Peter Lenkov

By Kristine Huntley
Posted at August 9, 2007 - 8:23 AM GMT

Peter Lenkov came to CSI: NY in its second season and hit the ground running by penning the third episode that year, "Zoo York", and introducing a new character to the series, Lindsay Monroe. Now, two years later, Lenkov, whose credits include 24, The District and Tracker, is embarking on his third season with CSI: NY and is hard at work on two high profile episodes. Lenkov took a break from writing to talk to CSI Files' Kristine Huntley about the thrilling conclusion to season three of the show, and the ramifications it will have for the fourth season.

CSI Files: So you're starting in on the fourth season now. How's it going so far?

Peter Lenkov: It's going great. We're actually shooting episode four. So far, so good. Some exciting stuff coming up!

CSI Files: So what is in store for Mac (Gary Sinise) and his team?

Lenkov: You'll have to wait and see! There's some good surprises.

CSI Files: Will we see follow up for the characters from third season finale "Snow Day", particularly those most affected by the events of it: Mac, Danny and Adam?

Lenkov: Yeah. We're going to follow up. I think we're going to be a little more focused on the continuity with that kind of stuff now.

CSI Files: That's great news! A lot of people were puzzled when Flack (Eddie Cahill) came back at the beginning of the third season with no ill effects from his injuries from "Charge of This Post".

Lenkov: It's funny you mention that--we did actually some stuff where we brought it up and played it out, and we ended up cutting it out of the episode (People with Money"). If we ever end up putting some extra scenes on a DVD, you'll see that payoff.

CSI Files: Why did those scenes end up getting cut?

Lenkov: I don't remember--it's been so long. I remember being on the bridge shooting that stuff. I think it was really just the pacing of the story. Mac and Flack had a moment together where they talked about it, so I think just because of the pacing of that episode it ended up being cut. Sometimes you cut it for those reasons and at the end of the day, yeah, the audience is not fully satisfied because we didn't pay off something we set up, but when you look at the episode, it may have just been a pacing thing.

CSI Files: "Snow Day" was an exciting, action-packed episode! What made you and Pam Veasey decide to go that route?

Lenkov: We wanted to do something different. I think we wanted to do something big and noisy and get everyone involved and have space for everybody. What happened was that Pam and I were sitting around and just talking about something we'd love to write but that we don't get to write on CSI and we ended up finding a way to fuse that love of action, adventure, pacing and timing and real big stakes, and were able to weave that in to a CSI framework.

CSI Files: People loved that episode!

Lenkov: It was really fun to write and produce and Duane Clark who directed the episode did a great job. I'm glad everybody responded so well because it was so much fun to make. I always tell this story: I think it was the last day, when we were shooting Gary's fight scene and it was like 2:30 in the morning, Gary was soaking wet. We had built a special stage, which was like $150,000, just this little area of the lab that we built that we could flood. We were two takes into the fight scene and every time we'd yell cut we'd have to squeegee the floor. It was a big job because there were a couple inches of water. Everybody's exhausted because it's day eight or nine of a very long, very grueling shoot. And Gary is there with a squeegee, squeegeeing the floor shoulder to shoulder with everybody else. He was so excited to get another take done. He was just that jazzed about what he was doing and really believed in the episode and to get to a new layer of the Mac Taylor character. The fact that he's cleaning the set at 2:30 in the morning tells you a lot about how much he enjoyed that episode.

CSI Files: Do you think "Snow Day" will set a new tone for the show? Will we see more action from now on?

Lenkov: I think because of the response and the actors and everybody, we're adding some ticking clocks to episodes. New York is a fast-paced town so I think a lot of our stories could work with some action-adventure elements in them, and I think that's what we're going to do in some episodes. You'll see that--there's definitely some in the first few episodes. There's high stakes and ticking clocks and a lot of run and jump stuff that I think is satisfying to people.

CSI Files: We've heard you're writing episodes five and six right now. Can you give us a preview?

Lenkov: Nina [Tassler, the CBS executive has been talking about this for a while--[episode five] is basically a forensic investigation into Second Life, an online social network, a metaverse where you go on, you create an avatar and cruise different worlds. Part of our investigation is going in there. Mac Taylor has to create an avatar and go and hunt down a killer who is using somebody's avatar to commit a murder. It's a little bit of a CSI: New York sci-fi internet pursuit with a big action sequence at the end of the episode. It's fun; it actually has a big moment for Mac and Adam because Adam sort of becomes this big expert in the world of Second Life. He's done it before, so he sort of guides Mac into the how or the where of it all. I think it's going to be a fun episode. It's very different.

CSI Files: What about episode six?

Lenkov: Episode six is a horror story. Joe Dante has never directed for the show before is directing the episode. He's a film director--he directed Goonies and Gremlins and does a lot of the Masters of Horror for Showtime. It's two stories--one's a zombie story and one is a murder that takes place in Amnityville. It also debunks the Amnityville horror story. It's fun, and it's right on deck--it starts prep next week. Very scary, very different, very dark.

CSI Files: Will that be airing around Halloween?

Lenkov: It airs on Halloween! The Amnityville one I've been trying to do for three years now. The timing was right.

CSI Files: So is this a personal interest as well as a Halloween crossover?

Lenkov: I just thought the Amnityville horror is so famous and the town Amnityville is thirty minutes from New York and I thought it would be fun to take Danny and Lindsay over there to investigate a multiple homicide and at the same time to debunk a lot of the myths about blood leaking from the walls and the house [being] haunted. A lot of the stuff we know and are fascinated with, but our guys investigate it and are able to reveal the truth behind what happened there indirectly.

CSI Files: You mentioned Adam (A.J. Buckley). Will we be seeing more of him this season?

Lenkov: Yeah, you're going to see a lot more of him. I think the idea is to make him a regular the same way Sid (Robert Joy) is in every episode, but make Adam a little bit more of a presence, our lab guy, our go-to guy. We adore him. It's really fun to write for him because he really has a voice.

CSI Files: "And Here's To You, Mrs. Azrael" drew on a real life case. Where do you get your inspiration for some of your episodes?

Lenkov: When I was writing that episode, somebody brought up that story to me, that bus crash I think. I didn't even know that existed! I almost gave away that story. Tim Lea, who really helped teach me how to write this show, was looking for a story and I just pitched out a one-liner. I wanted to do a subtle drunk driving statement. I remember telling Tim, "What if two girls get into an accident and because they're both so mangled, the mother mistakes the other girl who was drinking and driving as the person who killed her daughter and she ends up killing her. Just that one liner. He wanted to go do that story but when he went in the room a story he'd pitched earlier got approved and he ended up doing that, so I said, "If you don't mind, I'm going to take my story back" and I ended up developing it. And then when I was writing it somebody showed me that article about those two girls that were in that bus crash.

The thing about CSI is that we really don't do "ripped from the headlines" stories because we always feel Law & Order does that so much better. So we try not to do that, we try not to go to the newspapers for stories. I know it seemed so coincidental that that story was around at the same time, but it really wasn't inspired by that.

I feel like most of the stories that I come up with are just things that I'd like to see. The story about the ark ("The Ride In") was from an article about a guy in the Netherlands that spent every dollar that he had building an ark. I just thought in the back of my head, why would somebody do that? He did it because he wanted to create a tourist attraction, but I thought, there has to be something deeper to that, building an ark in your backyard. That was a story I'd seen years ago.

[As for] "Super Men", I love superheroes. The first movie script I ever write was about a superhero getting old and society really has no use for him anymore because heroes are not supposed to get old. They're supposed to stay young, always be able to protect and serve. The idea was, what would make somebody put on a cape? It was really that idea that the story grew out of. And really just things I want to see. I wanted to play Superman mythology, but we ended up not being able to use Superman! I was able to sort of weave that minefield a little bit with some iconic images, like the phone booth and the glasses and things that made it make sense to viewers what story I was trying to tell.

CSI Files: Many fans feel Hawkes (Hill Harper) is an under-utilized character. You delved into his back story in "And Here's To You, Mrs. Azrael." Do you have any further plans for his development or digging deeper into that background?

Lenkov: Yeah. We talk about stuff all the time. Some stuff gets into episodes earlier rather than later, but we definitely have some plans for him. Last year, we did the hospital story in "Azrael" and then we also did him getting picked up and framed for murder ("Raising Shane"). I think we have a lot of stuff on deck for him, but there's a lot of people to service in every episode, so sometimes it's difficult to just focus on one person.

But we try! This year we have very early on a relationship that Flack's in. That's something we've wanted to do for a long time, get Flack into a relationship and show a little bit of his personal life. I think we were able to get that in earlier than later, so I think we're happy about that.

CSI Files: We've heard spoilers that there's going to be quite a lot of romance on the show. Last season there was Mac and Peyton and then Danny and Lindsay; now we've heard that Flack, Stella and Adam are all potentially getting love interests. Where did all the romance come from in a show from a franchise that traditionally has stayed away from it?

Lenkov: It's not always as it seems! It seems like there are relationships growing, and sometimes it's not really that, so I would just stay tuned. I wouldn't look at it like relationships in the traditional sense until you see the episodes. I can't say too much, but there are going to be some surprises.

CSI Files: We've heard that Danny (Carmine Giovinazzo) and Lindsay (Anna Belknap) are going to be in a relationship next season. Where is that headed?

Lenkov: There are surprises for that, definitely. I think like any relationship, it goes through its ups and downs. I think if everything's hunkydory and everything's great, there's no fun in that. I think you have to create some drama or do something; otherwise it's no fun to watch.

CSI Files: What made you decide to put Danny and Lindsay into a relationship?

Lenkov: Honestly, there was just a connection from the first episode, the one I did, "Zoo York", right from the start with those two people. It just seemed that there was something about them that they would gravitate toward each other, so it just felt natural to have a relationship. I think it was just chemistry between those two actors and how they played it, and those two characters from the beginning, and there seemed to be a connection.

CSI Files: Do you have any plans to revisit Danny's back story, either his relationship with his brother or his Tanglewood connections?

Lenkov: We developed that, we have storylines for that, and it was just a matter of what do we get to, what's on deck. We definitely plan to go into it and touch on it, it's just a matter of what comes first. There were episodes that for some reason ended up coming ahead of those. There's still ideas up, and they're still on the board and it's developed more than just a pitch, but the idea is when can we get to it? When's the right time and when's the time to really sit down and focus. That's really an arc--you can't play that in one episode. You have to play that over a couple of episodes with Danny reconnecting with Louie. It's just a matter of when we'll do it. We will--it's just a matter of when.

CSI Files So Louie is definitely alive then?

Lenkov: We'll see. He was alive we saw him. Those Messers are strong!

CSI Files: You like to put Danny in tough situations--first "Trapped" and now "Snow Day."

Lenkov: Only because he makes them! Because I think [Carmine] likes doing it. I think he likes those challenges. I'm not sure about the nudity stuff, but I know he likes the physical stuff, I know he loved, in the last episode, doing that bit of down and dirty.

Here's the thing--absolutely, [he's a] sex symbol, and I joke about it with him, and maybe I take advantage of it because I know the audience likes to see it, but he's a great actor. The stuff he did at the end of the season--the whole season--but just that stuff that showed a different side of him, being vulnerable, I thought was great. It really makes me happy to write that stuff for him, knowing he can pull it off so perfectly.

He jokes around about it a lot with me, but it wasn't even intentional, the taking off the shirt in the locker room [in "And Here's To You, Mrs. Azrael"]. Those things are a moment between guys and just being real about it was where it came from. It wasn't really about showing his body. It seems like people responded to that, which was great, but it was really about, how do guys act? What's it like, you go into the locker room and this is what you do. It starts with a moment of levity with [Danny] getting coffee spilled on him and then it goes to an emotional place. And I think that's really what it's about. And [Carmine] jokes about it like, yes, I'm deliberately getting him to take his shirt off, and I want him to think that maybe that's the case, but it really was about seeing that side of him, seeing that shift emotionally, and seeing his support for Hawkes, which I thought was great. I thought he did an amazing job. It's always about the acting. I know people like to think, oh we want to put him without him shirt on or take his pants off, but you have to believe it's about the acting first and the aesthetics second.

CSI Files: Which character or characters do you particularly enjoy writing for?

Lenkov: You can't ask me that! That's a hard question because they're all different voices. Sid has a real specific voice. Sid is fun. Sid I put this crazy hat on in "Snow Day," and I thought that said a lot about Sid without Sid having to say anything. So it's fun to do things with characters that are not just about dialogue, but are about wardrobe or just about gestures and stuff. So really they all have a very distinct personality, and they're all fun to write for. I really took a very personal interest in making sure that Hawkes was an action hero at the end of the season in ["Snow Day"]. I thought that seeing a guy who was an ME that became a crime scene investigator and then goes to carrying a gun and saving the day--I love that. I love writing that. All the characters are fun to write for. They're all special to me.

There's moments with Gary--there was Gary talking about his dad--I wish I could get that emotion out of him in another personal moment, but you can't do that every episode because it's not that kind of show. Was it fun writing it? It was one of those great experiences of writing something very emotional to the character and something new and something you really didn't know about him and able to confess that to somebody and it's so personal. I love that. So really it depends on the episode. I have moments and character stuff that I like writing. And maybe I'm being a little bit political, but I think they're all fun to write.

CSI Files: The character of Lindsay Monroe is a bit controversial among fans-some people love her while others can't stand her. What's your take on the character?

Lenkov: I like her as a character. I think she fits in well. I think she's a different point-of-view. She came in as a fish out of water. She's a good addition to the show. I think she's a strong character. I think she showed some real strength last year as well as vulnerability. And I think the stuff she's doing this year is great. The stuff that I'm working on for her in the Amnityville story where it's her and Danny alone together in this house is fun and creepy and I think it will be good stuff for her.

CSI Files: Will we be seeing more of Lindsay as an independent character this season?

Lenkov: Yes, stay tuned Wednesdays at 10:00. That's my answer to every question! Yeah, again there's a lot of people to service, but yeah, it's more than just a relationship with Danny that we have in store for her.

CSI Files: Mac came out of his shell last season--he was in a relationship with Peyton, and then he formed a relationship with his dead wife's son. Will we see more of that for him?

Lenkov: Yes and yes. There's a lot of stuff outside of the CSI world for Mac Taylor. We'll definitely see another side of Mac--a couple of other sides of Mac--this season.

CSI Files: Stella (Melina Kanakaredes) had a bad boyfriend in season two, and now we've heard she might be getting another bad boyfriend. What's with that?

Lenkov: She likes the bad boys! Sometimes it's not what you think. You'd better stay tuned for that because it's very complex and a real rollercoaster ride. There is a guy on the horizon for her. It may be a one-way interest, but there's definitely somebody pursuing her.

CSI Files: Do you like to go out on the internet and read what the fans are saying about episodes?

Lenkov: During the season, yeah, there's a bunch of websites, this one included, that we look at. It's the only way to know what people are thinking. It doesn't influence stories or anything. It's almost like a pat on the back more than anything. When you go and you write a play, the audience is applauding at the end, and if you're in the theater, you see that. The only way to know if to know if people like it is to look online. Sometimes people walk up to you on the street and tell you you're doing a good job. We go to the website sometimes and just take a look after an episode airs and just see what people are responding to, what they like, what they don't like. It makes you feel good that you're doing a good job.

CSI Files: In addition to your work in television, you've also penned a couple of comic book series. Do you anticipate being involved in the CSI: NY comics or working on another original series in the future?

Lenkov: I love to write comics; it's a great part time job. I did a couple, but it's also time consuming, and right now my focus is the show. There's a lot of work to do on the show, and I don't really have the time for that comic book stuff anymore, at least right now. I'd like to get back into it--it was so much fun. Maybe in the future.

CSI Files: Before CSI: NY you were working on 24 for season four. How do those writing rooms differ?

Lenkov: On 24, there really wasn't a writing room. Sometimes we'd get together in a room, but usually we'd just pair off and develop a story, a new one or if one story was ending we'd develop the next one. We didn't really have a plan for the whole season. That to me, as a writer, is a little frustrating because you sort of want to know what's coming down the road. On CSI, we're in the room every day, we know what everyone else is doing, we help each other with breaking stories, giving notes on scripts.

On 24, it was very different. It wasn't run like that, but it was run the way the guy who created it, Joel Surnow, wanted it run, which is very similar to another show I did with him called La Femme Nikita. It was a very small group: you write your script, you develop your script, then you turn your script over to production. You don't go down to set. On this show, you produce your episodes. You're down on set, you're making decisions, you're working alongside your director. On 24 you write your script, you end up doing your rewrites, and then send the script to production and the next time you see it is in editing. You wouldn't even watch dailies unless you were driven to do it.

CSI Files: So you're much more involved in CSI: NY, from writing the episode to being involved in filming?

Lenkov: Yeah, it's definitely a more hands on show. We really produce the show here.

CSI Files: How did you come to CSI: NY?

Lenkov: Pam Veasey and I worked together on The District years ago on CBS. She ended up asking me to come on, and it was a good opportunity, and it just seemed like an ideal environment. It's great, I love it. I love CSI Vegas, so I wanted to get on the show for a long time. I enjoyed it, it was a good show, but I never had the opportunity [to work on it], so when the opportunity came up I grabbed, because it was just a franchise that I really wanted to get involved in.

There was a show I did years ago when CSI debuted. I was on a show called Level 9 and it ended up only going nine episodes, but I remember it was opposite CSI. I didn't even watch my own show! I watched CSI. The next day, I went to my kid's soccer game and I saw David Stapf, who was Vice President at CBS, and I said, "You have the greatest show on television. I wish I was on that show! Your show is going to kill my show." And about an hour later, I got the ratings and I was right. And I thought from that day on, I've got to get on that franchise! And now I'm on CSI: NY.

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Kristine Huntley is a freelance writer and reviewer.