×

L.A. County Coroner Insists on Dead-On Accuracy for TV Shows

Investigator Craig Harvey provides forensic advice to Hollywood for TV shows including 'NCIS,' 'Southland'

L.A. County chief coroner investigator Craig Harvey has been providing forensic advice to Hollywood for TV shows ranging from “JAG” and “Boomtown” to “Southland” and “NCIS,” as well as films like “Pathology,” “Deja Vu” and “Street Kings.”

IN THE BEGINNING

Harvey’s stint as coroner consultant began when producer Donald Bellisario reached out to him in the early 2000s for the series “JAG.” When Bellisario moved to “NCIS,” Harvey was asked to brief thesp David McCallum for his role as a coroner investigator. Today, Harvey and the writer-producers of “NCIS” know each other so well that he can call in his advice by phone.

ACCURACY, ACCURACY, ACCURACY

“Just about every show that has a forensic aspect, I probably have talked to a writer, talked to a production set decorator,” Harvey says. His advice covers things like signage, lighting, tools and what’s in the autopsy room. “I make it as real as possible,” he says. The education has been a two-way street. When Harvey started in 2003, Bellisario told him, “It’s a TV show, not a documentary.”

THE ‘CSI’ EFFECT

Now the public expects toxicology reports and other forensics results within an hour, just as they’re delivered onscreen. But TV writers take creative license to move a story along, Harvey says, pointing out that in reality, it takes six to eight weeks to obtain such results.

WORST MOMENT

A scene that still sticks with him came from an episode in a show he prefers not to name in which a red liquid was dripping from a planter to a pool. The character in the scene put an ungloved finger in the material and put it up to his nose. “We don’t do anything without putting gloves on first,” Harvey says. “(And) you never put anything near the nose.” Luckily, he adds, “it turned out (the substance) was hummingbird food.”

HOBBIES

Wandering in cemeteries — “the older the better,” he says — and caring for four dogs.

STATS

NAME: Craig Harvey
TITLE: Chief coroner investigator for Los Angeles County
GOAL: To assist productions in presenting the most accurate portrayal of the field of forensic science.
HEADQUARTERS: Los Angeles County Dept. of Coroner, Marengo and Mission streets in downtown Los Angeles
AGE: 59
YEARS ON THE JOB: 26
YEARS AS CHIEF: 21
NO. OF CASES HANDLED ANNUALLY BY THE DEPARTMENT: 16,000-18,000
TOTAL NO. OF CASES INVESTIGATED UNDER HIS WATCH: Approximately 400,000

Popular on Variety

More Biz

  • Led Zeppelin Stairway to Heaven

    Department of Justice Backs Led Zeppelin in ‘Stairway to Heaven’ Copyright Case

    The U.S. Department of Justice has weighed in on the next big music copyright case on the horizon following the Katy Perry “Dark Horse” decision, and taken Led Zeppelin’s side in the long-running copyright dispute that pits the writers of the group’s anthem “Stairway to Heaven” against the publishers of the earlier song “Taurus” by [...]

  • Harvey Weinstein

    Harvey Weinstein Prosecutors Make Last-Minute Move to Bolster Case

    The Manhattan D.A.’s office is making a last-minute bid to strengthen its case against Harvey Weinstein, who is set to be tried next month on charges of rape and sexual assault. Prosecutors notified the court on Tuesday that they will seek a new indictment. The D.A.’s office wants jurors to hear from Annabella Sciorra, the [...]

  • Jeffrey Epstein

    Jeffrey Epstein's Autopsy Rules That He Died by Suicide

    Jeffrey Epstein’s death earlier this month has been ruled a suicide by hanging. The New York Times reported on Friday that the city’s medical examiner has officially made the ruling six days after Epstein was found dead in his jail cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan. According to the Times, which cites a [...]

  • America Ferrera Eva Longoria

    America Ferrera, Eva Longoria and More Sign Letter to Latinx Community: 'We Will Not Be Broken'

    America Ferrera, Eva Longoria and more have signed a letter published in several media outlets on Friday standing in solidarity with the Latinx community. In response to the heightened tension surrounding President Trump’s immigration agenda, the El Paso shooting that targeted Latinx people and the ICE raids in Mississippi, the letter addresses the language used [...]

  • Research Firm Screen Engine/ASI Acquires TicktBox

    Screen Engine/ASI Acquires TicktBox, an Entertainment Marketing and Ticketing Startup

    Screen Engine/ASI, a market research firm that specializes in focus-group testing of movies and TV pilots, has acquired ticktBox, which operates a digital marketing and ticketing platform used by movie distributors, exhibitors, and TV networks. Terms of the deal, which closed Aug. 9, weren’t disclosed. With ticktBox, SE/ASI will have one of the largest databases of [...]

  • NEW YORK, NEW YORK - AUGUST

    Eric Reid, Jemele Hill – and Colin Kaepernick? - Take Jay-Z to Task Over NFL Partnership

    When news of the presumably lucrative entertainment and social-justice deal between Jay-Z’s Roc Nation and the NFL leaked on Tuesday, initially there was a surprising lack of public reaction or outcry. But after a press conference where Jay and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell officially announced the deal at Roc Nation’s New York offices yesterday — [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content