On the other hand, in order to turn these scientists into the primary heroes of their cases, it had to massively falsify many realities of the job. Why? Because heroes (and especially TV heroes) must have (or seem to have) decision making power: audiences don’t want to watch the activities of a hero who is merely a cog in a larger machine, making contributions every week to decisions that will ultimately be made by other people off screen.
As I discussed before, this is why Aaron Sorkin had to reluctantly make the president a character (and ultimately the main character) on “The West Wing”, and why Jack gradually became the co-hero of “30 Rock”. Ultimately the weight of every story falls on the shoulders of the decider, not the contributor.
So how do you make a story about CSIs? Let’s look at all the things they can’t and/or don’t do:
- They don’t have guns or badges.
- They can’t interrogate the criminals.
- They can’t declare that it’s time to make an arrest or make the arrest themselves.
- We begin with Neanderthal detectives showing up at the crime scene, staking out their territory but not noticing anything important. They then roll their eyes and scoff when the CSIs show up, saying, “Here comes the nerd squad.” But Grissom smirks right back and blows past them dismissively. He then spots all of the clues they missed: the nerd squad are the real heroes.
- Grissom brags about not doing interrogations: “Why ask the criminals? They’ll just lie. The evidence never does.”
- When the CSIs refer to the actual arrests, they talk as if that’s mere mopping-up after the real work is done.
- They create a rare situation in which they can use guns: One is called in to help another secure a crime scene from an uncooperative victim who pulls a gun, so she brings a gun to force the victim to stand down.
- They allow the CSIs to do interrogations at the crime scene as they’re doing their DNA swabs, and then later, they simply have the CSIs show up at interrogations and ask the detective in charge if they can jump in and ask a few questions. (To which the detectives always shrug and step away, letting the CSI take over from then on.)
- They have the CSIs unrealistically show up for the arrest, standing on the sidelines looking smug and/or righteous as the faceless detectives lead the suspects out in handcuffs.
Next we’ll look at another way the show learned to satisfy those expectations.