Interview: Bill Haynes

The ‘CSI: NY’ writer talks about his transition from being a real-life CSI to the writers’ office, how cases from his career have inspired storylines and his upcoming sixth season episode. Very light spoilers inside!

Viewers of CSI: New York are familiar with writer Bill Haynes‘ episodes, but what they might not know is that he also servers as a technical advisor on the show. Bill started his career not in Hollywood but in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s office, working as a criminalist, first in the narcotics division and then in the forensic biology division. Haynes’ experience as a criminalist has influenced several storylines in CSI: NY and his scientific savvy informs many of the show’s twists and turns. Haynes took the time to speak with CSI Files’ Kristine Huntley about his career, the episodes he’s written for the show and his upcoming season six entry.

CSI Files: How is the new season going so far?

Haynes: It’s good! We’ve got a lot of great stuff. We’ve got a serial killer arc that we’re working on, and my episode which [is shooting now] takes place in the world of hip hop dance battles. So I’m really excited about that–it’s going to be a really high energy, visual show. We’ve got some great stuff. We left off last season with a shootout into the bar and everybody’s in jeopardy. [You’ll see] the ramifications–physically, emotionally, our people are injured physically and emotionally by that. There’s a lot of good stuff to play there, so we’re having fun with that.

CSI Files: How will the resolution affect the team?

Haynes: Let’s just say there are a lot of surprises that come. I don’t want to give anything away, because that defeats the purpose! But there’s a lot of good stuff that’s coming down the pipe.

CSI Files: When you first joined the show, you were a technical advisor. How did you make the transition from tech advisor to writer?

Haynes: As a technical advisor, you’re naturally working with the writers anyways, honing the technical dialogue, they’re coming to me for science ideas–what’s the newest thing out there, what’s the latest thing out there? How can we make this more visual? We have this piece of evidence, but we don’t want the results to come in until act three, how do we do that? Things like that. So you’re already having to mold your mind to think like a writer in terms of the story and trying to think visually. As far as the first year, I was on the set a lot, just because I had to get our actors up to speed on handling evidence and how to work pipettes and that kind of stuff. Once you get them up to speed and comfortable with it, then you can gradually turn away from the set, and I was spending all of my time in the writers’ room. Like I said, I owe a lot of it to [Executive Producer] Pam [Veasey] for first giving me the opportunity to first do some co-writing and then to branch out on a solo script and again, I have another solo script coming up. I’m just trying to do my best to make the transition. Before I came into the television industry, I never would have known how much thought and work goes into one hour of TV. I knew it must be hard, but I never realized how hard it is until I actually did it. There’s so much to think about.

CSI Files: What made you decide to leave the real-life lab for the CSI: NY writers’ office?

Haynes: My supervisor at the time, Liz Devine, got hooked up with CSI from the very early days of the show’s inception. As that show was growing, she was needed on set, the writers also needed her, and soon after that, they were putting CSI: Miami together, so there were more writers who had questions, and more sets that needed attention. So she tapped me as one of the people to help her out. I was filling in on the set for both her and Rich Catalani. And then I was also taking phone calls from writers on both shows and helping them out with questions. That’s how I met Anthony [Zuiker] and Ann Donahue. So then when they decided to launch CSI: New York, they looked to me to be their full time person. It was left to me to decide if I wanted to leave the safety of working for a government agency and jump into the fickle world of entertainment. And I thought that these opportunities don’t come along all that often. I feel like I got a good opportunity to test the waters by filling in for other people on a part time basis. I knew it was something I was enjoying, so I decided to take the leap.

CSI Files: Was it a tough decision?

Haynes: It was in the sense that I had just recently gotten married two years prior to that, we’d just bought a house and we were expecting our first child. So it was in the sense of that, just because there’s a lot to be said for having real job security. Whereas with TV or entertainment in general, you never know what it will be or whether the audience will decide, “I’ve seen enough of these scientists on TV.” It is a lot less stable. So it was a little tough in that sense.

It’s great–I love it. One of the things I really love about it is that in real world forensics, you basically specialize. For two years, all I was doing was narcotics analysis and going to meth labs. And then when I was in DNA and forensic biology, pretty much all I was doing was DNA and going to homicide scenes. [But] being out in the field doesn’t happen everyday. You only go out in the field once a month or so. You also specialize–it’s like medicine, you find a niche and you specialize in that.

Working on the show, I have to be much more of a generalist. On CSI: NY, everyone looks to me to have the answer to everything from hair analysis to fibers to DNA to question documents to you name it. So I like that. I feel like I have to be an expert in all areas of forensics.

CSI Files: How many stories from your career as a criminalist have influenced stories in CSI: NY?

Haynes: Just the knowledge of the science and how police work goes and how crime scene investigation goes and evidence analysis–that is there in every single episode. As far as actual cases that I’ve worked, it’s like bits and pieces here and there, but for the most part, real life cases don’t have enough red herrings and twists and turns to take one real case and make a full episode out of it. Bits and pieces. Like [this one case I worked where a] guy [took] a circular saw to drywall–I could definitely see where we could go to a crime scene and see that, and that would be like one weird thing could be there. But that would be one piece of an episode, but the overall story might not be the same thing that was in the real case, [which was] a burglary gone bad.

I wrote [an episode] last season with [Executive Producer] Peter Lenkov called “The Box”. That body was decomposed quite a bit. The case [I worked where a liquefied body was found in a duffel bag] inspired that episode, to some degree. It was a similar situation–the body in “The Box” had been in that demolished car for quite a while.

CSI Files: “The Box” shook up the format a bit–what was it like to do that, and how did it come about?

Haynes: Peter Lenkov and I wrote that script over the hiatus, between season four and five. We wrote it in a conventional format, and it was great–we were really happy with it. But we came back after the break and Pam read it. And she was really happy with it, but she at some point, she got this idea of telling it in this very unconventional way, and she pitched it to Peter and I and we loved it. We rewrote it based on her idea, and it really took it to the next level, and we owe that to Pam.

CSI Files: Your first story credit was for “The Fall” in the show’s first season. How did that come about?

Haynes: That was really early on. Anne McGrail was a guest writer on the show. She came in with some ideas, and then she and I worked closely together on it. So it wasn’t really an idea that I brought in–it was more so that she had these ideas and I helped develop them.

“Playing with Matches” was my first solo. That was inspired by a real case where a guy in prison had [tried to clear himself of rape] with a ketchup packet. He was in jail on rape charges, and he had sent his semen to his girlfriend in a ketchup packet that he had gotten from the commissary in jail. Then she inserted it inside herself, went to the police station and claimed that she had been raped. She went to the hospital and they collected a rape kit from her, sent it to the crime lab and they ran it through CODIS and it hit on this guy who was already in prison. They went to him to say, “What’s going on?” and he said, “This is what I’ve said all along–you’ve got the wrong guy.” So that was the inspiration for the story in that episode.

CSI Files: How did the police find out what he had done?

Haynes: What ended up happening was that a link was discovered between him and the girl that claimed rape. That was basically his girlfriend, so they eventually discovered who she was, and then all the cards started to crumble.

CSI Files: Your first script on the show was “Wasted”, co-written with Pam Veasey. How did you get that first script?

Haynes: Pam basically was generous enough to give me the opportunity to pitch a story idea and co-write with someone, and I was fortunate enough to do that with her. I owe her a great deal of thanks. Just to get the opportunity to do something like that [was incredible]. So in the meantime, I had been trying to come up with some interesting story ideas, and again on that one, I pulled from my narcotics background. There are various ways you can smuggle drugs, and pair different types of liquids with drugs and re-extract the drugs back out. I got the idea of having someone smuggle a drug in paint. So I pitched the idea thinking it could be a painter painting a canvas. Of course, me being a novice writer at the time, the room got a hold of that and turned it into, why not make it body paint on these supermodels at Fashion Week? It was like, okay, let’s do that! The drugs were in body paint and one of the models got painted with this paint and succumbed to the fumes by inhaling the drugs.

CSI Files: You co-wrote a big episode for Stella back in season three, “Heart of Glass”, in which she cut herself with glass with HIV-infected blood. Is there a personal story or inspiration behind that?

Haynes: Yeah, actually–it’s based on an experience that happened to me. I was processing a car that had been involved in a hit and run where somebody had gotten killed. There were two guys in the suspect vehicle, so basically what I had to do was go out and collect bloodstain evidence to try to prove which one of them was driving. So I went out there, and the whole windshield on his car was spider-webbed and caved in and there was shattered glass everywhere. I was doing my thing, collecting bloodstains from off the dashboard, I was cutting out the airbags. When I looked down, [I saw] a big red blotch underneath one of my latex gloves. I was like, what is that? I took my glove off and I realized it was blood. I checked my glove and I could see that there was a tear in the glove. I realized I had cut myself on some of the glass, and a lot of it was bloody. The blood was dry, which definitely decreased the risk for something like HIV, but hepatitis is definitely a much more robust virus, so that was definitely a concern. I didn’t know which piece of glass had cut me, because I didn’t even feel it happen.

So I ended up going to see a doctor, and they took a baseline sample to see if there were any viruses to begin with, and then I had to go back and they had to check me again. For a few months, I had to go back and get checked from time to time. In my situation, the risk was extremely low, but still, you never know until you know! So I ended up being in the clear, but it was a scary situation. There had been a lot of other crime scenes where you get there right after the fact. There are a lot of scenes where it’s forced entry and there’s a lot of broken glass with liquid blood on it and you’re handling that stuff. You’re digging through people’s dirty laundry–because at a lot of these crime scenes, there are piles of clothes on the floor–and you’re looking for a knife. Or you can get stuck with somebody’s hypodermic needle–a heroin user or something. It’s very dangerous work in terms of stuff like that.

CSI Files: Have you ever known of anyone who’s gotten stuck with a needle or infected with a disease from a crime scene?

Haynes: I did know of a narc who was doing surveillance on a house. He picked up a deer tick and he ended up getting Lyme disease. And that ended up causing him permanent damage. So that was pretty tragic.

So I had brought the [glass storyline] to Pam. It was kind of ironic–CBS would do these things to encourage their shows to do storylines to raise consciousness regarding certain health issues or things like that. So she had just been to one on HIV. The timing was perfect. She and I teamed up on script.

CSI Files: What kind of chance was there that Stella would end up testing positive, or did you know from the beginning that she was going to be negative?

Haynes: Oh, there was definitely a debate there! A lot of us wanted to have her come up positive. I don’t remember exactly why we went the other route. I think we just wanted to keep it kind of bright. So that’s the way we went with it. But yeah, there was a distinct possibility that she was going to be HIV positive.

CSI Files: “Point of No Return” brought back Marty Pino–how was the decision made to bring the character back?

Haynes: Peter Lenkov is very good about maintaining the continuity of the characters and bringing things back that have kind of fallen off to the wayside. This episode came into being during the writers’ strike. My background is in narcotics and clandestine laboratories–for whatever reason I went off during the writers’ strike, it all of the sudden hit me: I would go out to these meth labs and from time to time, you’d see these buckets filled with urine. These meth cooks are basically peeing in these buckets and saving it. What we found out was that because they made a lot of processed methamphetamine in these labs, they were re-extracting unmetabolized meth out of their urine. So over the writers’ strike, it just hit me that we could take that to the next level in true CSI fashion, and have a killer out there who’s cutting organs out of junkies, killing them and cutting their organs out in order get unmetabolized drug out of their organs.

When we came back [from the strike], I told Peter my idea and he loved it. So we decided to use that for our episode. The idea of somebody actually killing enough people to get enough product to use–to get a cube of cocaine or heroin, say–you’d have to kill a lot of people. So when we talked about it, that’s when we came up with the idea, “Well, who has access to a lot of bodies? Someone who works at the medical examiner’s office.” Especially a lot of overdose cases–those body’s end up going to the ME’s office. Then we talked about it further, and Peter came up with the idea, “Let’s bring back Pino! Where’s he been? Let’s create a story about where he’s been the whole time, why you haven’t seen him.” And so that’s how it came to be.

CSI Files: Pino definitely made a big impression on viewers!

Haynes: It’s cool–he falls off the map and then all the sudden he’s back in this dark, kind of crazy story.

CSI Files: It was great to see so many of the main characters affected by Pino’s plight.

Haynes: Yeah, obviously there’s a personal connection now for them in that story.

CSI Files: Is there any character that you particularly enjoy writing for?

Haynes: Mac’s always fun to write for because he’s always so authoritative, so you get to be in that role–spearhead the investigation. So that’s always fun. Adam’s fun because he’s just so lighthearted, so you can kind of be a little silly. So that’s always fun to do. They all bring their own thing. Also, I enjoy writing for Hawkes, just because his background is a doctor, having come from the ME’s office, so I always feel very much right at home with all the science and the medical stuff. I always feel like I can write his character very well also.

CSI Files: Of the episodes you’ve written or co-written, is there one you’re most proud of?

Haynes: The one that’s coming up. Even though we haven’t shot it yet, I really have high expectations for it. I think it’s going to be a really fun, cool world and even though it takes place in the world of dance battles and it’s real flashy, there’s a very emotional story at the center of all of that. I’m really proud of the script and the story, and I got blessed with a great director, Jeff Thomas, so I really have high hopes for this one. It’s called “Battle Scars.” When you’re watching the episode, you’ll know what it was called that–there’s definitely a dual meaning there.

CSI Files: Is there a personal story for any of the characters in it?

Haynes: There’s nothing that has ties to any of the back stories or anything like that, but it’s definitely a big Stella episode. She’s the driving force in this one. We’re still continuing to have discussions about adding some small character moments in the script for some of our characters, including Stella. She plays a big part in this script.

Want to read more from Bill Haynes? Check out the five part interview about his career as a criminalist at Level26.com. Parts One and Two can be found here and here respectively.

Kristine Huntley

Author

Kristine Huntley

Kristine Huntley is a freelance writer and reviewer.

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