It doesn’t seem long ago that the second CSI: Crime Scene Investigation spinoff, CSI: New York, was launched. In reality, it was over nine years ago, a time when the television landscape was vastly different. It was the season that launched classics such as Desperate Housewives and Lost, during a season in which ratings were booming and network television was the place to be. Now, years later, all three shows are now gone, the lone survivor of a series that premiered during the 2004-2005 season being Grey’s Anatomy. CSI: NY was cancelled by CBS last month after a nine-season, 197-episode run–no feat to sneeze at.
On the show since the very first season Pam Veasey helped craft and tool the series with its own distinct flavor. Whereas the original CSI and older sibling CSI: Miami premiered with an emphasis on the forensic science–after all, the franchise was about crime scene investigations–NY went in with a mandate to focus on character, blend it with the signature staple of the series, and make it its own. Something that kept the show on for many years.
With the complete and final season available on DVD today, Shane Saunders spoke with executive producer and showrunner Pam Veasey exclusively to examine the show’s origins, critical changes, cast departures, and more hot topics from the show’s nine years.
CSI Files: You joined the writing staff in Season One and stepped in as showrunner once creator Anthony E. Zuiker parted ways. How did the position come about?
Pam Veasey: I had been a showrunner on The District for CBS. When I joined CSI: New York I was happy to just sort of be someone who had experience running a show and answer questions, but when Anthony decided he wanted to take a step back it was sort of a natural progression that I step in having experience from running a show; it was gradual. It started as co-running and then more responsibility and more and more. Ultimately, he went on to develop and do other things but he was a part of the show for a very long time. I was a showrunner in Season Two, but he was a daily part of the show through Season Five.
CSI Files: New York started off with a very dark tone, but notes came in from CBS to lighten up the series. Were the writers welcoming to the change, or did you prefer and feel the dark mood was a necessity to telling the stories you wanted to tell?
Veasey: You know I don’t think it was so much about the crime stories, it was about how do you sell New York and how do we make it a place most people think of it as. When it started it was dark and taking it to the boroughs of New York and taking it to the underbelly of New York–places people aren’t familiar with–and most people relate New York as a tourist city; Empire State Building, it’s high rises, Times Square, it’s Battery Park and the Statue of Liberty. I think it was about selling the city as a character and take people to places they really are fascinated with, then we’ll gradually teach them about the underbelly of the city, so that was the mandate and it worked. It wasn’t that we were resistant, it was just a different approach. We did discuss in the second season to move forward.
CSI Files: In the Season One finale “What You See Is What You See” a female character named Rose, portrayed by Penelope Ann Miller, was introduced as someone who bonded with Mac Taylor (Gary Sinise) during a dangerous event, and quite possibly initiated a spark or two of the romantic kind, yet was never seen again. This became somewhat of a recurring device during the show’s first seven years; a female counterpart to the widowed detective. Was her involvement in the finale ever approached as something that would be continued into the second season?
Veasey: It was conversation, but it never ultimately did pan out. It was about how did the audience respond, did we want to take it that direction, was Gary comfortable with it, was there time to do that; we questioned whether it was too soon. We thought it could or could not happen. I believe by the end of that episode we thought she was terrific, it could be a possibility. Once we moved into the second season–I can’t recall if she had other opportunities or if it was on a film; it was something. But it never seemed to work out and we moved on.
CSI Files: During the hiatus after the first season producers received word that Vanessa Ferlito (Aiden Burn) wanted to leave. How did news of her impeding departure impact the upcoming season going forward?
Veasey: We wanted another female other than Melina Kanakaredes to be a part of the team, so we went on a search. We loved Vanessa because she’s very New York and very authentic, and so a decision was made that we wouldn’t specifically replace her, but try to bring in another female from a different point-of-view and that’s how we came up with Lindsay Monroe, played by Anna Belknap. We brought her from Montana, completely different than Vanessa’s character; just someone who you’d think you weren’t trying to replace but someone who was being added to our team.
CSI Files: After being mentioned in Season One’s “Tanglewood,” Danny Messer’s (Carmine Giovinazzo) brother Louie (played by Larry Romano) made an appearance in the second Tanglewood installment, “Run Silent, Run Deep.” There was always debate over the status of “is Louie dead?” or “is he alive?” among fans as the series progressed.
Veasey: I’m going to tell everyone now that the show is over that we ourselves never answered that question. Between half the writers’ room, half the crew and half of everyone, it was sort of a running joke over the years. If we had found the ultimate story to make that connection to bring him back we would have. I’d have to say we were fairly and squarely 50/50 about whether he was alive or dead. [Laughs.] And we never stepped up. We never found a story that was worthy of confirming it either way… we never answered that question.
CSI Files: The following episode was “All Access” which ended up being a controversial storyline, both in Kid Rock‘s guest appearance and the predicament of Stella Bonasera being raped. Did the writers go into that episode with a desire to spark some controversy?
Veasey: We didn’t sit down to write anything controversial; we just sat down to write topical, poignant, interesting television. You have to understand we do these episodes way ahead of time and deals have to be made; you’re thinking about all types of people to come in and be guest stars. We liked the idea of Kid Rock… we were trying to be current, but not controversial. How’s that? [Laughs.]
CSI Files: Two episodes later Aiden Burn returned but the character was killed off. Was it at that point that the writers knew that the availability of Vanessa Ferlito was limited, and it felt like natural closure to the character and the DJ Pratt story?
Veasey: She wanted to pursue movies and film, she didn’t like living in Los Angeles a lot; she really was a New York girl. We asked her if there were some other things she’d like to help close out her character, so we were doing it as closure for the audience and closure for the character. Once she’d left at the beginning of the season it wasn’t a question of we’d save something for her to come back, it was still early on in the series and you have to ask how attached are people to them; they liked Vanessa and we did as well, but she had made a choice as an actress and we did a job to facilitate that.
CSI Files: By the end of Season Two the writers finally decided on a permanent medical examiner, after Dr. Sheldon Hawkes (Hill Harper) had been promoted to being an actual part of the CSI team. Out of the three in rotation–Ron Yuan as Dr. Evan Zao, Jonah Lotan as Dr. Marty Pino, and Robert Joy as Dr. Sid Hammerback–the brillaint Robert Joy was settled on. How did the writers’ room finally decide on him?
Veasey: You’re right. We traveled between young guy, old guy, Asian guy… all fine actors. We found out the morgue scenes required a little bit of credibility and wisdom to them, and needed someone who could do comedy with specificity around the bodies. Obviously, when we started the series it was Hill Harper who played our medical examiner/pathologist and because Hill is so tremendous, we didn’t want to maroon him in the coroner’s office. So we wanted to put him out in the field and give him more exposure and opportunities to be on cases, and that’s when we started our search. Robert Joy, again, seemed like the perfect fit. When we search for people to come in and take roles that have been occupied by others or fill some spots that are open, we always wanted to look for someone that didn’t look like a replacement of the person that left, but more brought in their own character or assumed a role and made it their own. Robert Joy completely and absolutely did that, he just gave Sid Hammerback a feel–I feel people think he’s been with us forever. You forget that the first season was Hill and the next season it was rotating, and finally we landed on him. He made people feel like Sid was a part of the family since day one.
CSI Files: Season Three kicked off with Mac Taylor in bed with a woman, who was revealed to be chief medical examiner Dr. Peyton Driscoll. Claire Forlani was involved for most of Season Three in a recurring capacity. What was the genesis of adding a significant other to play off Mac?
Veasey: We wanted to take a step toward letting the audience in on the personal lives of our characters. Not totally and completely because it’s hard to do that when you’re a cop show and have the focus on the crime stories and the lab, but we wanted to say that Mac had the capacity and ability to seek a relationship. What we felt was convenient and believable was that it would be with someone who works in crime; we talked about D.A.’s, attorneys, all sorts of people. We realized that the medical examiner’s office pretty much 24/7 and there’s more than one medical examiner, so we were able to add Peyton. We loved Claire Forlani and thought she was the perfect fit for Mac and Gary in her beauty, her youth, her intelligence. It just seemed appropriate.
CSI Files: Season Three also kicked off a tradition of introducing smaller arcs, the first of which focused Shane Casey, a man responsible and behind brutal deaths. Terminator‘s Edward Furlong landed the role.
Veasey: We wanted to do arcs because we wanted the audience again, on a personal level, about making crime a little more personal. Edward Furlong seemed like the perfect fit; he had temperament and style, and wanted to play the bad guy. We did start out knowing we wanted to do an arc. We started out–and continued to do so–to build trilogies of bad guys; people that we didn’t have to catch in the first episode. They had stories that preoccupied our character for a while.
Early in the first season, I believe the second episode, Mac Taylor talked about the files on the edge of his desk; the cases he wanted to close. We wanted to give some life to the fact that other than the story we tell in an episode, there are other stories that don’t get completely solved.
CSI Files: “Consequences” continued the trend of personal storylines with the introduction of Mac’s deceased wife’s son, Reed Garrett (Kyle Gallner). With this development, Season Three really became a year of opening up Mac’s world.
Veasey: You don’t want to see the characters cook dinner. This was one I wrote and I was really fascinated in how do we give hints about moments in Mac’s life. We were talking about why didn’t he have children, how long have they been married, then we thought well what if she had a child? A child she put up for adoption many years ago and then met Mac. If I was a child at that age looking for my biological mother you kind of start from scratch. So we were very excited about pulling something left of his wife into his life despite the fact that he’s a complete stranger, but Mac being emotional about it not only because he had to say “your mother is no longer alive, she died on 9/11” but also being his living breathing connection to his wife. The actor that played the role was so tremendous that we continued to bring him on.
CSI Files: Anne Belknap became pregnant for the first time in Season Three and an arc was created for her character to coincide with her maternity leave. Was it ever considered to make Lindsay pregnant, still a fairly new addition to the team, on the series?
Veasey: Was that only Season Three? We talked about it, but there was an overwhelming desire not to quite yet. It had nothing to do whether she was going to remain a part of the series or not, it’s that we only met her in Season Two and the relationship with Danny was still fun with wondering if they would get together. We just thought it was too early to suddenly make Danny a father and Lindsay a mother; it was too soon. We lived with the changing hairdos and shooting a special way for Anna so that we could not tell the storyline that she was pregnant.
It was important in the flow of the relationship. The audience was enjoying the relationship of the two characters alone.
CSI Files: The season closed out with an action-packed, adrenaline-filled Die Hard-like installment titled “Snow Day” which was unlike any episode the show had done before.
Veasey: We wanted to do a movie. Myself, Peter Lenkov, along with the great director Duane Clark wanted the audience really invested in what they were seeing. It was really about setting a tone for the next season, which was “we’re gonna go big.” Things that we’d started this year–things we learned in this past season–we’re going to take to the next level. “Snow Day” was the end of that season but also the beginning of the next.
CSI Files: The “big season” was plagued by the writer’s strike. How did the strike impact your plans that year?
Veasey: I think it ended where we came back and did more episodes, but we had a lot of scripts done. What happened is the writers left but the scripts were completed, so as a producing team and unit we wanted our crew to work as much as possible. I think we literally turned in a script at midnight on the deadline of no more work could be done, we’re on strike. Our line producer Vikki Williams, director/producer Rob Bailey and Geoff Hemwalls continued to move our show forward so our crew could continue to get work, and I believe our crews were the hardest working before we started shutting down. Again, we had scripts done; we were prepared.
Then we were on strike and post-production was continuing to work because they had shows to cut and put together. We came back and picked up where left off, so to speak. The way we worked in our offices is we knew where we were going to go. We didn’t know the specifics of our season finale or anything like that, but we knew where we were gonna go. So we came back to complete all those things that we had plans for. It was a bump because it was emotionally tough and difficult for the crew and for us. It was a big bump, but definitely not a trench. We were blessed to be a really efficient group of people.
CSI Files: After introducing Jacqueline Pinol‘s character early in Season Four you brought Rikki back post-strike to continue her story with Danny. Initial reports indicated that she would stick around longer, but those plans never came to term. Did it just seem like at that point you knew pairing Danny and Lindsay together was par for the course?
Veasey: Yeah, we talked an awful lot after that second episode–which was a really emotional episode–about how Rikki was different from Lindsay. But we thought don’t tarnish everything about the Danny and Lindsay relationship, let Danny have his weak moment–if you could call it that–and show his vulnerability and weakness that was born out of something really traumatic. So we moved on with Danny and Lindsay moving forward. We thought of other stories with her, but it never seemed to be the right time.
CSI Files: In Season Five the show hit the one hundred episode mark with “My Name Is Mac Taylor.” Breaking the story for that episode did the writers want to do a story that focused on Mac, who really was the center of the series, or pursue it with a science mystery angle?
Veasey: It literally came out of a thought about the financial adviser to the state of California, whose name is Mac Taylor. When we had to clear names in New York you had to find ten or more to use the name, so we knew there were at least ten other people in New York City with the name Mac Taylor. And we thought if we’re going to do a story like that and it’s centered around Mac Taylor, whose been the force of the show, let’s focus on that. It’s something that’s very true and something we do daily when naming characters, we’ve got to do an identity show. We decided to do it for our hundredth.
CSI Files: Lindsay Messer became pregnant in Season Five, the first time a CSI from the franchise ended up in such a situation. Was it around this time that you knew this spinoff was different from the other two series? That character really is the emphasis of this particular show?
Veasey: It was something that had been told to us at the beginning of the series, that they were going to focus on character. It was told to Gary and Melina, and as a writer that was my experience on other cop-based shows; we were all selected for those very reasons. When we started the focus was keep the franchise alive–let’s not jump into it so quickly. By the time we got there we were all–including the actors–incredibly ready to expand the families. We kept saying everybody on our show is single or doesn’t have kids. Even if we can’t go home with them–I mean we started with Mac and Peyton’s relationship and hinting that he has a dating life, but what if we let those changes and things from home come to work because they work in the same place.
CSI Files: NY was also the first series in the franchise to give the actors an opportunity to pen a script for the show. Gary first in Season Two and then again in Season Five, and Melina with a script for “Grounds for Deception.” How did that collaborating process work?
Veasey: She had the idea and wanted to talk about it. Our rule was you can’t just say to the writers “Here’s an idea, I’ll see you later and give me credit.” We allowed anyone who wanted to participate in the process but had to do the work. Melina was thrilled to do it; she wanted to be in the writers’ room and wanted to see the other side. She’s really good at it and had a terrific perspective on the story. It was culturally appropriate for her with her Greek heritage and the story had a good turn. When someone brings it in and it works, you do it. It’s not that you’re saying we’re going to encourage the actors to write, it’s more they get really invested and know that our rules were you have to do the writing the way the writers do, and they did. There were others; one of our construction heads did a story. People prepared and pitched, and if they did the work and it worked, we didn’t go “but you’re just this person.” We entertained the idea and said okay, now be a part of the writers’ room. Melina was a part of the room, producing, casting and it was a really great experience.
CSI Files: “Pay Up” was a particularly emotional finale with the death of Detective Angell (Emmanuelle Vaugier). Sides had leaked online revealing who would bite the bullet months in advance. Were the writers ever concerned with the material that was getting leaked and how did that fear determine what was put out there?
Veasey: We didn’t like it; nobody likes what’s leaked. We do notify our actors of big changes way before the script is written if we know it’s going to happen, so that wasn’t news to her. The evolution of technology that people can just scan something and send it out is just how this business works, I suppose. But part of you says “will people be talking about it and can’t wait to see it?” and then part of you says something differently. I think either way people tune in to see how is it going to happen. It is difficult when you want to keep things secret–it really was difficult to change what we did at that point, because television shows keep moving; you have to put a script out. You can’t put in false pages. Ultimately if people are going to leak it it’s going to be from your show, someone’s going to get the pages from somewhere. We didn’t want to be in the business of tracking pages while producing a television show.
CSI Files: Shane Casey made a dramatic return in Season Six, escaping jail and targeting the Messer family in the “Vacation Getaway” season finale, which ended on a cliffhanger. On that hiatus Melina decided she was leaving the show. From a character standpoint, her character in the finale wasn’t too prominent in the finale in terms of having some closure. How did her departure go down exactly?
Veasey: Right. I was deeply involved with that–we didn’t find out until a week before the writers came back to work on the next season. We had literally finished the season, written six episodes over the break–we wanted to get ahead, so we could enjoy the start and not be in a rush–, and broken stories that had all included Melina for the next season; people went off and wrote those scripts. Literally the Friday before the writers were supposed to start–well, it really started the Wednesday before–the conversations about Melina not coming back, how to get her back, then it moved to who do we get instead of, pitching to Sela Ward if she was interested and trying to close that deal. I was on a vacation with my children talking from my cell phone in Hoover Dam making deals in 104 degrees. [Laughs.] I was literally on the I-15 trying to pitch to Sela Ward here’s a character, but a day before I was trying to figure out if Melina is coming back; it wasn’t at all planned by the writers. Once we got back some scripts had to be merged, some had to be tossed out, some had to be changed, and we had to keep marching forward because the show was back.
CSI Files: You mentioned feeling like Robert Joy had been with the show since the beginning, and I feel like Sela sort of entered in that same way; she fit in perfectly.
Veasey: Right, I know! We were so successful with those kinds of transitions–with Anna after Vanessa Ferlito, Sid Hammerback, and Jo Danville played by Sela Ward; again our goal is to never to say this is a replacement of that person, but to say here is a new member of our team. I’m sure many people miss Melina, but Jo didn’t have to be her. She rose into her own.
I had no idea until I met her that she was from the south and still had an accent, she always played a character that sort of lost it or buried it a bit. We said we’ll let you be you, and she loved that. She’s this huge Crimson Tide Alabama girl. [Laughs.] We let Jo be that and we had a great advantage of having this character have a lot of family. Sela was an absolute joy; we definitely missed Melina, but it was great to find Sela and have her join our team.
CSI Files: Part of the plans put on hold for Season Seven was the love triangle between Mac, Peyton (who returned for “Point of View” in Season Six), and Aubrey Hunter (played by Mädchen Amick). Once Jo Danville joined the team there was evident chemistry between Mac and Jo, but also between Flack and Jo. Did the writers ever considering exploring that path, or did there need to be a strict emphasis on keeping those relationships platonic?
Veasey: We always followed the rule of platonic relationships when they start, so that the credibility of the work they do is not judged by a relationships they have. Lots of people wanted Jo to find Mac and Mac to find Jo. Flack… that’s interesting to me; it was occasionally commented on, but not as much as Mac and Jo. Before we moved in that direction ever, we wanted to tell Jo’s story and get to know her–that was always our rule. The only relationship–well, not so quickly–was Eddie Cahill‘s relationship with Detective Angell; but that was still two years. We always took our time so you were cheering for the relationship to happen. Sela herself made Gary smile a lot and that came across in the scenes that they did; they seemed to be the grown ups and the experience. They seemed compatible, but don’t rush it; let Mac have another relationship before they got there. It could have easily happened in the next season, had there been one.
CSI Files: Because of being ‘on the bubble’ for renewal the last few seasons, the writers had to craft finales, such as “Exit Strategy,” to not only serve as season finales, but also as potential series finales. Having a show on for seven years and not knowing if you’re going to be back, so you have to create just one episode to wrap things up… I imagine that was very difficult.
Veasey: It was three years in a row. Each year you wanted to say, “if it’s the last one will the audience feel good about what they saw?” It won’t be a big bang, because they always said to us no cliffhangers; that’s when you knew you were on the bubble. Our goal was to show the audience where these characters would go next. We did it in Season Seven, again in Season Eight, and Season Nine was definitely the finale. Seven and Eight was difficult because we just didn’t know, but we wanted the audience to say that was special enough and I’m satisfied.
CSI Files: In Season Nine I had been told the plan was to do eighteen episodes, but the writers were making an effort to close a deal for a couple more to reach the 200-episode milestone. But in the end the show was cut an episode, and the final total was seventeen installments.
Veasey: They picked up Golden Boy and moved Vegas, and I think it became about “who are we next year?” for CBS. I knew they had a plan for what they were going to air, and March Madness has always been a hard thing to recover from. They wanted us to end before that and because of our schedule that pushed us to seventeen episodes; we would end the last week of sweeps. It was disappointing because we would have been so happy had it been the end to finish at 200 episodes, but we got 197. It still breaks my heart today, I’m not over it. We ended with a great episode.
CSI Files: Was a story conceived for what the 200th would have been?
Veasey: The finale of the series had a few bits of it. It was definitely going to center on Mac and he was going to propose, but we thought it was going to be a wedding. We even talked of it being a wedding that you thought was going to be Christine Whitley (Megan Dodds), but it would have been to Jo. Something really shocking out of nowhere. We continued with our plans for the season, but we had lots of options to make it really big.
CSI Files: That final season was really about focusing on the personal lives: Flack and his sister Sam (Kathleen Munroe), Dr. Hammerback diagnosed with cancer, Danny and Lindsay expecting another child. Were these stories written in a way that the writers had somewhat of a feeling that this is the end?
Veasey: Yeah. We decided Season Nine was the year to really focus on personal story and as we pitched to get picked up for Season Nine–well, they always ask “why is it worth coming back?” and for us it was the personal days off. We let you see closure for Flack, his sister and his father, and we got to film in Yankee Stadium; you got to see Jo learn about her history and her sister giving up a heart; AJ Buckley beautifully play a relationship that we had hinted at for years about his relationship with his father; we also did Sid Hammerback who a year before had won money and gives up a lot of money to strangers who had families on his table. It was about defining who our characters were and would absolutely bring closure. We definitely wanted Lindsay pregnant so it was all about new beginnings, closure, endings, joy, hope and satisfaction for the audience.
CSI Files: Like what you did in Season Nine, were you able to pitch to CBS and fight for a Season Ten?
Veasey: Those talks never came. I asked if that was something that was necessary and they said “you did such a great job last year and way beyond our expectations, we won’t put you through it again.” It was pretty traumatic and nerve-wracking; it was four shows that had to go and pitch for their lives. They said we’ll either pick you up or we won’t.
CSI Files: Melina never returned to close out her character before the series was cancelled.
Veasey: Yeah. We went to her several times. It was a goal of mine personally because I really liked Melina–I really do, still–and she was so essential to the show. We asked several times and it just didn’t happen.
CSI Files: Nine years is nothing to scoff at. You personally were involved from the very beginning and really just as responsible for its success as Anthony is. Looking back at the show ten years from now, when you’re working on your next project and talking to people about your previous work, what do you think the show’s legacy will be?
Veasey: I think it’ll be about the people. People will go, “Look at what Eddie Cahill is doing now” and “Wow, Gary Sinise!” For me it will be about writers I was with: Peter Lenkov, Zachary Reiter, and Trey Callaway… it’ll be about the people that were there. I have the honor of that now having worked on In Living Color. Now people realize I worked with Jennifer Lopez, Jamie Foxx, Damon Wayans, Jim Carrey and David Alan Grier. It really is about the people you were connected with. You’re in the company of tremendous people that make shows last like that, that get people talking about them. It’ll be that I worked with Anthony and that I was under the banner of Jerry Bruckheimer, Ann Donahue and Carol Mendelsohn. It’s really not about specific episodes–people always ask me about that–but it’s about the people. You know it’s not the end for Anna Belknap or Hill Harper… and Robert Joy, I just went to see him in theater the other night. It was a family of people that will continue to do amazing things and that’s why people will say “Wow, you were on that.”
This is sort of like beautiful punctuation. You took me through nine years so brilliantly just now, Shane, that I don’t know what to do. When you started I went “what will I remember?” but each time you asked me a question I went to that moment. It was a very special nine years with great people. Anthony Zuiker will always be a beacon for all of it.