Ann Donahue

By Kristine Huntley
Posted at April 10, 2006 - 2:58 PM GMT

Ann Donahue has been with the CSI franchise since the beginning, starting out as co-executive producer on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation before moving over to run the first spin-off, CSI: Miami. Now in its fourth season and currently the number one show in the world, CSI: Miami is more popular than ever before. Donahue, whose writing credits include pivotal episodes such as "Cross-Jurisidictions", "MIA/NYC--NonStop" and "Lost Son" shared her insights into some of the major developments during Miami's run and revealed a few twists from the fourth season's exciting conclusion to CSI Files' Kristine Huntley.

CSI Files: It's been a whirlwind year for Horatio Caine (David Caruso). Are we going to learn more this season about the day his parents died, and Horatio's involvement in it?

Ann Donahue: We have kept the story about the death of Horatio's mother in the background only because he's currently dealing with his blossoming relationship with Eric Delko's (Adam Rodriguez) sister. Horatio and Marisol (Alana De La Garza) will marry during our second episode of sweeps. She is still fighting cancer and she will meet a tragic end (not cancer-related).

CSI Files: What draws Horatio and Marisol together?

Donahue: The things that draw Horatio and Marisol together are that they are the right people for each other at the right time. Marisol, fighting cancer, needs hope, needs to not be treated like a patient, but a young woman with a future. And Horatio is able to do that for her. He's also older and wiser, and therefore more able to have fun and let her relax and forget the vicissitudes of her daily life. He also probably enjoys that their relationship is not entangled the way his and Yelena's (Sofia Milos) was--yes, Marisol is a coworker's sibling, but Yelena was his brother's widow. Life with Marisol is simpler, more immediate.

CSI Files: Will Horatio and Marisol's relationship continue into next season? Can you give any hints as to what's next for them now that they've discussed having a baby?

Donahue: While Horatio and Marisol would like to continue their marriage into Season Five, tragic events ensue in during May 2006 sweeps that preclude that.

CSI Files: How did the idea to have a mole in the lab come about?

Donahue: We had the idea for a mole at the very beginning of the season. And an idea like that comes out of writers in the writers' room saying "What would be interesting, what would shake up the characters, what would I like to see as a viewer?" The Miami cast is superlative, and when we watch dailies, we see how they mesh, how they tease each other, how they interact. We began to see a real family there, headed by Horatio. And we thought, if our actors are communicating such intimacy and trust to each other, wouldn't it be interesting if that trust were thwarted? The tough decision was choosing who the mole is, because that person would definitely have to leave the show. We think we found a good way to reveal the mole, and then reveal people even "worse" than the mole, for their part in causing a mole to be installed at the Miami lab in the first place.

CSI Files: Will the identity of the mole be revealed before the end of the season?

Donahue: The identity of the mole will indeed be revealed this season, in our last episode airing May 22, 2006. It's going to be a scintillating episode--our cast will be at odds and things will be said among characters that may never be forgotten--or forgiven.

CSI Files: Are there any plans to put Rex Linn (Frank Tripp) and Eva La Rue (Natalia Boa Vista) in the opening credits of the show? Will La Rue's character be back next season?

Donahue: Yes, we’re pleased to announce right here that Rex Linn and Eva LaRue will be in the opening credits next season. Rex has been with the show almost from its inception. He's an amazing actor and great guy (and a huge Longhorns fan, "don't mess with Texas" is his motto). And Eva has been a wonderful addition to Miami. As Natalia Boa Vista, she's found herself in a romantic triangle with Adam Rodriguez's Eric Delko and Jonathan Togo's Ryan Wolfe, which has caused real trouble among all three of them--trouble that's only going to get worse. We love Eva here--she has a fabulous work ethic and is a delight to watch on screen.

CSI Files: The arc with Ryan Wolfe's recent problems (his eyesight, freezing up at a shootout) has been really interesting to watch. Can you hint at what's coming up for him?

Donahue: We can't hint as to what's coming up regarding Ryan's eye problems because it would give away too much. But his eye situation will play in helping us reveal the identity of the mole. [W]e promise that the mole is not a secondary character of Miami. It is someone who is beloved by the audience.

CSI Files: How does the writers' room at Miami function? How does the idea for an episode come about and develop?

Donahue: How does Miami's room function? Our writers are the best--they're fun, funny, curious, industrious, gifted and extremely hardworking. So when people ask where the stories come from, they come from our writers ceaselessly availing themselves to stories, books news and plain old gossip. We also have two former cops on staff as writers, John Haynes (Retired Homicide Detective) and Liz Devine (Retired CSI). They often give us pages out of their life stories on the job. Out of those discussions will arise an idea. If the idea interests enough of the room, an entire four-act structure is pursued. That can take 45 minutes or five days. Usually, the latter.

Very often, our ideas are borne from talking to David Caruso, Emily Procter, Adam Rodriguez, Khandi Alexander ("The doctor is in"), Jonathan Togo, Rex and Eva on the set. Our actors convey ideas to us straight on--or by letting us have a peek into their lives. For instance, David Caruso realized that it would be compelling if he were to become involved in the life of Eric Delko's sister--it would cause friction but also cement the characters of Horatio and Delko as relatives. We talk with David as we go about how to develop stories, threads, characters. Specifically, the Horatio/Marisol/Delko story crescendos in the last scene of the last episode--and it's a scene that David came up with. Meanwhile, as we're filming that very episode, writer Sunil Nayar was talking to Adam on the set about how we'd like to tweak his character within scenes that lead up to the crescendo.

Very early on, Emily Procter spoke to us about being Southern in America today. While we as writers were going down a path wherein her character would have come from a poor family and wanted to hide that fact--she said it's so much truer to a Southern girl's experience to come from money, to marry the guy at the country club, to not have to work. Emily explained (and we adopted) that Calleigh's dad (John Heard) would not understand her desire to be a CSI. She'd have to live down his paternal desire to have her be someone's pretty wife, rather than a cop. I think Emily carries that ethos into every scene she plays--suspects start off talking down to the beautiful southern belle, and are slowly surprised by her steel and stamina. I could go on and on about what our actors give us, story- and character-wise. But it's better for an audience to watch and wonder and not know how they make that magic.

CSI Files: Will you personally be penning an episode before the end of the season?

Donahue: I have written the last episode with one our writer/producers, Sunil. I don’t often get to do that, since I have so many other chores as showrunner. There's a great phrase I've heard for showrunners, "Write more by writing less," which means to be extremely specific and creative at the story stage, so that your staff of writers has clear guidelines and can write their own episode. After that, I make touch ups to fix anything I failed to communicate at the story stage. And of course, there're always structural and production changes, but our writers are talented enough that they handle all those under my and other producers' supervision.

CSI Files: How did you originally come to CSI: Crime Scene Investigation originally?

Donahue: I came to CSI, the Vegas show, as a lark. It was the last pilot picked up by CBS. I had just ended a deal with NBC. I love to write procedurals and this new procedural was looking for a writer. Luckily, the showrunner, Carol Mendelsohn, had the same agent as I (the fabulous Paul Haas) and lived three doors down from me in Westwood. I walked down to meet Carol one night after dinner, we talked, realized we'd both worked for Stephen Cannell, thought alike about how to approach drama and entertainment, and to my everlasting gratitude, Carol hired me. Carol introduced me to creator Anthony Zuiker, a guy who is generous and genius. Doing CSI reawakened my love for television, for writing, for producing. It's been the time of my life, and being a part of the franchise has enabled me to give my children a financial stability most writers can't count on.

CSI Files: How did you decide you wanted to write for television?

Donahue: Funny but true, I decided to write for television when I was seven and saw I Love Lucy. How I knew at that green age that people wrote for television, or that I could, I'll never know. Shows that inspired me? Hill Street Blues, St. Elsewhere, Family, Mary Tyler Moore. And yes, I'm as old that seems.

CSI Files: When the decision to create CSI: Miami was made, how did you get the showrunner position?

Donahue: I became showrunner of Miami simply because I had co-created it (with Anthony and Carol). CSI was in its third season by then, and as much as I loved the cast, crew and staff, Miami was having growing pains and needed a showrunner. It was exhilarating to move my base to Manhattan Beach, CA (from Santa Clarita) and work with our actors and crew, and assemble a writing staff. What is particularly impressive to me about David Caruso, I must say, is that we are in our fourth season now, and David still arrives a half hour early every day, not only prepared on his dialogue, but eager to talk about the scene, the story, to add, subtract and shape the day's scenes. To see that kind of dedication inspires me (and the whole staff).

I do miss the old gang. Carol, Anthony and I have had more laughs than I can count. Anthony's very special to me. We're far apart in age but similar in humor. Plus, I love seeing how his mind works. That's why I liked doing the Miami-CSI: NY crossover this past season, getting to spend time with Anthony was the best. (Carol was doing her pilot, a really cool show about a large law firm in DC). Anyway, there aren't many people who make me laugh from "hello." Anthony does. I also really admire how much grace he has shown with the success of CSI, how he has shared his good fortune with so many people. And how he keeps working as hard as a never-produced writer, when he could kick back and just collect checks. He's a guy who loves the craft of storytelling and, as much as he knows, always wants to learn more. He's a wonderful man, husband, father, and talent.

CSI Files: Over the entire of Miami's run, what twist or plotline do you think was most effective?

Donahue: I like a lot of the plotlines and twists: Calleigh's boyfriend, Hagan, killing himself in her firearms lab; Calleigh's Dad showing up with blood on himself, saying he drove drunk and killed someone; Ryan going from a grateful newbie to a very ambitious CSI; the Ryan/Delko/Boa Vista triangle; Tripp's unnerving good ol' boy remarks; Tripp and Delko getting into a dust up over Tripp’s remarks. Alexx working an autopsy when a "dead" body starts kicking from inside the steel drawer behind her; Alexx helping a young man in AA, and finding her colleague on her table, dead from drunk driving; Horatio's relationship with Yelena, his dropping the sexy DA because she let a cop killer free; Horatio battling the Mala Noche; Horatio hooking up with Marisol, sitting with Marisol as she takes chemo, Horatio going after the FBI person who bothered Marisol. Pretty much David Caruso a/k/a Horatio taking on the powers that be. Also, I have to say our recurring characters (Valera, Foster, Cooper, Kayle, Aaron Peters), are really good--smart, believable, and compelling. A great addition.

CSI Files: Do you have a favorite episode of Miami?

Donahue: When people ask what my favorite episode is, it's honestly like asking who your favorite child is. They're all my fave. We have the best cast and crew (lead by Don Tardino and Sam Hill) in the business and I tend to love everything they put on screen. And our post-production department, lead by Gina Lamar, is so talented and inventive, that I think their latest cut of each episode is my favorite. That said, the show has done some killer episodes: the plane crashing in the Everglades, the hurricane, the 90 minute tsunami, the armored car take down (where Horatio shoots a suspect and then says, "They never listen"--which David made up on the day), the episode where Tim Speedle dies, the Leo & Sienna episodes, the Speed Dating episode, the episode told from three different CSI's POV, the Horatio and Walter Resden episodes, the episode where Horatio dealt with a witness who was a 38-year-old retarded man; the episode where Horatio deals with is brother Ray's return; the episode where Horatio puts Yelena on a plane to Brazil with his brother. Total Casablanca.

CSI Files: How much of a challenge did Rory Cochrane's (Tim Speedle) decision to leave the show after season two present for the writing team?

Donahue: Rory Cochrane's leaving the show was difficult in that we like Rory. He's talented and funny and sweet. But when a CSI franchise actor says he can't get excited about the evidence, it's kind of like Rocky saying he can't get excited about boxing--it's time to leave the ring.

CSI Files: How was the character of Ryan Wolfe created? Was there a conscious decision made to differentiate him from his predecessor?

Donahue: We were blessed in that we found Jonathan Togo to join our cast. He's smart, funny and extremely engaging (on screen and off). And what's more, he loves being part of the show. He's a guy who not only gets excited about the evidence (playing the subtext of the prevailing murder), but he was and is game to changing up his character. Jonathan's a Back East (Boston) guy, so he doesn't have airs about him. However, he has a line of respect that nobody had dare cross. And we've endeavored to bring that line to the fore. Yes, Ryan Wolfe is the nice new guy, but he has evolved into the young man who wants to make his bones as a CSI--and move up.

CSI Files: CSI: Miami was recently crowned the number one show in the world.

Donahue: Yes, we have recently become aware that Miami has been crowned the Number One show in the world, but as writers, we don't get out much. It's work, restaurants and home. However, David Caruso just got back from Cannes, where he was invited and feted. People who were there with him are much better able to describe the phenomena. We've heard he was mobbed by international fans night and day. He had a police escort from his private jet to the city of Cannes, where a crime scene had been mocked up for "Horatio." What I can tell you is that whether we experience the accolades in person or in the retelling, each of us is extremely proud of Miami's place in television history. Television being what it is, however, Number One or One Hundred, we still have to get the next script out (our writers are currently slaving to have Episode 25 completed today, the first day of prep).

CSI Files: How aware are you of fan reaction to the show? Do you ever read boards like Talk CSI to gage fan's opinions of the characters or the stories?

Donahue: Do I ever read fan boards on the internet about the CSI franchise or Miami in particular? No. I don't have email, and don't know how to get on the internet. But if I could, I doubt that I would. It's like asking someone their opinion of you. Even with kind intentions, one can inadvertently be hurt. Writers don't need more hurt. Nor do actors. And we figure the audience speaks to us through the remote--Top Ten in the States, Number One in the World. (Excuse my boasting, which is not meant to elevate myself personally but rather all those talented people who make CSI: Miami).

CSI Files: Have you started planning season five yet? What direction do you think it will take the show in?

Donahue: Yes, we are already planning Season Five (even though we are still filming our last two episodes from this current season). We are in the early stages of talks to film in South America. We do know that Horatio will be pursuing a bad guy throughout next season, but beyond that, we need a break before we attack next season. [O]ur third episode next season will be our 100th. And as David Caruso says, seems like we're just getting started.

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Kristine Huntley is a freelance writer and reviewer.