The sheer numbers behind CSI are mind-boggling. It is a TV franchise that has gone beyond what any executive would have thought possible and it’s made a lot of its stars and producers very, very rich.
The original format, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, launched in the autumn of 2000. It followed a team of forensic investigators, led by William Peterson’s Gil Grissom, who has been newly promoted supervisor following the death of a trainee investigator.
The team are sent in to investigate an alleged suicide, but they quickly conclude that the man’s death was in fact a murder, and set in train a format that would build a global audience of over two billion and be viewed in TV on over 200 countries.
At the last count, at the start of December in 2021, 807 episodes of CSI have been broadcast and more are on the way, with a second season of new reboot CSI: Vegas coming next month.
During the show’s run, there have been 11 CSI inspired computer games, CSI comics, numerous CSI novels, a number of CSI board games and even a musuem exhibition dedicated to the franchise. It is a TV show with a reach and broad appeal like no other.
Thus far, there have been five televisual iterations of the franchise, beginning with CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and going to include CSI: Miami, CSI: New York and CSI: Cyber as well as current reboot CSI: Vegas.
But which one is the best? Well, we’ve tried to rank them all and this is what we’ve concluded…
5. CSI: Cyber
Given the sheer longevity of almost every CSI franchise, the fact that Cyber only lasted two seasons should tell us everything about its quality.
Initially, the show was led by Patricia Arquette, who starred as Dr. Avery Ryan, a Deputy Director of the FBI who has now founded the organisation’s Cyber Crime Division.
Ryan, a behavioral psychologist by training, but who now applies that skill to cyber crime, led a team tasked with solving anything related to cyberspace, including murder that seemed to evolve from the internet, cyber theft, hacking, blackmail and more.
With the show struggling to build an audience, Ted Danson’s D.B. Russell, a veteran of the original CSI, was brought in to bolster the show. It didn’t work.
The joy of the franchise largely came from watching the team solve a crime in real time, the red herrings, the darting about all over the place, and the occasional blasts of action. None of that worked when a lot of time was spent looking at a computer screen.
4. CSI: Vegas
CSI’s newest incarnation is definitely a step-up from Cyber, but it has yet to really finds it groove.
The reboot brought back William Petersen and Jorja Fox as Gil Grissom and Sara Sidle, the pair, who between them have almost 500 episodes of CSI, were brought back.
Why were they brought back? Well, a newly-uncovered conspiracy threatened to unravel years of their lab’s work and potentially free thousands of convicted killers. Naturally, this had to be stopped.
Getting the gang back together worked for a limited run and it was good fun, but we’ll have to see how this iteration evolves, especially as Peterson and Fox aren’t coming back for season two in September.
3. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation
Most lists would find it hard to look past the original, but, for us, it’s gone through so many changes of leading men and women and ups and downs in terms of quality that it’s hard to place it any higher than third.
Over the years, Petersen, Marg Helgenberger, Gary Dourdan, George Eads, Fox, Danson, Laurence Fishburne, Elisabeth Shue and Paul Guilfoyle have all taken center stage in the show, which spanned 337 episodes and 15 seasons.
One of the show’s great gifts is you could pick any episode at random and immediately become engrossed, it is the ultimate procedural and always compelling, but it’s the lack of investment in any one person that puts it at Number Three for us.
2. CSI: NY
Commanded by Face/Off star Gary Sinise, CSI’s New York has a gruff, stoic sensibility and a charm of its own, which lasted well for nine seasons.
Sinise plays Detective Mac Taylor, a former Marine from Chicago, who is still grieving the death of his wife when he’s asked to head a new team of forensic investigators.
With a bit more depth to his characters than many of his predecessors in the CSI ranks, Sinise always stayed the course to the very end, giving a real arch to the whole thing, as well as lots of dastardly cases to solve.
Bound to the centre of New York, Sinise’s Taylor and his team get assigned a lot of late-night grissly murders to deal with and a fair few chases through crowded streets. That repetition keeps it from our top spot.
1. CSI: Miami
Lots of actors have come and gone during the course of CSI, but, for us, the real MVP is David Caruso’s Horatio Caine.
A bomb-disposal expert, with a specialized knowledge in explosive forensics, Caine gets to solve a lot of fiery crimes.
With all of Miami and its surrounding area to play with, this is the CSI with the nimblest team and the best action set pieces. It also has Caruso’s gift for a killer one-liner.
This ran for 10 entertaining seasons, with Caruso and co-star Emily Procter there for the duration. Of all the iterations, this is by far the more fun, the most gripping and the one, when it appears late at night on terrestrial TV, the one we can never turn off.