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CSI: Miami – Television Is Where America Dreams

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Disclosure: I once worked for CBS to produce television advertising for CSI: Miami, and many of the opinions expressed below have been informed and influenced by those experiences.

The odds are that CSI: Miami is either a show you love, or a show you love to hate. Whichever camp you fall into, it’s a certainty that your opinion of the show’s star, David Caruso is the defining feature of your opinion.

Since its 2002 premiere, it has consistently ranked in Nielsen’s top 10 shows. One study claims that it is the most watched show in the world, based on internationally aggregated top ten ratings.

The last show to lay claim to that title was Baywatch, and both shows have a fair amount in common. They’re silly, two-dimensional cutouts; liberally sprinkled with bikinis, music-driven montages, and non-linear storytelling that translates easily to foreign languages. If it barely adds up in English, then translating it to Russian, Vietnamese, or Swahili can’t hurt. But where Baywatch was content to cheaply sell T&A to afternoon audiences, CSI: Miami is dedicated to pushing the boundaries of style.

While talk of the best shows on television inevitably revolves around the dramatic heft of The Wire, Battlestar Galactica, or The Sopranos, few discussions look at the other end of the spectrum. CSI: Miami draws millions more viewers on a weekly basis, and in a populist medium, that’s a significant metric. The lesson here is that quality and artistry are not synonymous. If producing fluff was easy, the radio waves would be flooded with a hundred successful Britney Spears clones. There are imitators, to be sure, but the key word is ‘successful’. Vacuity is as hard to achieve as substance, perhaps harder.

There’s nothing middle-of-the-road about CSI: Miami and nothing else quite like it on television. It has long since transcended its origin as a spin-off police procedural, and has become a unique hybrid – equal parts soap opera, eye candy, and David Caruso’s ego.

The heart of CSI: Miami is Caruso’s singular creation, Lieutenant Horatio Caine. Every episode kicks off with Caine standing rock-still, gravely presiding over a crime scene before uttering a cynical, bad action movie witticism. (A great montage of his one-liners is available on You Tube.)

Less a man and more a demi-god, he exudes a lunatic unpredictability. His body is rigid, and at the same time prone to moving in sinuous, unexpected ways – he hunches, stares, or removes his sunglasses seemingly at random. Watching him is like watching an autistic savant calculate impossibly long prime numbers; he’s tuning into something completely invisible to mortal men. It’s a performance that’s a far cry from parody, though, because Caruso has small-screen charisma to burn.

On set, Caruso is fixated on finding a very particular groove for Caine. In between sips of diet Coke, he ranges freely through his dialogue, often re-inventing it outright. The rest of the cast delivers the script exactly as written; Caruso shuffles his lines or simply re-writes them on the fly. The infamous one-liners that close the tease of each episode are rarely – if ever – delivered as scripted. During my time producing promos for the show, I don’t remember the quip from the shooting script ever remotely matching what Caruso delivered on set.

My favorite moment from the dailies happened while shooting on location. Normally, when he loses his flow, Caruso will cut his own take with a shake of his head and a call for some diet Coke. Only this once, Caruso blanked mid-take and called out to the script supervisor for his next line. Off-camera, a voice shouts “Frank, it looks like homicide.”

A second later, Caruso said “This looks like murder, Frank.”

It’s not just the ‘money’ lines of dialogue he re-crafts; it’s all of it – from the minor bits of exposition to the major speeches. High minded critics might dismiss that as egotism and bad celebrity behavior, but it’s hard to argue with results. Whether you’re cheering for him or laughing at him, Caruso is a singular presence on television. What he’s created in Horatio Caine is singular; even if it will be parodied for years, he’s achieved something unique. It took three decades for Shatner’s overacting Kirk to gain icon status, something Caruso attained in less than three years. There isn’t another television star who divides the audience so sharply, and is watched by both ends of the spectrum.

The rest of CSI: Miami is held together purely by Caine’s gravity. In the last few years, there have been serial killers, doomed romances, murdered wives, lost sons, pregnancy scares, undercover moles, a long lost brother, kidnappings, amnesia, gambling problems, drug possession, and most recently, an extradition to Brazil that have plagued the forensic team outside their caseload. The stories are ludicrous, and the presented motives for murder are nearly nonsensical. Caruso’s hyper-solemn manner destroys any need for plausibility. Nobody watches this show for content – it’s all the style.

There isn’t a better looking show on prime-time, high-definition television than CSI: Miami. The fictional Miami is a volatile city of gold, exploding with impossibly over-saturated color. How many police labs in America are suffused with lime green and tangerine orange lighting? How many coroners show up at crime scenes in white linen suits and four inch heels? It’s a glamorous, immigrant’s dream of Miami… blending Scarface, telenovellas, and slavish celebrity worship into a modern mélange. Much as Dallas epitomized wealth and success in the '80s and Beverly Hills, 90210 did in the '90s, CSI: Miami is a vision of how the "have-nots" dream life is like for the "haves".

Television is essentially where America dreams, and embodying the roiling, contradictory desires of the national subconscious is a far more difficult task than it appears. The failed attempts are too numerous to count, and CSI: Miami couldn’t be a success if it didn’t inspire such divisive attitudes. Love it or hate it, you can’t argue against the quality.

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About Jeffrey Williams

  • Great article! After all of the rumors and lies that have been circulated on the Internet by Caruso’s indicted Austrian stalker, it’s refreshing to read a fair and balanced account from someone who actually worked for CBS. Thank you for setting things straight.

  • Thanks.

    I have no idea about Austrian stalkers, rumors and lies, but I think your stalker friend just posted her own complimentary comment on my own blog. Strange.

  • Sadly yes, there is an Austrian woman, Gabriele Huber, who was arrested last summer for stalking and threatening to murder David Caruso. She fled Austria to Mexico where the FBI assisted authorities in returning her to Austria. Apparently all she got was probation but she cannot gain entry into the US anymore. So she wages this 24/7 Internet hate war against David Caruso. It’s really unbelievable the amount of time and energy this woman puts into all of this.

    Feel free to check my blog.

    Also, where exactly is the comment that you referred to?

  • That is a strange, strange story. Your nemesis’ comment on my blog is here.

  • Thank you. I found it and you are right. “Vixen” is but one of many pseudonyms used by Huber to perpetrate her hate war against Mr. Caruso. Also, Huber is the one responsible for planting the rumor with Defamer. She promotes it daily.

  • So what’s Gabrielle Huber’s beef with Mr. Caruso?

    The diet coke thing is no rumor, the man loves the stuff.

    What’s your interest in fighting her?

  • About 2 years ago, Huber flew from Austria to Miami and tracked Caruso down in a restaurant. She approached him with a sexually graphic offer which he politely declined. She went off the deep end at that point and threatened to murder him and his companion. Subsequently, she was arrested in the summer of 2007 which is when she fled to Mexico. Because of Huber’s stalking, CBS had to add extra security to the CSI Miami set. The FBI also had to get involved.

    Huber absolutely hates Caruso’s companion, Liza Marquez, and has planted rumors and fabrications about Caruso’s relationship with her for months now. Huber’s beef is quite simply to seek vengeance against the actor for rejecting her.

    My involvement stems from Cigar Aficionado’s cover story on Caruso in Jan. 2007. After reading it, I went on-line looking for info on Caruso (I have followed his career over the years). What I found initially was one of the Huber’s many “hate Caruso” blogs where she not only re-wrote the CA article, but trashed Caruso’s reputation. I notified CA of a possible libel situation and I would presume their legal team prevailed upon Huber to remove the article. Huber removed it from the blog in question but simply re-posted it on another one of her hate blogs. She’s very clever and apparently has some basic knowledge of the law.

    The focus of my blog is to impart the truth about the rumors and fabrications that Huber plants weekly. It offers Caruso fans another viewpoint to consider besides Huber’s one-sided attempts to slander and defame Caruso. I also frequently poke fun at Huber’s antics. And I too have gotten into knock down, drag out war of words with Huber on fansites when she attempts to hijack threads, etc.

    I don’t know David Caruso, never met the man and doubt that I ever will. I truly feel that what Huber is doing is wrong, very wrong. No one, not David Caruso or anyone else, should have to endure Huber’s venom. My blog offers an alternative to Huber’s hate campaign. My underlying interest is solely the truth.

  • Jason

    What is this hocus pocus all bout? Is Sarakanne at it again? Sarakanne is a very troubled woman

  • Jason

    The diet coke thing is no rumor, the man loves the stuff.

    Of cours, it is true. Sarakanne would rather have nobody would tell anything that is less than positive about David Caruso…she is a dreamer and an attention seeker.
    That is all.
    A stalkers stalker and just as bad as Huber.

  • Good piece and very accurate depiction.

  • Emily

    Interesting and well written article. I read articles for information and clarification, have seen some negative (and unproven) stuff out there which leaves me cold. Nice job.

  • Susan

    Another piece about David Caruso . How can someone with so little talentget any praise at all. I’m glad for that revealing posts out there. At least they show the REAL David Caruso…no sugar-coating

  • very nice article, well done, and accurate. sarakanne is a well-meaning woman who has become a bit obsessed over the obsessed stalker, whose name is Heidimarie Schnitzer, not Gabriele Huber. If you want a more balanced look into the whole mess, I woul dsuggest you visit Dojo’s blog, and read from the first through to the current.

    some of us just love David Caruso and wish all the naysayers would just stop watching him if they find his style so confusing.

  • tanyadell

    lovely article on a lovely man!! I try to help Sara whenever I can to combat the hate smear and she then turned her hate to us the few who follow her around the net letting fans know of her false tales….she says aweful things about us so it’s easy to see that everything she says about DC is untrue she know nothing about me and calls me a bad mom…I love the show and am now and always will be a fan of DC!!

  • Maya

    Honestly, do we really care about ALL THIS? This is an article about David Caruso as far as I remember – not about the hurt ego’s of a few people. Or their agendas.
    I always knew that the diet-coke article that was published on the DEFAMER was true. It is in accordance with what I have heard about David Caruso. The man’s got a bad reputation like it or not.

  • Carl

    The following is a good read for those people who want have a more realistic approach towards David Caruso

  • Shannon

    No matter how “well-meaning” Sarakanne might be Caruso and his girlfriend Liza Marquez are separated. It has been confirmed by the NE, by paparazzi and other people. Caruso is seeing someone else for some time now. It is a fact. Time to accept it.

  • Lindy

    You will never have expected this Jeffrey. Thank you for your very informative and balanced article. Yes indeed, Vixen, and several of the alias’s she uses as per the most recent comment above, is David Caruso’s indicted and obsessed stalker. The documents to enlighten you further can be found on the sites mentioned.. You may get 600-700 comments on this blog as has happened elsewhere just recently so beware. It will reflect exactly the deep division you have described. But, differently, one person will constantly use your site to derail, detract from the thoughts you express and make points unrelated to your article such as personal & relationship isues (as above). Many practiced bloggers know the stalkers’ written expression well, her aliases, use of proxy servers, her constant and disruptive trolling of CSI-related boards and her preoccupation with sexual and relationship issues/rumour and innuendo regarding Mr Caruso. I will not identify her own sites but a quick visit to inspect the evidence will inform you further and very clearly. I am not the shows’ biggest fan but I enjoy it for its humour and style as described. But the villification endured by not only Mr Caruso, but his family, including his children, his colleagues and friends, dealt by this person is difficult to accept. I leave it to you to investigate as you will. I expect this phenomenon in itself may be worthy of greater analysis and atention.

  • Pete

    However, I still have to ask what that has to do with the article and Caruso’s performance? Since this post is about CSI Miami and Caruso’s performance, right???

  • leanne

    David is a professional, creative and talented actor stuck in a semi-boring rut of a show, whether his fans think so or not. Watch him in his movie roles – even if the movie is not that good, his performances are. He is a master of nuance and expression and has a lovely fluid way of moving. Not to mention that he is one of the very few actors around who can “act” a love scene and it never looks like acting. *Whew*. the man is H*O*T.

  • Pete

    Well tastes differ-. I fail to see any talent or hotness in the scrawny redhead.
    Well, he is a master of failures. I can’t remember one movie he starred in that was successful. The guy tries to hard being the bad-ass. However, he looks mighty ridiculous doing so.
    Hot? Nah, not in a life-time.
    Cheesy – yes.

  • There is nothing remotely real about the show, but I never miss it!

  • Pete

    …stuck in a semi-boring rut of a show.

    A semi-boring show for a semi-boring actor. Perfect match.

  • tricia

    #21 — April 16, 2008 @ 23:27PM — Pete
    Well tastes differ-. I fail to see any talent or hotness in the scrawny redhead.

    What odd comments you make here, as another man. Odder still that you would read and comment here at all. Almost like…………………?

  • lisa

    omg, really Sara, it is time you were locked up