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Saturday, January 17, 2004

The funniest thing I have read all week 

No book news update till later tonight (or perhaps tomorrow) but how could I resist commenting on this: hot on the heels of the success of the first "CSI" show in Vegas and then the spinoff in Miami is news of a new spinoff slated for the 2004-05 fall season--CSI: New York.

Now, of course, having an all-but-thesis-approval M.S. in Forensic Science (which, hopefully, will no longer be a hyphenated state by month's end) I can safely say that there are two questions I get asked the most when I tell them what I've studied. The first is "wow, do you get to work with dead bodies and stuff?" and #2 is "so what do you think of that CSI show?"

So, what do I think of CSI? In theory, it's great to see crime scene investigation and forensic science brought to a national, if not international level. And the shows make it look oh-so-glamorous. In reality, of course, it's anything but, and I break down the major differences as follows: first, CSIs don't interrogate suspects in real life. That's what detectives and beat cops are for. Second, real CSIs and forensic scientists would absolutely kill for the kind of equipment they use on the show. Government or private lab budgets simply don't allow for that. But it doesn't make for good TV to do the following:

"We need a rush on this case now! Can you get the DNA results by tomorrow?"

"Sorry, but we're still working with analysis equipment from 10 years ago. We'd have to spend six months to a year validating each and every sample we've ever worked with on the new, faster equipment."

"But it's new and fancy equipment and it'll give the results quicker!"

"Not if we have to validate it first, go through inspection, and make sure each and every prior sample--thousands, if not more--give the same results with the new equipment. Never mind that we need to get a government grant to explain why we need it when the old stuff works just fine."

"But--"


Well, you get the idea. So why do I think CSI: New York is such a bizarre idea? I guess if I had done my schooling, internships and known various levels of scientists in Vegas or Miami, I'd have the same reaction, but frankly, I don't think so. New York just doesn't have that same kind of gloss and veneer that those towns do, and so the show setting would have to be, well, dark and gritty. Which may be the point. But also, there are just too many people around, whether at John Jay College, the NYPD crime labs (or the ones in Nassau County, Suffolk County, Yonkers, Westchester, you name it) to criticize and nitpick. And believe me, we are really good at that sort of thing, and we're not going to get a swelled head over the idea.

Or maybe it's me. But then, one of my new pet peeves in reading crime novels set in New York is that I notice when writers get procedure wrong, be it for policework or worse, anything whatsoever to do with the medical examiner's office. Say "coroner" and I'll be gritting my teeth through the rest of the book. If, as one writer did once, you have the Chief ME go to every scene of a crime, you've just failed my credibility test. That's why the office has medicolegal investigators. But enough of my own preaching, and it's a digression. The point is that credibility-stretching is bad enough when set in Vegas and Miami, but it could cause some serious snickerings in Manhattan. Which, granted, is what New York excels at, but why bother?

Especially when the prospect of CSI: Los Angeles could be far more attractive.

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