Interview: Treena Hancock & Melissa R. Byer


Though only in their second season on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Co-Executive Producers Treena Hancock and Melissa R Byer both have a number of years under their belt as fans and devoted watchers of the series. Prior to writing their first episode, “Blood Moon” in Season Eleven, the duo collaborated on hit shows such as Stargate: Atlantis, Reaper, and Crossing Jordan (props from their Crossing Jordan episode “Road Kill” currently take residence in their Universal Studios office, showcased on a shelf containing numerous CSI research binders). Hancock and Byer talk with CSI Files’ Shane Saunders about their latest CSI episode, how the partnership formed, and tease the final episodes of Season Twelve. (Spoilers after the jump.)

CSI Co-Executive Producers Treena Hancock (left) and Melissa R Byer (right).

CSI Files: “Stealing Home” is a dark and twisted episode with some humor mixed in. What can you share about the installment?

Melissa R. Byer: We call it a comedy, even though several people die in it. But for us we definitely embrace the fact that CSI can do all types of tones, and this for us is definitely a lighter tone. It does in fact have a house that is stolen and it’s about a family fighting over this house. We kind of thought of War of the Roses but with siblings fighting over a house. It was our inspiration.

CSI Files: Did you look at humorous episodes from the past, such as the “lab rats” series?

Byer: Not specifically for the episode, but we’ve seen a lot of those older episodes. We have always been fans of the show, but before we joined we watched every episode.

Treena Hancock: Yeah, all of the episodes. Some of the lighter ones are our favorites, because I think the show does those very well. We always like doing some of the funnier ones.

Byer: And dark, [too]. “Bittersweet” from earlier this year was really dark, even for us.

CSI Files: This is going to be Elisabeth Shue‘s (Julie Finlay) second episode, she’s being brought on as a full-time member of the lab. How do you integrate her addition to the team so it’s different from previous newbies?

Hancock: I think the difference with her character is that she has a history with Russell [Ted Danson] already. So that brings an interesting dynamic, and I think the viewers are going to wonder why she was brought to CSI and they’re going to find out that she had been fired before. They’re going to wonder what their history was and why he fired her in Seattle.

CSI Files: “Seeing Red” did touch on some of their history, as you’ve mentioned. But DB is a man who married his first love (“Freaks & Geeks”), and some readers think there may have been a romantic history between the two of them. Is that something the writers are going to avoid, or should viewers stay tuned?

Byer: It’s complicated. We’ve always said, and I know Carol [Mendelsohn, Executive Producer] has mentioned in the press, that Finn was Russell’s work wife. I think there’s all different types of intimate relationships. That intimacy that you have with someone that you work with everyday and that you know very well, that’s a very powerful relationship.

Hancock: And I think there’s things that you can talk about with Finn that he probably doesn’t go home and talk about with his wife; things that happen during the day that you may not want to bring home, but Finn is someone that he can share that stuff with. So there’s a different type of relationship.

CSI Files: Are viewers going to meet DB’s wife?

Byer: Maybe.

CSI Files: She said vaguely, playing her cards close to the chest.

Byer: [Laughs.] We’re Canadians, so we like to be very Diplomatic about it.

Hancock: There are rumors, but we haven’t heard of any confirmation yet.

CSI Files: Melissa and I talked about this last time I was on set, and you’ve mentioned it briefly here, that the two of you had been long time fans of the show prior to getting staffed and had been hoping to work on the show for sometime. How did the opportunity finally present itself?

Byer: We were working on another CBS show up in Toronto called Flashpoint, so we were already working for CBS. And to be quite honest, we had been working on a couple of east coast shows, but we really considered a west coast home. We really wanted to come back here and heard there was an opportunity at CSI, that there might be some openings. We’ve been a long time fan of Carol’s, and we even have the same agent. Then hearing that Don McGill [Executive Producer] was joing as well, it seemed that the stars finally aligned and we got an interview. We flew down here, met with Carol and Don, and really hit it off.

Hancock: Then we started two weeks after that.

CSI Files: I forget how fast things can happen in TV.

Hancock: It can happen very fast.

Byer: It’s funny. I would say yeah, eight to ten years, we’ve been dying to get on this show and meet with Carol. I guess things just worked out when they were supposed to.

CSI Files: This is your second season on the show, but you guys are two of just a handful of writers who’ve gotten to write for all three leads: William Petersen (Gil Grissom), Laurence Fishburne (Ray Langston), and Ted Danson. How does that feel?

Hancock: I never thought of it that way. That’s pretty cool. [Laughs.]

Byer: We were so excited to get Billy to come in and do “The Two Mrs Grissoms.” It was great meeting him, we loved working with Laurence, and Ted is awesome. He’s so funny and sweet. It was so cool for us getting to work with the original members and we’re so glad that we got to work with Marg [Helgenberger, Catherine Willows] and now to be introducing the new character.

CSI Files: I want to share a quote that Jorja Fox (Sara Sidle) gave me about you two back in September: “Melissa [Byer, Co-Executive Producer] and Treena [Hancock, Co-Executive Producer], watch out for those two. They have two of the darkest minds that I’ve ever met. [Laughs.] They’re really unassuming, sweet… like you would never in a million years think these two ladies were writing for CSI and writing some of our darkest stuff.” So I have to ask, which one of you has the darkest mind?

Byer: [Laughs.] Well, together we’re kind of a brain.

Hancock: Yeah, I don’t think we can really say which one. It kind of depends on the day. That’s a hard one.

Byer: I think Jorja’s got it all wrong. [Laughs.] We like to say it’s our unassuming Canadian style, but we like writing the dark stuff.

Hancock: We like it when we can balance it with a sense of humor, rather than dark for the sake of being dark.

CSI Files: How did your writing partnership form?

Hancock: We met in college in Toronto. One of the assignments in our second year there was to write a spec for a TV show, so we decided to pair up because we had a lot of things in common and we liked a lot of the same shows growing up, so we thought we should start writing together and see how that goes. We wrote a spec for Mad About You, at the time we thought we wanted to write sitcoms, and it went really well. We really enjoyed working together and decided to stick with it.

Byer: If I wasn’t writing with Treena I would think I was funny all the time. [Laughs.] Treena has a nickname around here, which is “The Joke Police.” She is a very difficult laugh. So if Treena laughs at something, then it goes in the script immediately.

CSI Files: The two of you wrote the pilot for TNT’s Scent of the Missing. What’s new with that? Do you know if it’s gotten picked up?

Hancock: We have not yet heard what’s going to happen with it. It’s been shot, it came out great, so now we’re just waiting to hear what’s going to happen with it.

CSI Files: If Scent of the Missing gets picked up, are you going to juggle both CSI and Scent of the Missing, or focus on just one?

Hancock: That’s a hard question. There’s so much hypothetical in there so we try not to think too far ahead. If the show does get picked up we’ll think about it then. We think it might be bad luck to think about it in advance.

Byer: CSI is our home and we love being a part of the CSI family. We’ll see.

CSI Files: You’re in the homestretch of the season, what’s coming up?

Byer: We’re actually working with the lovely Elizabeth Devine on Episode Twenty right now. It’s a different episode for us, it’s more Catch Me If You Can and really shows the realities of the legal system. Trying to think of what teases we can give you without giving stuff away.

CSI Files: Well I know it involves Italian.

Byer: [Laughs.] That’s a separate little character moment that I think the fans will love. We’re having a lot of fun writing it. It’s kind of a cold case type of episode–

Hancock: An all hands on deck with a ticking clock. Everyone trying to keep someone behind bars, type of episode.

CSI Files: This season really seems to be about family. Showing the CSI team united and exploring their relatives. Is that a theme the writers have been working on this season?

Hancock: We have talked about the theme of family a little bit this year, not just people’s individual families, but our CSI family. How those relationships evolve and change over time.

CSI Files: What else can viewers expect this season? Do you know what the finale might look like?

Byer: I think more fantastic episodes. A bit of a mystery, obviously we’re going to cliff-hang a bit. Tom Mularz is doing Episode Twenty-One with a very exciting premise. Twenty-Two is in the works and there’s going to be some surprises and some more about Finn and Russell.

Hancock: And a bit of a cliff-hanger.

Shane Saunders is a freelance writer and reviewer. His work can be seen on EDGE Network and Twitter: @ShaneSSaunders.

Shane Saunders
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