Quick TV trivia: Which of the top three most-watched series in the world has no tabloid divas, a 55-year-old woman controlling the scripts and a lead actor who’s most famous for leaving for another show?
It’s “CSI: Miami,” now in the home stretch of its eighth season anchoring CBS’ 10 p.m. Monday time slot, where it finds itself with new competition now that Jay Leno has returned to late night. The series, which resumes tonight with a new episode directed by heavy metal rocker Rob Zombie, is a rare TV animal -- a high-profile, long-running show that’s both massively successful and relatively anonymous.
FOR THE RECORD:
“CSI: Miami”: A photo caption in Monday’s Calendar accompanying an article on the TV show “CSI: Miami” incorrectly identified one of the show’s co-stars as Jonathan Togo. The actor shown with David Caruso is Adam Rodriguez. —
Its story lines are not fetishized and de-constructed like those of “Lost,” there’s been no “Grey’s Anatomy"-esque in-fighting and its female stars barely make a ripple among TMZ-philes. Though its ratings are down this year from the show’s peak, “Miami” still draws about 13.6 million viewers per week and is No. 21 overall among prime-time shows, according to Nielsen.
Since 2002, Miami has trounced its competition on Monday nights, leaving a string of reality competitions, sci-fi series and most recently, Leno’s doomed NBC variety show in its wake. Its primary foils now are two other crime-flavored dramas, ABC’s “Castle,” about a novelist who works with a New York police detective, and NBC’s old standby “Law & Order.”
The show’s early success was buoyed by its connection with the original “CSI,” which debuted in October 2000 and is the most-watched current series on the planet, according to Eurodata TV Worldwide. (“House,” Fox’s hit medical drama, is second on that list, followed by “Miami.”) “Miami” has also had the advantage of consistently strong lead-in audiences from CBS’ block of Monday sitcoms, which includes “Two and a Half Men,” the highest-rated sitcom on television.
But unlike so many spin-offs, it has managed to carve out its own identity while staying true to the CSI formula of stylized crime, smarty-pants detective work and, of course, a theme song by the Who. In fact, aside from David Caruso, the veteran actor who plays lead investigator Horatio Caine, the Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again” might be the series’ most prominent presence. In addition to introducing each show, the song is an integral part of the series’ narrative DNA. Most “Miami” episodes open with Caruso at a grisly crime scene, typically wearing sunglasses, and conclude with him tossing off a pithy one-liner -- followed immediately by Roger Daltrey screaming notes from the 1971 classic-rock anthem.
The music has played a huge role in turning Caruso’s spectacles into a pop culture sensation and the show’s iconic accessory. The red-headed actor’s sunglasses-and-shtick routine is often ridiculed by everyone from “Talk Soup” host Joel McHale to sports radio personality Jim Rome, but the quips have become an Internet phenomenon. One YouTube compilation of his cryptic lines -- example: “Our accident is not an accident at all” -- has been viewed nearly 4 million times. While he was vacationing in Turkey last year, Caruso says, a man stopped him outside the Blue Mosque in Istanbul -- and proceeded to put on his glasses with the same two-handed, melodramatic style the actor often deploys on TV.
Caruso says he originally picked up the sunglasses, made by the Austrian company Silhouette, during a trip to France before the series’ debut season. “They’re very lightweight, so I knew they weren’t going to be an obstacle on the show if we were, say, running after a suspect,” says Caruso, the 54-year-old New York City native who famously quit the cast of “NYPD Blue” in the early ‘90s to pursue a film career. Compared to the original “CSI” and “CSI: New York,” the second spinoff of the franchise that debuted in 2004, “Miami” has a distinct visual style that incorporates South Florida’s tropical colors and sun-kissed, international vibe. Scenes are bathed in golden light, the ocean appears as an impossible shade of blue, the sky looks blood-orange, and there are bright pastels all over the show. (The show is now largely shot on locations in Manhattan Beach and Long Beach that can pass for South Florida, but in the early years of the series, more material was taped in Miami.)
The idea to base the show in Miami came, not surprisingly, from executive producer Jerry Bruckheimer. After the immediate success of the original “CSI” series, which follows a team of Las Vegas investigators, CBS President Les Moonves called in Bruckheimer, creator Anthony Zuiker and a few of the show’s top writers to discuss launching a spinoff. Moonves said, “You’ve done great, now pick another city,” says “Miami” head writer Ann Donahue, 55, who worked on the original CSI. “Every Monday night, people show up to see Horatio set things right, and as a scientist and a cop, he makes for a different kind of character,” Donahue says. “And at 10:50 p.m., everybody gets to exhale.”