As television shows go, it is an utterly predictable formula – a cops-and-criminals drama spiced up with graphically gruesome details, a music video-worthy soundtrack and implausibly attractive investigators, with the whodunit teed up at the start of each episode handily solved within an hour.

Yet in spite (or perhaps because) of this, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation was again crowned the world’s most watched show in 2011, for the fifth time in seven years, based on the 63 million viewers it attracted.

While the series has cleaved to this formula since it first aired in 2000, it has managed to stay fresh, partly by enlisting some big names in television and film, including Golden Globe winner Ted Danson in 2011 and Oscar-nominated actress Elisabeth Shue last year.

CSI: Still TV's top crime team

Danson is best known for playing quirky, sardonic characters including bartender Sam on the sitcom Cheers (1982-1993), which won him two Golden Globe awards. And he seems more than happy to have landed another plum role in a long-running hit series.

“I’m thrilled that it remains the No. 1 watched show in the world even after I joined,” the 65-year-old quipped during a press conference.

“The different kinds of people who come up to you and talk about it still surprise me.” He plays D.B. Russell, supervisor of the CSI team in Las Vegas.

Shue, 49, saw her film career peak in the 1990s, when she won an Oscar nomination for playing a prostitute in the 1995 film Leaving Las Vegas.

Since then, her projects have been few and far between, as she has been reluctant to leave her children with film-maker Davis Guggenheim, two daughters and a son, aged six to 14.

“I decided to be on CSI knowing that my youngest was in school. I had a tough time deciding to do any television shows when she was still young because I didn’t want to miss out on any moment in her life.

“But I’m glad I chose CSI because it’s a show that is an ensemble – there are a lot of great characters so I still get time off to take care of my family and keep that balance. And the show’s very well-run.”

CSI: Still TV's top crime team

While she is used to working on dramas, acting out stories about murders and dead bodies was a bit of an adjustment for Danson, who is more of a comedic actor despite three Emmy nominations from 2008 to 2010 for his role in the Glenn Close legal drama Damages.

“There are times you can see smoke coming out of my ears because the words are so hard,” he says of the multisyllabic scientific and technical terms that trip off Russell’s tongue. “It’s very difficult to memorise, so I am a little tired right now.”

Comedy is nevertheless more challenging, he adds. “Because it’s very hard to get the right tone of what’s funny. In drama, there’s an old joke that you can show up drunk, depressed and divorced and the camera goes, ‘Ooh! Wow! That’s interesting!'”

Over the years, the CSI cast have had more opportunities to flex their dramatic muscles as the show’s writers have delved increasingly into the lives and personal stories of their characters.

But its chief appeal is still its forensic “procedural” element, the whodunit-on- steroids genre that it pioneered, in many ways, leading to the spin-offs CSI: Miami and CSI: New York, as well as similar shows such as Bones and Cold Case.

“This show has stuck to what made it great early on, they really do provide you with a forensic mystery that is as honest as you can make it, considering you have 45 minutes to tell a story,” says Danson.

“We try to make the science as real as possible and they have stuck to that formula. I think that is what makes it successful.”

CSI: Crime Scene Investigation Season 13 airs on AXN (StarHub Channel 511) on Wednesdays at 10pm.

This article was first run in The Straits Times newspaper on March 7 2013. For similar stories, go
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