."
And those only-in-Miami scenes, like the one where cops find a body in a trunk that's been sitting for days right on Collins Avenue just blocks from where actors are filming a crime show, came to be expected.
"It's hard to write fiction in a city where the truth is stranger," says Buchanan. "There's something about being down here at sea level. It does something to people. The barometric pressure drops, the full moon rises, the temperature soars, and all hell breaks loose."
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:
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."