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for two consecutive years (2002-2003 and 2003-2004 seasons) according to Nielsen Ratings, a system used to measure viewing habits in the U.S ("Nielsen Ratings"). It's spin-offs are trailing not far behind. The last episode of its 2004-2005 season, directed by Quentin Tarantino, was touted as one of the shows with the greatest viewership in television history ("CSI").
The ratings show how CSI has become a cult phenomenon in modern television.
Anthony E. Zuiker, a relative new-comer to the TV industry, created the series. He also produces it with the ubiquitous Jerry Bruckheimer, along with veteran producers Carol Mendelsohn and Ann Donahue. The show is co-produced by CBS Productions and a Canadian production outfit, Alliance Atlantis (Dickenson). CBS is one of the four broadcasting giants in U.S. television. Disney's Touchstone Pictures initially produced CSI, but then backed out on financial grounds. Touchstone believed that the show would not generate profit ("CSI Overview"). Alliance Atlantis, on the other hand, saw it as a good opportunity and picked it up.
At the beginning, the show did not take off immediately. Before being taken under Alliance Atlantis's wing, the show's production was offered to Paramount, Warner Brothers, and Twentieth Century Fox. All declined (Dickenson). According to Zuiker, the series took "studio executives off guard because it was so unorthodox" ("Zuiker").
He also pitched the ...
At the time all hype was centered to it's lead-in, a remake of The Fugitive. Nobody expected that CSI would be the breakout hit for 2000. Even CBS did not anticipate that the show will be the one to put the company back on the map. According to a CBS executive, "We put all of our promotion dollars into The Fugitive [...] We were just hoping for CSI to hang on and retain a bit of the lead-in" (qtd. in "Producers").
Taking advantage of it's success, it was moved from its usual spot on Fridays to the Thursday night lineup. It was mainly a strategic but risky move to challenge NBC's formidable lineup which includes Friends (then the number one show in the 2001-2002 season), Will and Grace, and ER ("CSI"). NBC's "Must See TV" was the undisputed ratings champion at the time. By the 2002-2003 season, CSI already steamrolled the competition, bagging the top spot in Nielsen Ratings, it's spot secured even more by the end of Friends in 2004 ("CSI"). According to Bruckheimer, one of CSI's executive producer's, they intentionally pitted the show against the "big leagues" (Kiesewetter). NBC responded by putting Donald Trump's "The Apprentice" on the same time slot, but CSI still took the lead.
Following CSI's unexpected success, CBS was transformed from being the bottom performer (not having a top show for years besides Survivor) among the big league broadcasters which include NBC, ABC, and Fox, into the top player. It reclaimed its former glory through "innovation and daring" (Stanley). Risky as their moves may be, they managed to conquer the competition and maintain high ratings to this day.
The idea for CSI was developed by Zuiker because of his wife's fondness of shows that deal with crimes and forensics.