Crossing Jordan and Heroes alum Joe Pokaski joined CSI: Crime Scene Investigation this season as a supervising producer; and since his addition to the series, Pokaski’s hit the ground running with two iconic CSI episodes. His debut episode “Tell-Tale Hearts” was based on a story by technical consultant Larry Mitchell, and encapsulated a blend of humor and stark drama in a case that left the CSI team with more suspects than answers. This week, his second CSI creation, “Zippered,” aired, acting as part one of a three-part exit storyline for the show’s leading lady. In the following interview, Pokaski speaks with CSI Files’ Shane Saunders about setting the stage for a character exit, collaborating with close friends, upcoming episodes, and more. (Contains spoilers!)
CSI Files: “Zippered” introduced some new characters, and if I remember correctly, Agent McQuaid (Grant Show) was supposed to have a steamy fling with Catherine (Marg Helgenberger). Was that ever filmed?
Joe Pokaski: Not for Episode Nine. That’s all I can say.
CSI Files: You’re setting the stage for Marg’s exit. When you have a three-part storyline such as what is happening here, how do you breakdown what happens in each episode?
Pokaski: I think this is how it happened, and I apologize if I’m not getting everything correct. Carol [Mendelsohn, Executive Producer] and Don [McGill] had a conversation with Marg I think before we even broke Episode One. [They] had dinner and discussed how she wanted to go out and they had a lot of ideas that became Episode Eleven and Twelve. I believe the intial intention was to be one episode but it was so great and so epic, which you’ll see soon enough, that it turned into two episodes. To that point we wanted to tell a story where we could introduce some of the players, the end story that is awake now and introducing all these people. So we kind of knew [Episode] Nine needed to be a story where we could introduce these guys and focus on Marg and set her up emotionally for the idea where she might go somewhere else. That was kind of as far as we got and then we broke through this story that suggets it turns into some stuff that we’ll use in [Episodes] Eleven and Twelve. If that makes any sense…
CSI Files: When you guys ‘broke’ this season, how did the writers decide what kind of note Catherine would go out on? Was that part of the dinner conversation?
Pokaski: Yeah, I think that was part of it. I think burnout is interesting but it’s an easy place to go, and the fact that we did kind of go that direction with Sara [Jorja Fox] inparticular… you know, these people are kind of heroes. They’re kind of forsaking their families to solve murders and bring justice to other families. For me, I kind of focused on her as a superhero. She was just the best at her job and potentially, without spoiling too much, there might be another place where she can be the best at her job in another context.
CSI Files: “Zippered” reminded me a lot of the Season One finale “The Strip Strangler.”
CSI Files: Did you look at that one for inspiration to your episode?
Pokaski: You know what, I watched that probably a year or two after it was on a few times. My very first spec script was a CSI and I remember “Strip Strangler” being one of my favorites. It was a great episode and had Dwight [Rainn Wilson] from The Office as a bad guy!
CSI Files: At the beginning of the season it was said Nick (George Eads) would play a pivotal role in Catherine’s exit. Is that being shifted a bit–is DB Russell (Ted Danson) stepping up in that role?
Pokaski: I think everyone plays a pretty big role. The scene we shot [Wednesday]… the episodes kind of focus on how Catherine is touched by everyone. So Nick plays a pivotal role, as does Russell. We didn’t know who the actor was when we started breaking the story. I think it’s fair to say pretty much everyone does, especially Nick and Sara who’ve been around.
CSI Files: I believe you were a fan of the show prior to writing this season. How has your experience been so far on CSI?
Pokaski: These are honestly the nicest people I’ve ever met. I’ve always been a huge fan and again, my first television spec script when I moved out here was a CSI. I watched seasons one, two, and three like five times each. I was very fortunate that my friends originally from Crossing Jordan started showing up on CSI: Michael [FX] Daley, Chris Barbour, Melissa [Byer] and Treena [Hancock]. It was a no-brainer when I was leaving Heroes the only thing I didn’t want to do was about magics and capes and things like that; I kind of wanted to diversify my portfolio. Then someone told me a position at CSI was available and I was like, ‘Oh, I want to work there!’ I saw Carol Mendelsohn speak at one point; honestly just the nicest person, you’ve met her before. She’s completely nice and so talented.
CSI Files: Roger Bart is playing a part in the episode you’re shooting right now. What else can you share about the episode?
Pokaski: It was written by Ed Whitmore, who’s just a fantastic guy. He freelanced last year–
CSI Files: “Unleashed”?
Pokaski: Yeah. You’re ridiculous, Shane. He’s just a classy guy and British. The fact he’s British makes him even classier. It’s this really cool suspense serial-killer story; I think it’s the one serial-killer story we’re going to tell all year. It involves hair as the title suggests. The fun part is it’s directed by Brad Tanenbaum, who just knocks episodes out of the park. It’s going to be a lot of fun and has a lot of good actors. There’s a decent amount of fear that we don’t get to see all the time on CSI…
CSI Files: You mention actors, is there anyone you can say who is in the episode?
Pokaski: One of my favorite actresses, I don’t know if you watch Homeland at all, Brianna Brown, but she played the call girl for the prince.
CSI Files: Then she was killed.
Pokaski: Yes. I watched her onscreen and literally her first scene I was like, ‘Wow, she is beautiful and she can actually act.’ So there’s a woman named Paula who bonds with Russell… and this is the craziest part of life, because I’m a huge fan of telelvision like you are, is I can sit in a casting session and say, ‘You know who we should try to get is Brianna Brown.’ She comes in and reads, nails it, and all of a sudden she’s in the show. So I just want to go on the record and say she’s going to be a big star soon. I’m very happy we could get her.
CSI Files: What’s your next episode that you’ll be working on?
Pokaski: Right now I’m working on an episode that’s either going to be Eighteen or Nineteen. I’m gonna try to grab Carol before Friday and pitch her a few ideas before she goes back to Scent of the Missing.
Shane Saunders is a freelance writer and reviewer. His work can be seen on EDGE Network and ShaneSSaunders.com. Twitter: @ShaneSSaunders.