Josh Berman, Executive Producer on C.S.I.
Berman has said in interviews that he most enjoys writing about the more bizarre crimes and the truly odd criminals, because those incidents and characters stand out in viewers' memories. Among his favorite episodes are "Suckers," about people in the vampire subculture, and "Lady Heather's Box," featuring sexual bondage practitioners. Yet for Talk CSI, he indicated that the show for which he felt the most pride was a 2003 episode in the fourth season, "Invisible Evidence."
The first scene took place in a courtroom, an unusual environment for the team, despite the fact that the work they do is entirely for the courts. A bloody knife taken from the defendant's car and offered as key evidence was thrown out as inadmissible, so within the judge's twenty-four-hour time limit, the team had to work fast to ensure a conviction with other evidence. As Berman wrote this tale, he not only enjoyed placing the characters in the courtroom, but also liked the urgent quality induced by the ticking clock. For writers, balancing story and suspense is often the most difficult challenge, but when accomplished, it's the most rewarding part of the job.
Berman admits that his great attraction to writing about crime is the way one must retain the mystery of the unsolved puzzle while developing the narrative. "I love being able to craft a story where you don't see the whole picture until the very last piece is put into it, and when all the pieces ultimately come together, it's a fantastic picture."
But despite his educational diversity, he does occasionally encounter subjects with which he is unfamiliar. He then relies on the show's researchers, John Welner and his own brother, David Berman, who also plays assistant coroner David Phillips. They locate the experts he needs and make the connection. "I will talk through the scene I want to do with an attorney or legal professional to find out if it's realistic," says Berman. "If it's not, then I'll switch tactics. If it is, I may ask them to help me craft it. I do ask them to keep me real, but always within the drama. It's television. I think C.S.I. is a very realistic show that takes some creative liberties. You can't really solve a murder case in an hour, but that's standard on a legal show. You can't get the DNA results back instantaneously, but that's a given on C.S.I.. So we take the leaps within the time frame, and often our success rate is a lot higher than traditional CSI's have, but everything is based on actual fact. A lot of our stories are inspired by real cases — not necessarily the whole story, but we'll read an article about a case that will trigger an idea for a story. People send me articles and I love that. I do go to websites and read stories, but I don't read crime novels. I would rather be influenced by nonfiction than by fiction."
People who follow true crime have certainly recognized such cases as the windshield murder of the homeless man in Texas, the Buddhist Temple massacre in Arizona, and the staircase death of Michael Peterson's wife in North Carolina. In fact, it's something of a game to guess which actual incident may be the basis for an episode and to watch how its fictional counterpart turns out.