CBS’s big hit of the 2000-1 season was supposed to be The Fugitive, the remake of the series that had aired on ABC from 1963 to 1967. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, created by Anthony Zuiker and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, was an afterthought and an underdog; it had been turned down by every other network. This Wednesday, CSI and CBS will celebrate the airing of its 300th episode. And do you remember The Fugitive? You do not.
CSI — and the larger franchise, which includes the late Miami and NY versions — has contributed to the television and pop culture vernacular in a slew of ways we now take for granted. For one thing, its focus on minutiae: Fibers, stains, skin, and blood drops might have gotten attention at real crime scenes before CSI, but they never did on television. (Obviously, House borrowed CSI’s microscopic gaze, but I also think about it when I watch BBC’s Sherlock.)
CSI also ended up coinciding with the rise of the nerd as a hero and a success. The CSIs, first led by William Petersen’s Grissom and Marg Helgenberger’s Catherine, and later through numerous cast changes, were front-and-center crime solvers and lab rats. Realism be damned.
The show also brought a historic level of, well, grossness to TV. Executive producer Carol Mendelson said in a recent interview that CSI’s aesthetic of disgustingness has evolved as the years have passed. “We were consumed by science,” Mendelson said. “And we were trying to tell a great crime story, but through a different lens: the lens of forensics.”
“We never went for a shot, I don’t believe, that was fully gratuitous,” Mendelson continued. “But we did get desensitized as we learned more about science. And I believe that the audience did too.”
Not everyone has loved the graphic content, of course. There were the usual Parents Television Council complaints. But Mendelson says that the show has been scrupulous in working with CBS to make sure that the show never crossed lines.
“Every episode is reviewed by broadcast standards and by legal,” she said. “And they are really tough on us. They would give notes, like, ‘the blood pool is too big,’ or ‘there’s too much dripping blood,’ or ‘you cannot see a bullet actually impact a person,’ or ‘you cannot hold a gun to a person’s head.’ ‘You have too many maggots.’ I can’t say that at times it wasn’t contentious? But they’re the guardians of the airwaves.”
And that sounds like a good thing. “Without them, who knows where we would have gone!” Mendelson said with a laugh.
3. Without further ado, here are CSI’s 12 most disgusting moments:
This list was adapted from one provided by the CSI writers room.
4. Bonus grossness commentary from Carol Mendelson!
5. “Let the Seller Beware,” Season 3, Episode 3
The crime: A cheerleader appears to have been eaten. I repeat: A CHEERLEADER APPEARS TO HAVE BEEN EATEN. (See No. 12 in the video.) Since the victim had E. coli, her eaters would have taken ill… which is how the CSIs find her killers.
What’s Sara (Jorja Fox) doing?: Going through vomit that’s been confiscated as evidence! That’s skin!
Mendelson: “Our CSIs always told us that they do collect body fluids; they do collect vomit from scenes. Tell a CSI writer something, and we never forget. We sometimes free associate and put a number of things in one episode. It was a very out-there episode, and we got a number of notes from broadcast.”
6. “Grave Danger: Volume 2,” Season 5, Episode 25
The crime: Nick (George Eads) has been kidnapped and is trapped in a grave while the CSIs freak out trying to save him. This two-part season finale was directed by Quentin Tarantino.
What’s in that photo?: Oh, fire ants crawling all over Nick’s body (see No. 10 in the video). They’re in the grave with him, along with a gun that he nearly ends up using on himself to end his misery.
Mendelson: “When that episode aired, a group of us went to Las Vegas with Tarantino and we watched it all together. Tarantino had brought some of us pals from Wu-Tang Clan. And I had the most interesting conversations with some of these artists about what would you do if you were buried alive and being eaten by bugs? People personalized it.”
7. “House of Hoarders,” Season 10, Episode 16
The crime: There’s a dead body in a hoarder house (No. 2 in the video). So many, many disgusting things in this episode. Sara ends up empathizing with (and perhaps identifying with) the hoarder even as her team approaches the case with mockery.
The photo?: While searching the house, Nick steps in the body. NICK STEPS IN THE BODY.
Mendelson: “That is one of my favorite episodes of CSI. At the time, the show Hoarders had just premiered on A&E. I was not that familiar with hoarding. And it just seemed so ripe for a crime. It also had that emotional element. It is a tribute to our production designer and our set decorator and all of our crew that created that set. And yeah, we stepped in a body.”
8. “The Hunger Artist,” Season 2, Episode 23
The crime: A decomposed dead body (played by Tricia Helfer of Battlestar Galactica) is found in a shopping cart in a desolate area. As Grissom and Brass (Paul Guilfoyle) look at her, a damn rat comes out of her mouth.
Mendelson: “We had read a case about an autopsy, and the coroner had cut open the body. There had been a rat inside the woman’s body that had given birth to baby rats. I wanted to do the whole family of rats. I was talked out of it.”