Miami, and now the world

Times Staff Writer

"Look, this is no longer a Miami matter now. You have to think global."

When Agent Park uttered those words to Miami-Dade Crime Lab Lt. Horatio Caine in the last minutes of the fourth-season finale of "CSI: Miami" in May, he might as well have been counseling star David Caruso himself, the rest of the cast and crew, and CBS on how to handle their newfound status as the world's No. 1 U.S. television show.

With 50 million viewers around the globe (including 18.1 million Americans who tuned in last year), "CSI: Miami" toppled "Lost" and "Desperate Housewives," which ranked second and third, respectively, and even the mother ship, "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," which finished in sixth place, according to a survey by business research firm Informa Telecoms & Media.

Some spinoff, huh?

"For me, the exciting part of hearing that is that it opened some doors for us to go and embrace the audience around the world, literally, and physically be there," Caruso said recently in his spiffy trailer at Raleigh Studios in Manhattan Beach. "And Brazil was just the beginning."

That's where the show travels for tonight's season opener. It was a journey that Horatio vowed to take at the end of last season when his bride of just a few weeks was gunned down by a gangster who was seeking revenge against Horatio. When Agent Park informs Horatio that Marisol's killer will be extradited to Brazil, he and her brother, Eric Delko (Adam Rodriguez), vow to seek their own justice in Rio de Janeiro.

When "CSI: Miami" begins this season, Horatio is standing above the clouds at the top of Rio's famed Corcovado mountain, where the statue of Christ the Redeemer is visible from every corner of the metropolis. Two months after he shot that sequence, Caruso's head was still in the clouds over his week in Rio, the fans who chanted "Horacio, Horacio" everywhere he went, and what he hopes might become a standing feature of the series.

"It is my fervent wish -- knock on wood -- that we continue to travel foreign because it was great for us and a comfortable fit and appropriate to who we are," he said. "I feel it is the key to who we are, which is why we've been embraced. In a funny way, 'CSI: Miami' is 'CSI: Rio' and 'CSI: Dubai' and 'CSI: Berlin.' Miami itself is a very international place, and one of the things we've been able to do is capture the international flair of the world of Miami."

Caruso and co-creator Ann Donahue, who also runs the show, came face to face with the international power of the middle "CSI" child -- "CSI: Miami" premiered two years after "CSI" and helped spin off "CSI: NY" in 2004 -- in April when they were invited to a reception in Cannes, France, hosted by Alliance Atlantis International Television, which distributes the franchise globally.

Part of the largest international trade show for TV programming, the event introduced Caruso and Donahue to buyers who were champing at the bit to take pictures with the star and persuade Donahue to film in their countries. That enthusiasm gave Donahue and Caruso the impetus for going global with their storytelling.

To their surprise, CBS and Paramount, which produces the show, approved it immediately. The writers selected Brazil because the show already had established a story there: At the end of the third season, Horatio put his own brother, sister-in-law and nephew on a plane to Rio.

"I really think Horatio Caine has become iconic," Donahue said. "Wherever David goes now, he'll go to Cannes or overseas in the summer, he's like one of the Beatles."

OK, probably not quite a Beatle in status, but definitely very popular. "CSI: Miami" is the No. 9 show in the U.S. But it's the top-rated U.S. show in France, Italy and Germany and ranks second in Portugal and the Netherlands. Among dramas, it is No. 2 in Spain, No. 3 in Canada and Britain, and No. 7 in Australia. The three "CSI" shows air in 180 countries.

"This is the biggest international show that's come out of the States in years," said Ted Riley, managing director of Alliance Atlantis, who runs "the international exploitation of 'CSI' " from Dublin, Ireland. "From the Far East in Malaysia and Singapore to Germany and Spain and Italy to the States and into Latin America, people love this show. Television is an international business now. The purchasing power is so strong, and these shows can make a lot of money out of the foreign market, combined with the American after-market." (The first season of "CSI: Miami" began running nightly on A&E; two weeks ago.)

Around the world, fans love the mysteries and the forensics approach to problem-solving that envelop all of the "CSI" shows, but "CSI: Miami" stands out, Riley said, because of its exotic allure. And then there's Caruso, whose campy, melodramatic crime-fighting Horatio makes viewers feel like he's personally taking care of them.

"Horatio is drawn to situations that need his help," Caruso said, explaining why "H" fell in love with the drug-addicted Marisol. "I see Horatio as the ultimate civil servant, a man that is designed to respond to distress signals."

In Australia, Caruso had a strong fan base from his days on "NYPD Blue," said Michael Healy, director of programming for the Nine, the top-rated network there. But now Caruso and company's popularity -- not to mention the other "CSI" shows' -- is off the charts among 25- to 54-year-olds.

"Based on the fact that the 'CSI' franchise has been incredibly successful in Australia, Miami has a point of difference that obviously resonates with Australian audiences," Healy said. "The location of Miami is sexy and bright and a beachside location, and that's similar to Australian lifestyles."

Could a "CSI: Sydney" be coming down the pike? "There's a lot of interest, but it's not just something we're pursuing right now," Riley said. That's fine with Caruso, who wants to be the one to bring his "CSI: Miami" to the world and is hoping the higher-ups feel the same way.

"I can't imagine the network allowing us to travel more than once a year because what people are in love with is Horatio in Miami and the city of Miami," Donahue said.

Given what the Rio trip produced, CBS President of Entertainment Nina Tassler said, the network would consider letting "H" hit the road again: "The footage they brought back is just gorgeous. It just took your breath away."

Caruso has a photograph of the opening shot in Rio de Janeiro on his trailer's refrigerator next to a mock-up logo of a spinoff idea sent by a fan for "Christ Scene Investigation: Palestine."

"The fans have embraced us on their own terms," he said. "You can't ask for anything better than that."

maria.elena.fernandez@latimes .com

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'CSI: Miami'

Where: CBS

When: 10 to 11 tonight

Rating: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children younger than 14)

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