NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - "CSI: NY," the so-called "stepchild" in the venerable crime franchise, is hitting its milestone 100th episode Wednesday night.
Establishing itself in the "CSI" family -- the mothership debuted in 2001, "CSI: Miami" followed in 2003 -- was fairly simple. Less than two months removed from its September 2004 premiere, "CSI: NY's" rerun rights went to Spike TV for nearly $1.9 million per episode -- at the time the largest syndication sale ever. Then it managed to shove NBC's warhorse "Law & Order" out of its traditional Wednesday 10 p.m. time slot (though temporarily).
But in the show's inaugural season, the overall look was more New York subway, circa 1970 than gleaming modern-day Big Apple. Network brass suggested a change.
"They redid the set for the second season, and everything was all glass and clear and you could see the skyline," recalls CBS Entertainment president Nina Tassler. "Then -- in finding those stories that are ripped from the headlines but a little Page Six-y, and in finding that New York humor and attitude -- they really established their own voice."
New York City is as much a star in the show as are its leads, Gary Sinise (Det. Mac Taylor) and Melina Kanakaredes (Det. Stella Bonasera), which prompts the show to relocate a few times a year from Los Angeles to shoot crucial location scenes.
One factor that makes "NY" unique is weather. "We're the only show in the franchise that gets to do winter," says showrunner Pam Veasey. And that means more than just different background shots. "That means we get to do snow science. We also get a different cultural diversity than Vegas or Miami, and New York has old buildings with history."
For the 100th episode, called "My Name Is Mac Taylor," Veasey wanted to do something special, and lit on the idea of sending Sinise's Taylor out to investigate crimes whose victims were also called Mac Taylor. The juiced-up guest cast includes Rumer Willis, Chris Daughtry, Scott Wolf -- and Olafur Eliasson's mammoth waterfall tumbling over scaffolding under the Brooklyn Bridge. The waterfall provides the primary forensic twist. Namely, in spring (when the episode takes place), why is a leaf covered in sea salt?
"I saw the waterfalls, and I thought they were beautiful," says Veasey. "How could we show New York and not include them?"
Often, says Veasey, ideas for stories come literally from looking through photos of New York City. "I had this beautiful picture I took many years ago when I worked in Bayonne, N.J., and it was of a piece of land that (featured) the Statue of Liberty, and I said, 'I want this in my show!' So we're very much picture-motivated." She adds that when they come to the city, they take a lot of photos of mundane items or events, like the way people chain their bicycles to any standing pole or post, to inject an extra dose of authentic detail.
This distant re-creation of a very particular city generates a version a bit askew from reality -- the visual equivalent of English spoken with a thick accent. Crimes are regularly committed within spitting distance of major landmarks, as if to reassure the audience that it's really New York City. Case in point: As a nod to the milestone, the 100th episode will open on the 100th floor of a skyscraper, which means they must be in the Empire State Building because New York City has no other buildings with 100 stories.
Small details aside, the series is obviously doing something right, as about 11 million viewers tune in each week to see a version of New York found nowhere else on the dial. And that's fine for "NY," which has no interest in competing with television's other big cop franchise for audiences.
"'Law & Order' is a different type of show completely," says Veasey. "We are grounded in the science of the case."
Kanakaredes is even set to write an episode, which thrills her.
"With the 100th episode coming up, it seems like a rebirth," says the actress. "People are really excited about taking the show to the next level. 'CSI' and 'CSI: Miami' are storming toward their 200th and 150th episodes, respectively, with no sign of slowing. If that's any indication, this may only be the beginning for us."