Corey Miller

By Kristine Huntley
Posted at January 11, 2006 - 9:37 PM GMT

When CBS.com decided to make their website more interactive, the network added several blogs related to their hit shows. CSI: Miami was one of the first to launch a blog, and executive producer Ann Donahue tapped Executive Story Editor Corey Miller for the job. "I think she wanted me to have fun with it and strike up a good relationship with the fans out there that are interested in the show," Miller says of the blog.

Initially unsure of what fans were looking for on the blog, Miller decided to open it up to fan queries by offering up his e-mail address. He was thrilled with the overwhelming response from fans around the world. "At first I figured I would put my e-mail address up to get feedback from people as far as what they wanted to know about the show so I ended up doing some question and answer [sections] in the body of the blogs," Miller notes. "I [wanted to] give more information that people would really like to know because these are things I would have liked to know when I was enjoying a show, especially when I wanted to get into the entertainment business. A lot of people that have written to me want to be writers or want to know how to break into the business in general. It's been really gratifying to hear from people--I've gotten e-mails from all over the world, even people that are a season behind who read CBS.com just to catch up with what we're doing this year even though they're not going to be able to see the episodes for a year."

Miller also decided to broaden the blog beyond the perspective of a writer for the show by posting interviews with other colleagues such as Editor John Refoua and Assistant Director Marco Black. The interviews give fans a chance to see the many different tasks that go into creating an episode of CSI: Miami. "I figured that would be another thing people would be interested in hearing about, not just from the writer's standpoint but from all of the other standpoints because there are tons of people doing jobs you don't really think of as 'Hollywood.' A lot of the times the writers and actors get a lot of the credit for things but there're so many people that are doing such great work [behind the scenes]," Miller says.

Incidentally, Miller himself almost ended up in another field: when he first entered the business as a production assistant for Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, he was initally interested in pursuing a career in editing. "I started to really think I could actually [get into scriptwriting] when I was a production assistant on Lois & Clark," Miller comments. "That was my first real paying job. I didn't really know what I wanted to do in the business yet, but I just wanted to be in it in some way. I think I started reading a lot more scripts and I started thinking, 'I think I can do this; I might as well just try it.' At the time I was working so many hours and I didn't have time to really concentrate on writing a script. I was working 15-18 hours a day. I had a friend from school I partnered up with, and he and I would write together. My friend and I wrote a couple of different shows and tried to get some samples going, but the first thing we did was we wrote a Lois & Clark spec. One of the writers, John McNamara used to come into our office a lot--he was a cool guy and we'd joke around a lot, and I started doing the thing that everyone does at some point: I just started stalking him until he read my script. A couple of months went by, and then one day he called me into his office and said he had started to read it and he had stopped because it was close to an idea they were already talking about but he said, 'I thought it was really good, you're on the same page as us, so why don't you come pitch some stories.' We went away for a day--we did it really fast--and we pitched five ideas and they actually bought one. Even though it took me years after that to do anything againÖit's kind of unheard of that an office production assistant can sell a story to a show. It was the jump start needed to see I could really do this. I had to start over because I was in production and I had to get to the writers' area. It takes tons of good luck and timing and perseverance."

Miller's latest blog entries have revolved around the filming of the latest episode he's penned, "Fade Out." He teases that the episode revolves around "two college students who are writing a script that actually has a lot of true life parallels" and that there will be a revelation about Ryan's eye problems. Miller has been keeping a set diary of sorts, a blow by blow of the process of shooting an episode. It's a process Miller is thrilled to be involved in. "Both Carol Mendelsohn (CSI: Crime Scene Investigation's showrunner) and Ann Donahue both grew up in the business where they had writers' rooms and they got to go to set and produce their episodes. They've carried that [over onto the CSI shows] and we all really appreciate that because we got to learn by actually doing as opposed to just hearing theories," Miller says of his on set experiences. "That does not happen on every show. There are many shows that the writers never see the set."

Miller finds the involvement of the writers with the filming process valuable for several reasons. "It's a great break in routine first of all to go off to the set, but at the same time, I donít see how shows can do that without the writer there because things happen naturally on the set that help shape the script or the final product," Miller comments. "Sometimes things have to change because the location you're at doesn't fit exactly, or there are certain actors that stumble across certain words [that] sound funny coming out of their mouths, so you have to be there to alter it. A lot of questions have to be answered and crime scenes have to be staged in an exact way. I feel like without us there a lot of things could go sideways, so I'm surprised that all shows donít do that. It's also good just having another pair of eyes on set to make sure that everything flows the way it should."

Ideas for Miami episodes are born in the writers' room, where the show's creative minds gather to come up with the genus of future episodes. "There are a few different ways [for an episode idea to be sparked]," Miller reveals. "[Sometimes it's] a very powerful image, like a person rising out of a coffin shooting, but oftentimes, and this happened on CSI, too, weíd talk about 'worlds.' A lot of times weíll do an episode and say we want to get really involved in that world. We did that episode about the Grand Prix racecars. My very first episode [of Miami] first season was called ďTinder BoxĒ [about] a club fire. Sometimes itís just a simple pitch that turns into a whole episode." "Other times episodes can start with a simple idea for an exciting teaser," Miller continues. "Some kind of image will stick in our minds as a really cool teaser and then we just keep riffing on, ďhow can I turn it into a story?Ē There really are so many ways ideas germinate. That's whatís really helpful in having an actual writers' room--up to eight to ten people sitting around and literally one person will just bring up one thing and maybe that's not really the way to go but it will spark someone else to go, 'But if you take that and take it this way that could be really cool.' And then someone riffs off that and that's another way to go. Sometimes Ann Donahue will just think of something over the weekend and say, 'I want to do an episode about X' and then she'll leave the room and we'll talk about it until we think of some kind of general story. She's so efficient and good in the room that [sometimes] she'll say, 'I was thinking of a story, and by the end of act two you get to here, and by act three you get to here, and this happens in the end.' And then she'll leave and we form a story around that. There are so many different ways--I guess thatís what makes it exciting."

One thing Miller is quick to debunk is the idea that the job of a writer is suffused with glitz and glamour. "People think itís glamorous when itís really not," Miller shares. "There aren't a lot of moments where you really feel like, 'Wow, I'm working in Hollywood!' The only times it really hits you are things like when I do the blog and get all this fan mail from all over the world, that makes you sit back and go, 'There are a lot of people that are entertained by this.' But usually we come in and it's like any other job, which is funny to say. It's great, we get paid to throw out our ideas and have fun trying to literally write everything we'd like to see in a show, but yet there's not this sheen of Hollywood surrounding it. The term Hollywood shouldn't even exist anyway because not that much happens in the actual town of Hollywood. Things are scattered out all over southern California. Like anyone else, we just happen to be working on a set. We're all just working like everyone else, it just happens to be in an environment that a lot of people are able to witness our work, which we really appreciate."

Though much of what's seen on the show is a collaborative effort, Miller has had a big hand in the development of the character of Ryan Wolfe (Jonathan Togo). In addition to "Nailed", Miller and Mark Dube penned "Under the Influence", the episode that introduced the Wolfe character. Miller reveals that the storyline that introduced Wolfe--his investigation of Calleigh Duquesne's (Emily Proctor) father's possible involvement in a homicide--was conceived before Rory Cochrane (Tim Speedle) decided to leave Miami at the beginning of the show's third season. "We actually thought of the story that introduces him, before Rory had talked about leaving. We had talked about a story with Calleigh's father coming back, [saying], 'I think I killed someone' and having to fill in his memories with forensics. We tabled it for a while, and then we were trying to think of how to introduce a new character and we started talking about that story again. It seemed like a perfect way to get someone involved, a very impartial observer, who had no ties to CSI, to bring them in to solve the case. No one from CSI can really investigate it without it looking like there was some sort of conflict of interest. So the storyline kind of popped out that way."

The departure of Cochrane, who informed the writers of his desire to leave just as they were about to begin work on the third season, made scripting the beginning of the season somewhat challenging. "It really kind of threw a wrench into things because there were some negotiations going on and we didn't know what to do, so we ended up not even dealing with episode one for a number of weeks and instead we just worked on episodes two and three," Miller reveals. "That was a little difficult, because we just didnít know how much to start working on that episode or if [Rory] was going to stay or not stay. I think when he opted out, the network and Ann Donahue could have said, 'I'm sorry, you're stuck here, we have you under contract.' Their viewpoint is 'if you're ready to move on, that's fine, we can move on as well.' So it did throw off our season a little--it got us off to a slow start because usually when we begin the season we hit the ground running and we get the first three [episodes] knocked out pretty quick. But because we didn't know, [and] that would definitely inform a [future] episode, if a character died. It was the final decision of Ann Donahue to kill him off just to give the season a really powerful beginning. Once that was decided, we wrote that whole thing into the story [of"Lost Son"] and kind of wrapped the story around it. It [was] hard to find a good way to put him in the situation where he was killed and we knew that there would be a lot of personal beats in that episode, too. We had to re-tailor episodes two and three to refer to that, but if you watch episodes two and three there aren't a lot of mentions of him [because they were written first], without knowing. But then we brought in the Wolfe character early on. ["Under the Influence"] was actually shot fourth and then we ended up airing it third. If you look at episode four, which was shot third, Wolfe wasnít actually cast yet and we did that whole episode without him and then we ended up shooting one scene and inserted it into that episode to make it look like he hadnít just disappeared. He was in court."

Miller reveals that Togo himself, after being picked out from an audition tape by Donahue herself, was influential in helping shape his character as well. "He just had such a unique take on the character--his attention to detail in the audition, he kind of got it right away," Miller reveals. "So we took what we knew about him from our [initial early] experience with Jonathan and put a little bit of that into the character. We wanted him to be very different from the Speedle character. The actors actually inform who their characters are going to become just by who they are. Jonathan was the same way--he's a very funny guy, very light-hearted, so that kind of infused Wolfe's character from the beginning. Plus he and Emily have such a funny rapport on set that a lot of that bled into the characters as well."

"Nailed," the episode Miller co-wrote with Barry O'Brien, provided the writer with some exciting shooting experiences, as well as an opportunity to tease Togo good-naturedly. "I told Jonathan, 'I brought you into this world, I can take you out of it again!'" Miller chuckles about the episode that found Ryan getting shot in the eye with a nail gun at a crime scene.

"That was not my idea," Miller says. "I don't know who originated it first, but (Co-Executive Producer) Elizabeth Devine and Ann Donahue ended up bringing that up at the beginning of the season as something to do, and we kept thinking that it would never happen, that thereís no way we could get away with that. [But] the network was fine with it, [so] we thought wow, that would really jump start an episode, to start an episode with that. We donít usually get assigned stories until theyíre all worked out-whoever is available or might have more of an affinity for that subject matter will get assigned an episode. It happened to be my fate."

Miller particularly enjoys the eye-opening beginning of the episode, with Ryan screaming in pain and fellow CSI Eric Delko (Adam Rodriguez) driving frantically, trying to get his wounded colleague to the hospital. "We originally had conceived of that to not have the opening of the stock shots of the city," Miller explains. "We were just going to go right into Ryan screaming. But then when we watched the first cut it was pretty obvious right away that it was a little too abrupt. It was already pretty abrupt as it was, but the way TV is now, as soon as the credits end for the previous show you go right into the next show, [and] we were afraid someone would take a bathroom break and miss the whole beginning! So we went back to putting in some Miami shots to get the mood like a regular teaser, but then you see Ryan on the worst day of his life."

Miller enjoys playing with the audience's expectations and shaking things up: "That becomes the challenge now. The formula is great--it is what it is--but occasionally you want to throw convention on its head and create things people donít expect. We tried that in another episode last year, "Recoil" when we threw you in the mix in the teaser, and then suddenly went eight hours earlier and started [from there]. It's kind of a fun way for us to be able to change up the show a little bit," Miller says.

Several storylines have sparked viewer interest this season, such as the introduction of cold case specialist, Natalia Boa Vista (Eva LaRue), who was brought into the lab with a hefty grant. Miller notes that the introduction of her character was done with a very specific purpose in mind. "We wanted to rebuild the set and she became a great way to get that started," he explains. "It was Elizabeth Devine that brought up the idea of the grant--'Grant Girl' we kept calling her for a while before she had a name. That really does happen where in order to get federal money you can actually open up a cold case department. At the end of last season the decision was made to rebuild our CSI lab. When we went casting for it, we all liked Eva a lot and we figured if we could get her in there and [have her] butt heads with people, that would be fun, too. Itís always good at some point to throw different people into the mix and see if they work out. We're using Eva in a lot of fun ways now and she's not just cold case girl, but I think when the time comes, we can use that."

The revelation of a mole in the lab is another plotline that has attracted viewers' attention, and Miller says the writers are enjoying playing with the idea and how it's affecting the characters. "We are laying a lot of subtle hints here and there, but we're trying to show you how it could really be anyone," Miller says. "Gossip could be a part of it, fighting between different CSI lab techs. One thing we always thought is interesting is that the lab is just like any other work environment in that people work together so many hours of the day, naturally people are talking about each other behind their backs. It's like a game of telephone, where you say the smallest little thing and it turns into a whole other story that's not even true. We want to kind of play with that, that it's a work environment just like yours, and if the wrong person was placed in this environment, a lot of bad information could get out. There could be some pretty high-reaching ramifications."

One twist Miller will take credit for getting the ball rolling on is Delko's recent woes, with the illness of his sister and being busted for buying pot. " I did bring up that this year it might be interesting to get Delko to open up more about dealing with the death of Speedle in a more unique way by actually introducing his sister, and that she was actually dying or very sick, and thatís kind of distracting him," Miller says. "I brought up the fact that maybe a lot of times when he was acting out it wasn't necessarily because of Speedle, but kind of said that it was because he was acting out for another reason that was close to home, which was a family member was sick. That ended up turning into a storyline for half the season with Marisol, her having cancer and how heís been dealing with it. In a way, my initial idea sparked a lot of other people to jump on board with that and then it turned into a multi-episode arc with Delko."

Miller has learned from feedback on his blog just how much viewers appreciate the storylines involving the characters. "This didn't even hit me until I started getting e-mails from the blog and suddenly it hit me that in a way revealing just a little bit of these characters gradually over the course of a number of years almost plays out like a mystery itself. We don't do a lot with the characters so the smallest little things [are taken] as a clue. Some shows [have] characters [who] wear everything on their sleeves all the time, [where the audience] pretty much knows where they are at every moment in their lives and what they're doing, but since we don't go home with our characters, when you hear any kind of personal revelation about them it hits home more than a lot of other shows because people are dying to find out what's going to happen next. Sometimes we donít mention it again for a few more episodes. I think the characters' own backstories play out like a mystery in their own way."

Miller has been impressed by the depth of the e-mails that show just how much impact Miami has on the 19 to 20 million viewers who tune into the show on a weekly basis. "[The response to the blog is] more than just random e-mails that spout off something and leave--they're very thoughtful and articulate and intelligent," Miller says of the feedback he's gotten about the show. "It's nice to hear the show be effective in that matter. We're not trying to change the world or anything but when people look at it on a lot of different levels it's gratifying and really shows you that some people have built up a really great relationship with the show and you donít want to betray that trust."

Miller also appreciates that Miami has distinguished itself from its parent show. "We term ours an action procedural," he notes. "Part of what makes Miami different from CSI is the same thing that makes the real Miami-Dade PD different from the Las Vegas Crime Lab is that in Miami the CSIs are actually cops and in Vegas they're citizens. In our show like in real Miami the CSIs do have guns and they are trained in a lot of the different areas. We wanted to find something that would make us unique from Vegas and part of it is the color palette. CSI has more blues and greens, brighter colors. Right away we wanted to set ourselves apart as a day show. Sometimes weíll have some things occur at night but we'll try to avoid that. A lot of times the stuff that happens at night is at clubs on our show, but clubs stay open all night and they close in the morning. Above all we try to stay as bright and sexy as we can and give the feel that the city is pulsating with the threat of violence. We make an effort to give people more closure at the end of the episode. Horatio Caine (David Caruso) is such a force for that--we've kind of made that our signature, too, that Horatio will never stop before finding the truth. He's given the show that flavor with the way his character has been evolving over the years. We want to show police are heroes. If we have a 'bad cop' or something, [itís] usually a security guard not a cop because we don't believe in that. We want to uplift them and show that they sacrifice their lives on a daily basis for all of the citizens."

"I feel like a kid at the playground sometimes," Miller says of his job. "With this episode we just finished, we shut down a whole bridge to shoot for the day, and that's when it really gets me, how cool it is. This idea just came to us in the writers' room, and then I wrote it and suddenly there are fifty or more people up on this bridge: stunt men, ambulances, police cars. These actors got hired because we created [their characters]. That's when it really seems like we write it and then they bring it to life. It's like you get to play in your backyard, but with someone elseís money."

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Kristine Huntley is a freelance writer and reviewer.