From Florida to Frankfurt

Spinoff's not only an Eye opener but a global phenomenon

Creator Anthony Zuiker was meeting with producer Jerry Bruckheimer and CBS topper Les Moonves, all glowing over the success of “CSI,” but, also, pondering how to expand the franchise beyond its original premise.

Las Vegas had been the perfect setting for the original, but everyone suspected that a spinoff based in a new city could translate into another top 10 show.

And thus “Miami” — with its South Beach gloss, Latin vibe and endless beauties — was born.

What suprised everyone, though, was that the show didn’t just turn into a huge hit with American auds but has become a worldwide behemoth as well, ranking on the top of the charts in several countries around the world.

Earlier this year “CSI: Miami” was named as the most successful TV show on global screens as well, ahead of international juggernauts “Lost” and “Desperate Housewives.”

Not bad for a spinoff.

“I love the process of the original, which takes you inside a world that we’ve never seen … and ‘Miami’ brings a certain heat and sexiness to it,” Bruckheimer says. “(Producer) Ann (Donahue) has done a great job taking it on and giving it a life of its own.”

According to a study by London-based media research outfit Informa, the skein that features the exploits of David Caruso and his team of medical investigators was the most successful TV show worldwide in 2005.

“CSI: Miami” was, of course, the second show of the “CSI” empire, spun from the original CBS Paramount and Alliance Atlantis forensic police procedural set in Las Vegas.

That it has managed to eclipse the mothership in terms of international success is quite an achievement, and something else for its producers to celebrate as the show passes its 100th episode. The show is watched by 50 million people worlwide and 18 million in the States.

Alliance Atlantis hasn’t publicly discussed the foreign revenues of the franchise, but TV analysts have pegged “CSI: Miami” as pulling in roughly $900,000 an episode — on par with what the big Hollywood studios get overseas for their top dramas.

David Stapf, CBS Paramount Network TV prexy, thinks he knows why.

“David (Caruso) is a version of the great American hero. You know he’s going to get the bad guy,” he says, “but anybody can relate to that idealized sense that he is on the side of right.”

Skein’s impact is easy to figure in English-speaking territories such as the U.K. where firstruns of “CSI: Miami” are a lynchpin of terrestrial web Five’s schedule.

But how come the program has managed to crack so many territories outside North America, the U.K. and the Antipodes? Germany, Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, not forgetting Russia, Malaysia, Ecuador, Estonia and the United Arab Emirates, among others, all take the show.

Moonves reckons that in common with a lot of heavy-hitting shows of the past, “Miami” posses a vital secret ingredient — beach appeal.

“We’re living in a golden age of TV drama, but ‘CSI: Miami’ has a very different look and feel to other shows. It stands out,” he says. “Everybody likes the beach. Some of those old shows set in Hawaii had that same beach setting. ‘CSI: Miami’ has a similar sort of appeal.”

Ted Riley, executive managing director of international content distribution at Alliance Atlantis, agrees with that analysis.

“Those locations have incredible appeal to European audiences,” he explains. “When a European broadcaster wants to buy a U.S. show, they don’t want something that replicates their own world. They want something that’s exotic.”

But inevitably there is more to “CSI: Miami’s” universal success than the Florida settings.

Explains Riley: “The show has a well-developed beginning, middle and end, and the fact that the plot revolves around problem solving is something that translates into all cultures.”

“I remember once asking the French why (the show was popular), and they gave me a fascinating answer. They said it was because the French love the lone hero. The original ‘CSI’ is very much more of an ensemble show, but ‘Miami’ is all about Caruso. He’s at the center of everything.”

As for helping keep CBS a Monday force after its two-hour comedy slot, “Monday has always been a very key night for us, and being able to count on ‘Miami’ to anchor it made all the difference,” says Nancy Tellem, prexy of CBS Par Network Television Entertainment Group, who was president of CBS Entertainment during the early “CSI” years.

Looking ahead, neither Moonves nor Riley sees the show sinking into the sunset in the near feature.

Riley adds: “I don’t see any of the ‘CSI’ shows slowing down. The financial model is strong, and the degree of commitment from the key creative personnel is enormous. They put an immense amount of work into keeping it fresh.”

There is another reason, Riley reckons, why this small-screen international blockbuster just keeps on selling: Jaded TV buyers actually watch it.

“There are shows buyers buy for the audience, but most of the buyers of ‘CSI’ love the show. I know the head of RTL is a big fan, ditto the head of TF1. They championed the show and made sure it was given every chance.”

Although “Miami” and parent “CSI” continue to do well overseas and in the States — though the latter is up against ABC powerhouse “Grey’s Anatomy” — and “CSI: NY” is steady in the ratings, don’t expect another spinoff anytime soon.

“It seemed inevitable that the franchise would spread once they created a megahit franchise,” says TV Guide critic Matt Roush, “but this is not a limitless proposition. Three is the magic number.”

Zuiker agrees.

“Viewership dictated that three is best,” he says. “When you’ve got the desert, the ocean and the city of industry, what more could you want?”

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