Is David Caruso Too Good to be True?

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Zuiker points to the success of those shows and both of his own as the dawning of a new "Golden Era of television," where programming schedules will be brimming with smart, high-quality mini-feature movies made for an audience that's "a lot more intellectual than some of the networks bargained for."

The key is realism. But what exactly is "realism" when you're talking about TV? Especially TV and Miami?And they don't even shoot the show here, except for a handful of exteriors.

People like Willard Delancy chuckle at the Hollywood version of "reality." He's a Miami Police CSI, who's spent 22 years picking up the pieces of bloody evidence buried in the aftermath of true South Florida tragedies. Carries a rosary in his pocket, which he touches to help him get through the really ugly crime scenes. "It's never a pretty sight," he says. "A room speaks to you as soon as you open the door ..." So will the body.

Delancy doesn't watch much television. He only watched CSI: Miami once. He didn't like it. After seeing what he sees all day, he prefers comedies.

"What they have on television is for television. It's entertainment," he says of his fictional counterparts. Not only do those guys on TV blithely cross jurisdictional boundaries in their shiny chrome Hummer 2s, they gather, sort, and analyze evidence; question suspects; and confront the criminals in 44 minutes flat. In real life, it can take years.

The show's producers dismiss these criticisms as a lack of understanding of the dramatic realities of TV storytelling. Audiences need to be able to follow the story, and while a native might know when Miami-Dade cops have crossed into City of Miami PD territory, having a bunch of different-colored uniforms running around would only serve to confuse viewers in Minnesota. So they fudge, to make it appear more real.

We ought to be used to it, especially in South Florida. We've been through this before, with the greatest groundbreaking Miami mythmaker of them all, Michael Mann's Miami Vice. Talk about blurring the line between fantasy and reality; NBC's flashy hour-long cop/rock video obliterated it -- with bold pastel strokes.

Miamians adopted Don Johnson's unstructured fashion look and reveled in the city's coked-out-in-the-fast-lane reputation. Miami imitated Miami Vice more than the other way around: When federal agents busted Jose "Coca-Cola" Yero for cocaine smuggling in the Eighties, they found more than 50 Rolex watches in his home, including a dozen color-coordinated to match his wardrobe.

With apologies to Marshall McLuhan, the medium is a mirror, reflecting society. With Miami Vice, we liked what we saw better than what showed in living color on Biscayne Boulevard or Collins Avenue every day. The proof that Miami had become Miami Vice was that people stopped ducking when real bullets began to fly.

When a drug sting went bad in 1985 and undercover cops shot it out with dealers at the Doral Beach hotel, innocent passersby continued nonchalantly going to Eckerd. "I think five people got shot and nobody flinched," Edna Buchanan remembers. "Someplace else they'd be running away."

The same thing happened during the bloodiest shootout in FBI history, when two heavily armed bank robbers, William Matix and Michael Platt, opened fire at 9:20 a.m. as morning traffic rolled by on 82nd Avenue near the Suniland strip mall; the firefight left five agents wounded, and two, Benjamin Grogan and Jerry Dove, dead -- along with Matix and Platt. The two robbers, former Army Rangers, carried an arsenal that included a .357 Magnum Dan Wesson revolver, a Smith & Wesson 12-gauge shotgun, and a Ruger Mini-14 semiautomatic assault rifle, "the workhorse," one agent said. As author T.D. Allman later described in Miami, City of the Future, passersby thought they were filming a Miami Vice episode. The cops actually had to hold their fire as "traffic continued to roll ... right through the gunfight." One woman the police tried to stop snapped, "I'm late for my tennis lesson!"

That happened April 11, 1986. (About sixteen years before CSI: Miami's Emily Procter stumbled across her first real body in her first real trunk.)

The result: Tourism boomed. Miami Vice's drug-infested and crime-crazed depiction of the area attracted tourists in droves, especially Europeans, and particularly Germans. "Do we think the tourists were coming here hoping to get shot by some drug lord?" asks Miami-Dade Film Commission director Jeff Peel. "No. They were hoping to come here and catch some of those great-looking women they saw, or get a tan on those beaches under the palm trees. Or whatever."

Except, then, vicious young robbers began murdering Germans in their rental cars. Reality finally bit. And terrified would-be visitors stayed away in droves. A media lull prevailed for awhile, from the late Nineties until recently. Sly, Madonna, Tyson, O.J., Michael Caine, and Gianni Versace had all come here to live when the Miami dream was registering a 90-share. All but O.J. are gone.

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Matthew Alman