Murder not mandatory in ‘Trace’

Mystery skein examines victims, not crooks

Usually, it starts with a dead body. The hourlong procedural crime drama, that is. Somebody is killed, and the heroes set out to discover how and why. And eventually, by the end of the episode, who.

In the new CBS drama “Without a Trace,” the writers and producers take a different approach. The centerpiece of each episode is not a dead person, but a missing one. And the quest to find answers springs from the victim. The special unit of the FBI assigned to solve these crimes dissects every facet of the victim’s life in order to piece together the puzzle.

“There’s usually a lot of profiling of the bad guy on other shows or movies,” explains exec producer Ed Redlich. “The victim is usually nameless or faceless. Our whole approach is, let’s examine the victim, what kind of life the victim led. Immerse ourselves in that person’s world.”

Anthony LaPaglia leads the special FBI task force in applying psychological techniques to determine the victim’s whereabouts and discover if he or she had been abducted, is missing by choice, was murdered or committed suicide.

“The network has referred to our people as psychologists with badges,” Redlich says. “As opposed to ‘CSI,’ where success in the investigations comes because science triumphs, our characters are more intuitive.”

CBS’ audience will get both methods on the same night. “Without a Trace” will occupy the timeslot at 10 p.m. on Thursday, immediately following “CSI,” Neilsen’s top-rated drama.

“Without a Trace” also may benefit from the public’s recent fascination with high-profile missing persons cases, and the issue of why some incidents get so much publicity and others so little.

“Absolutely,” confirms show creator Hank Steinberg. “There are hundreds of thousands of missing people. We hear about very specific cases. They tend to be little white kids, for the most part. The girl that’s lifted out of her bedroom touches on a whole bogeyman/urban myth thing. It’s always sort of unbelievable, which is part of the reason why it gets so much attention.

“I can’t really speak for the whole media and who they choose to cover, but we will definitely deal with that.”

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