Want to create your very own hit crime procedural but don't know where to begin? Those famed experts at CBS have now unlocked the step-by-step secrets to ratings success:
First, commit a murder (virtually, of course). Kill off a guest star in the show's first 30 seconds or so and shroud the sad deed in a veil of mystery. Then sprinkle a handful of small, sometimes literally microscopic clues across the crime scene.
Second, bring in your team of likable, good-looking-but-quirky-and-wisecracking crime-solving savants headed by a semi-recognizable actor. Ted Danson, perhaps. Or maybe Mandy Patinkin. (No, scratch Mandy.) These characters should come from a variety of backgrounds, and one should be a genius of some sort. They should be interesting, but not so colorful as to distract attention from the dead body in their midst.
Third, let them solve the crime using scads of sciency-looking props while sharing crystalline moments of insight. Show a few gratuitous flashbacks to the actual murder, include occasional off-color asides and, if possible, linger on at least one graphically rendered autopsy.
Once the case closes and the episode's in the can, collect your check and drive away in your new Bentley.
CSI: NY appears to have been created from exactly this template. Its semi-recognizable actor of record is Gary Sinise, playing dedicated detective Mac Taylor. Mac is haunted by the losses he suffered on 9/11, but rarely does he let his lingering grief interrupt the proceedings—not when he and his team have less than an hour to solve every single case that comes across his desk. He's been (more recently) joined by Jo Danville, who is played by the semi-recognizable Sela Ward. Both have Emmys somewhere at home, making this duo one of the more formidable one-two acting punches in the crime procedural landscape.
Not that we get to see why they earned Emmys, mind you. This is not a genre filled with poignant dialogue designed to score major bits of golden hardware. And rarely does any one actor get more screen time on CSI: NY than the weekly guest corpse.
It's not all death and disgust, though. Mac and Jo would actually be pleased by the idea that they aren't what matter. That it's all about helping others by bringing criminals to justice. Thus, this series tells us that there's something quietly but deeply gratifying in focusing on the task at hand. And the thought still counts even when that task involves figuring out why the hand is missing altogether.
But all the dead bodies count too. And they weigh quite a bit more than the positive ideas do.
A man plummets from a high-rise balcony to the street below, crushing part of a taxicab. The impact, we learn, broke most of his bones—but investigators discover that his throat was cut beforehand and he actually died during the fall, drowning in his own blood.
Meanwhile, Jo is stalked by a man who, he says, received her sister's heart after she (the sister) was killed in a car crash. Jo asks him about the first thing he remembered when he woke up. He says he saw an unfamiliar face. "But now that I see you, I think it was your sister," he says—a suggestion of life after death.
The week's primary dead person, however, shows no inclination of visiting anyone. Investigators examine a bloody wound on the neck and swab it for clues; they also remove and inspect a crumpled, blood-stained magazine page from the mouth. We watch as a scientist painstakingly strips the victim. (Nothing sexual is seen.) And in flashback we see the fatal attack. Puddles and dribbles of blood are dutifully spotlighted and analyzed.
Someone discusses a supposed curse lingering over the building in which 37 people have committed suicide. We see the eventual victim scuffle with an angry tourist. Two other people fight. Stuff gets stolen. Someone says "p‑‑‑ed."