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‘CSI’ Farewell Panel Talks How DNA, Hair Fibers & Plushies Changed TV & Society

Actors, writers, producers and creators of CBS hit show “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” gathered Wednesday night for a panel to mark its series finale at the Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills. The Q&A concluded the 2015 PaleyFest Fall TV Previews.

Devoted fan and Entertainment Weekly writer Lynette Rice moderated the event and began with a question directed to creator Anthony E. Zuiker. Rice asked how he thought to redefine the television crime genre, singing the iconic theme song, “Who were you, who who who who?”

“I was watching a show called ‘The New Detectives’ on the Discovery Channel and saw a forensic docu-drama… about a cheerleader who was killed and they pulled a long blonde hair out of the headrest,” Zuiker started.

After a voice-over explained the cause of death from studying the strand, Zuiker said, “That’s when I learned that the body really is the perfect specimen and it was quite the tweak I needed to reinvent the cop drama.”

Zuiker was a tram driver in Las Vegas when he hit the jackpot on his first script ever, “CSI.” Zuiker shared that in his last pitch attempt to CBS — after other networks declined — the network immediately bought the series as its last addition to the 2000 fall lineup. And the rest is history.

The show’s cinematic style and focus on coroners, instead of police officers, set it apart. William Petersen shared his experience at a pathology convention when coroners thanked him for highlighting their profession.

“They said, ‘We are finally out of the closet now. We get invited to parties, I can talk to girls and they call me back because they think it’s cool that I’m a coroner,'” Petersen remembered.

The U.S. courts system also changed with the public’s new understanding of forensic science. Exec producer Jonathan Littman revealed that there is a federal jury instruction, called the “CSI” instruction, where prosecutors ask jurors if they can separate real life and TV.

“They were losing too many cases because the jurors were expecting to have fingerprints and hair fibers and DNA… they expected Billy Petersen,” Littman explained.

The show’s ripped-from-the-headlines plot also educated the public on some unbelievably shocking stories that were society truths — including the Plushie and Furry fetish communities.

“One of the weirdest storylines I ever experienced was Ted Danson‘s first episode,” actress Elisabeth Harnois recounted. “It was about a shooting on a transit train and an octopus is found with a gunshot wound; it turns out the octopus was the sexual partner of a woman. This is based on a true story. Not the shooting part, but this kinky sort of world.”

10-year “CSI” veteran John Wellner told Variety that “CSI” inspired a number of television programs that brought heroism to the sciences.

“So many other shows that you see now, ‘NCIS,’ ‘Criminal Minds,’ Cold Case,’ all of those shows I feel like came from what ‘CSI’ created,” Wellner said while adding that the show provided him with the expertise to consult on the upcoming Fox drama “Rosewood.”

Other panelists that bid farewell to the show were original stars Marg Helgenberger, Jorja Fox, Eric Szmanda, Robert David Hall, Paul Guilfoyle, David Berman along with Wallace Langham, exec producer Jerry Bruckheimer, co-creators and exec producers Carol Mendelsohn and Ann Donahue as well as Danson, who will continue within the franchise on “CSI: Cyber.” CBS’ Leslie Moonves was also on hand to support the cast and crew.

The two-hour series finale of “CSI” airs at 9 p.m. Sept. 27 on CBS.

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