Why CBS Almost Passed On CSI

CSI: Crime Scene Investigation is set to close out its run with a finale special that will air this Sunday. A ratings juggernaut for most of its 15 seasons, when CSI takes its last bow, it will leave behind a lengthy legacy, including three spinoffs (two which have already ended), a slew of memorable characters and the revamping of the procedural for modern TV, a revamping that wooed in large advertising deals for the network. However, it almost never happened. Apparently, 15 years ago, CBS didn't really think CSI would fit into the lineup, and almost didn’t end up airing the hit series.

Back in 2000, when CBS was gearing up to announce the new shows that would be added to the lineup in the fall, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation wasn’t a high priority. In fact, in a recent retro article listed over at TV Insider, CBS didn’t think the show really was a good fit for the network’s core demographic. According to the outlet, the test audience is the whole reason we got CSI, and because of its success, later CSI: Miami, CSI: NY and CSI:Cyber. In the past, a lot of crime-based shows were very male-affiliated and females didn’t want to tune in, but when CSI was tested, women were all over it. That’s right, women are a huge chunk of the reason CSI eventually made it on to the air.

As creator Anthony Zuiker later told the outlet, CSI had everything:

It’s a mecca for a bunch of forensics stories. Here’s Lake Mead—floaters, right? Here’s the desert—mob hit gone wrong. Here’s the mountains—dead men hiking. Here’s off the Strip—quadruple murder. It’s all here.

It was big, it was bold—at the time it felt very fresh—and most importantly, CSI hit a broad audience. The format of the show was so altering for network TV that it influenced the projects CBS signed on for in the years following. Shows like NCIS, Hawaii Five-0, Person of Interest came out of a format that was similar to CSI. While the veteran series is clearly not as influential as it once was going into its series finale special, there’s no doubt that it has had a major impact on the programming television—and especially network television—offers.

The CSI finale special, which will have a 2-hour run, is set to hit the schedule on Sunday, September 27 at 9 p.m. ET. The special episode should be a good one for fans who have stuck with the series since the beginning, as well as for fans who may have drifted away after a while. William Petersen is set to return to play Grissom, and many other original characters will also be back. (However, Elisabeth Shue and George Eads have, unfortunately, dropped out.) You can check out the first full trailer for the special episode, here.

Jessica Rawden
Managing Editor

Reality TV fan with a pinch of Disney fairy dust thrown in. Theme park junkie. If you’ve created a rom-com I’ve probably watched it.