"CSI" concludes its influential 15-year run with a finale Sunday
The show gave rise to sleek lighting, grisly graphics and the "CSI effect"
There will be no more body-fluid-examining UV flashlights, bullet trajectories or serial-killer-built dollhouses in the Las Vegas Police Department crime lab: “CSI” is coming to an end.
The CBS series, an enormous and influential hit, is going off the air in a two-hour finale Sunday night.
Relatively recent additions Ted Danson, Elisabeth Shue and Elisabeth Harnois are being joined by original cast members William Petersen and Marg Helgenberger, among others, for a finale titled “Immortality.”
That’s an appropriate description of the series’ impact.
Put on the air in 2000 almost as an afterthought – the money was on its stablemate, a rebooting of “The Fugitive” – by the end of the 2000-01 season, the procedural about the Vegas crime lab was the No. 10 show of the year. Two years later, it was the No. 1 show on television, and it probably would have held that status for at least two more years if not for “American Idol.”
By the late 2000s, it was the most popular show in the world.
It also spawned three spinoffs – “CSI: Miami,” “CSI: NY” and “CSI: Cyber” – a traveling exhibit called “CSI: The Experience” and, of course, what’s come to be called the “CSI effect.”
The latter has proved problematic over the years. In a 2008 study by three Eastern Michigan University professors, the researchers found that jurors’ high expectations of fingerprints and DNA weren’t just anecdotal – though, in a cautionary note, author Donald E. Shelton noted that “There was scant evidence in our survey results that ‘CSI’ viewers were either more or less likely to acquit defendants without scientific evidence.”
“CSI’s” style has also been highly influential as television. It’s now rare to see a crime show that doesn’t have sleek lighting, grisly inside-the-body special effects (pioneered by the movie “Three Kings”) and atmospheric music.
Creator Anthony E. Zuiker, however, attributed “CSI’s” success to the most basic of human instincts: rubbernecking.
“I think the show is kind of like a car wreck,” he told CNN in 2003. You want to keep watching it, but you don’t want to turn away. And because people know it’s not real and it’s make-believe, and people are out there solving crimes and giving a great mystery week to week, I think that’s what lures viewers to watch.”
Over the years, the show has cycled cast members in and out almost as often as its grittier New York rival, “Law & Order.” Petersen, who headed the crime lab for the show’s first nine years, was replaced by Laurence Fishburne and then Ted Danson. Jorja Fox, a “West Wing” player who expected to return to that show, ended up leaving after season 8 and returning three years later.
Only Gary Dourdan, who played audio-video expert Warrick Brown, was permanently put on a slab, having been killed off in the season 9 premiere.
The show has also picked up some famous fans, perhaps most notably Quentin Tarantino, who directed the fifth-season finale.
“CSI” may be ending, but like its crime-drama cousins, it will live on forever in reruns – even if many of its victims are never coming back. Petersen had the right idea when he left in 2009.
“(It’s) like losing a great co-worker they’ve known for years,” he told Entertainment Weekly. “He didn’t die in a plane crash; he didn’t get a brain tumor. He’s out there.”