Kary:

This is the Crime Story Podcast with Kary Antholis where we have conversations about how and why narratives of crime and justice are told.

Today’s podcast is a conversation with Pam Veasey, Showrunner of two of the four series in the CSI franchise: CSI: New York and CSI: CYBER.

The conversation was recorded as part of a series of classes that I taught at The University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. Each week I would host an artist for a discussion that would help us better understand their values and aims as storytellers in the world of crime and justice.

During our conversation we discussed Pam’s path into storytelling, culminating in how she came to run CSI: New York, what the show’s rules and principles were, and how she took custody of a mega hit vision created by someone else and made it a hit in its own right that was distinctive from the other iterations of the franchise. We then discussed how she went on to run another show with a unique twist on the franchise premise.

To ground the conversation we discussed the 16th episode of the 4th season of CSI: NY called Right Next Door and the third episode of season 1 of CSI: CYBER called Killer En Route.

And so, with that said, here is my interview with Pam.

Kary:

Without further ado, welcome to CSI: NY. Please join me in welcoming Pam Veasey to our class. 

Kary:

Can you give us a sense of your path into this industry? When did you know that you wanted to do this, or did you? Have you yet decided that you want to do this?

Pam Veasey:

I do want to do it, which is good, because I’ve been in this for 30 years. 30 years. Really, I have. Knock on wood. I remember specifically there were two events. I’m a graduate of USC, but not in the cinema school. I was in the journalism and political science school. While here, I did not have family, any exposure to the business. I wasn’t sure I was a journalism major. I was exposed to two events. One was a field trip in my housing to go see a television show being filmed or taped, videotaped, at the time. I was fascinated about how many people it took to do 30 minutes of television. I was like, “What?”

Pam Veasey:

Then another event was a writer’s conference at Mt. SAC where a young woman talked about being a writer’s assistant on The Bob Newhart Show, and then becoming the first woman writer on the show. She talked about her journey. I was like, “Yeah, that sounds about it. I’d love to do that.” I’m still trying to figure out who that woman was. I’d love to find her name and say, “Look what you did to me, or for me.” But it was fascinating because what she was talking about is getting in a room, and thinking of jokes, and writing the story. She really brought to life the opportunity, but said she had started as a writer’s assistant, and had to get the opportunity, and make sure the guy … because at the time, she was a girl with all the guys, which was usually the case when women started out then.

Pam Veasey:

Then I started investigating all this, and then became … I was a receptionist on a comedy. Spent a year there. I had bumped around with internships, but this was one of my first jobs. Sat at a typewriter, and typed a screenplay, and studied a television show that I really liked watching, and decided to write a spec comedy script. I turned that comedy script into the producers of that show, and said, “Could you just tell me if I’m close?” I gave it to them on a Thursday. On Monday, they called me into their office. Well, actually, one of the executive producers came out of his office and said, “I heard you wrote a script. I’m going to the bathroom. Need something to read.”

Kary:

Nice.

Pam Veasey:

I’m like, “Thank you. Sure, sir.”

Kary:

Classy.

Pam Veasey:

Yeah, it was. He was funny. It was a comedy show. I gave it to him. He comes back out, and he tosses it on my desk. “Thank you.” That was a quick read. Then I get called into the executive producer’s office. I think it’s because their assistant’s gone that day, so I’m all ready to show them I can be an executive assistant. I’ve got my little notepad ready, and I’ve got pencils sharpened. I think I’m either taking notes for the first time. You’ve got to take notes on the script, or I’m ordering their lunch or something. I’m doing something executive assistant-like.

Pam Veasey:

They call me in, and they say, “We’re going to have to let you go as our receptionist.” I said, “What?” They knew I would behave the way I did indeed behave, which was, “That’s fine. You can keep your job. Is this how you do it? You just let somebody go?” I went on, and on, and on and on. “You didn’t give me a warning. You didn’t tell me I was doing bad work. You just let me go. That’s okay. That’s okay. I’m going to get another job.” I’m standing there in front of three executive producers. I tell them, “That’s fine. Let me go. I’ll get another job, but people don’t do things like this.” My big point was, “I make coffee, and I don’t even drink it.”

Pam Veasey:

They fall over laughing. The executive producer director, Hal Cooper, who I adored, came up to me and, “It’s because we’ve read your script. We’re going to make you a writer.” I was one of those lucky, lucky people who became a receptionist, answering phones, licking stamps, doing script work. Wrote a script at my desk, turned it in, and suddenly I was a writer. Of course, I fell into tears. I’m thinking, “What did I say to them?” But that’s how I started on a little show called … you guys weren’t even remotely thought of or born, called Gimme a Break! How appropriate, right? Then after that was launched into the world.

Pam Veasey:

But remember, I told you I had nobody in this business. I didn’t know a lot about this. I had to learn as I went through it, because I was clueless, because the next thing that happened on that show was I found out from Entertainment Tonight it was canceled. I literally was sitting at home, and they’re like, “Gone from the NBC lineup.” I’m like, “What?” I didn’t even know how to get a job after that. I had an agent, but they didn’t have to worry about anything because I already had a job. It was really quite a challenge, but that’s how I started in writing.

Kary:

What were some of the other mileposts along the way, particularly your transition from comedy to drama?

Pam Veasey:

That happened after I left In Living Color, which was great fun, by the way. In Living Color was quite a challenge. That was a lot of late nights, and being funny on command, and working with great, I mean amazing, talented people. The Wayans family, Jamie Fox, Jennifer Lopez was a Fly Girl. It was just this world where you went into restaurants, and people were talking about the show you wrote. You’re like, “Yes, I made it.” But then transitioning out of that, I wanted to be labeled as a writer, not a comedy writer. I felt like I could write other things, because what I watched on TV was dramas.

Pam Veasey:

I left the business for one year, and sat down and wrote a feature, and wrote some dramas. My agents were doing, “What are you doing? You just left a really hot show. We could get you another job on a comedy, and you’re going off to go write something else?” I’m like, “Yeah.” I came back with three scripts. They said, “You’re not kidding? Okay. You want to be a drama writer.” That’s how I made a transition. But it was really tough then. It was tough to be a comedy writer, and transition to being a drama writer. Now it’s much more fluid. People accept that talent. But it was really hard then to carve out the fact that you were a writer first, and then the type of writing you did was something you learned that you study and hone.

Kary:

What were the dramas, and particularly the crime dramas, that you were inspired by that you watched as a younger person?

Pam Veasey:

I was a huge Hill Street Blues … well, I wasn’t that young, but those were the ones I was watching. Hill Street Blues, and L.A. Law. I mean I’ll never forget the first episode of L.A. Law where the guy shot himself. All these law things. I was studying The Practice when I was trying to write my first script. It was legal. They weren’t procedurals then. They were just called good TV. I was studying all these shows of foundation of Hill Street, and L.A. Law, and The Practice and things like that, but not quite sure I was going into that. I mean I wrote a hospital drama, actually, as my first script. It was a Chicago Hope, which was a show also by David Kelley at the time that started the same time as ER. They were very competitive.

Pam Veasey:

But I wanted to cross over from being a comedic writer, into a dramatic writer. But I studied the scripts. I mean I just kept reading them over and over. Less so watching it. I didn’t want to watch it and mimic it. I wanted to see the rhythm of the way they spoke, and how it was written, and what words were used.

Kary:

How did you come to work on CSI: NY?

Pam Veasey:

I finally got into drama after writing those specs. I started out on a show called Nash Bridges, with a whole bunch of guys like Carlton Cuse, and Damon Lindelof was on there. Shawn Ryan was a part of our … I was the girl. I was the chick with the guys. That’s what they used to call me, the chick with the guys. I wandered through the drama world. Ultimately, was a showrunner on a show called The District, which starred Craig T. Nelson. It was about a commissioner in Washington, D.C.

Pam Veasey:

When that show ended, they were creating the third installment of the CSI franchise. I was already with CBS, and I said, “Yeah, I really love New York.” Actually, The District was based on a New York cop. We just happened to move that show to Washington. I said I was interested, and they said, “Okay. Your show’s ending. Let’s see what happens.” I didn’t go on as a showrunner. I left a showrunner job to go on and be a co-executive producer. I was happy to say, “You know what? I don’t have to run it. I’ll just be that writer you can count on.” But in season two, ultimately I was co-running the show with Anthony Zuiker, who had created it, and moved forward.

Pam Veasey:

I have to tell you I had not watched the CSIs before then. I was busy writing my other stuff, and so I had to study up on what it was about. This was the third one. Miami had a certain reputation. The original had a lot of respect, and a certain reputation. The assignment was what do you do with a third in the franchise, which was CSI: NY.

Kary:

Tell us a little bit about that study, and what you gleaned from your cram session.

Pam Veasey:

What was so great, and it was something Anthony Zuiker told me about how he created the show, was it was different from the other cop shows I had written or read because the key to the franchise was to take the audience … it was what we called under the yellow tape. Every crime scene has a perimeter or barrier. It felt like all the other shows, if you watched them, if you watched Law & Order, they do a lot of interviews with the victims. You see this crime scene, but then it becomes the people who might be involved. This was a show about the science. Now another show, many years ago, had been created called Quincy, that was about the science, but it didn’t get involved in the actual science, and whether it could be right or wrong, and how it was discovered.

Pam Veasey:

That was the key of this franchise. It was trying to twist the normal we have a crime, let’s interview people, let’s chase, let’s talk to witnesses, let’s chase the bad guy. There’s a twist in your story. This was about make the science the character. When I say, “Go under the yellow tape,” it means that you took the audience up to the body in the scene, and you picked up the evidence  That was the goal of a CSI.

Pam Veasey:

So when I was studying it, it was about that language. They had a certain rhythm to the way they wrote the scripts, and certain format. At a crime scene, you go up to the body, and everything in that area is now evidence. They treated evidence like a witness. The evidence was supposed to, “Speak to the investigators.” You go back, and there’s an autopsy. That’s where the body goes to speak, to say, “This is what happened to me.” Then there’s a room called “Layout,” where the clothing from the body goes. Then there’s a room called “Trace,” where fibers, and items that were on the body, and cigarette butts and footprints are analyzed. Then there’s also the “Fingerprint Room,” “Ballistics” where the bullets were shot.

Pam Veasey:

Suddenly, crime stories were not just find the guy who saw it, see what he saw. Is he lying? It was what can the evidence tell us? But to make the stories interesting, we then had to say, “When is the evidence compromised so we have a bump in the road?” It’s compromised by weather. It’s compromised because technology hasn’t moved forward. It’s compromised because it was moved, or if you go into an alley, that cigarette butt wasn’t even connected to it. It existed before the murder. We were busy as writers trying to think, “When is the science in our favor, and when does it not work?” That’s what the CSI franchise was about, finding science and letting it be a character in the show.

Kary:

In reading up on the shows, and the distinctions between them, and then in observing them, it … well, I’m not going to characterize it. I’d let you. What were the differences between CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, and CSI: Miami, and then how did you approach talking about the difference, the distinctiveness of CSI: NY?

Pam Veasey:

Of course, CSI: Vegas, as we called it, was the original. Those characters led you through. They introduced us to the whole world. By the time the CSI: NY came on television, was launched, we didn’t have to do a lot of explanation. The audience was pretty savvy about how the show worked. Vegas.had very familiar characters that the audience really loved. They investigated. The importance of the cities is they investigated cases that would be specific to Las Vegas.

Pam Veasey:

When Miami came along, it was about Miami. It was a lot of boats, and skiers, and water, and bikinis and a lot of things like that. That cannot happen in Vegas. 

Pam Veasey:

When we got to CSI: NY, New York is a very, very specific city. Crimes happen going up and going out with high-rises. We are the show that had more weather. We had seasons. We told stories about winter, and stories about rain, and stories about how old the city was. The city of New York made us very unique. We also tried to spend a little time getting to know the characters more, and building a base and a background, and finding out more about them. Because again, we didn’t have the obligation of teaching the audience about science. 

Pam Veasey:

There’s the CSI effect. The language that the franchise taught to everyone became conversational. People would use the words and the language, and ask questions. In courtrooms, juries would say, “Well, you got to have DNA. We’re not going to prosecute. Where’s your evidence?” They were so savvy that a lot of people … a lot of attorneys and judges were saying, “DNA does not come back in 20 minutes. It takes a long time.” But because of television” audiences became experts on the science of investigation, forensic science.

Pam Veasey:

By the time we got to a CSI: NY, we didn’t have to take time educating. The audience already knew. But we had to be extremely clever, so that the other two shows, which had done, by that time, I think 150 episodes and another 100, we had to be creative. The city of New York, and the cast with Gary Sinise and Melina Kanakaredes, and later Sela Ward, made us unique.

Commercial for crimestory.com.

Kary:

Tell us a bit about the process of the writers being assembled, and then what the marching orders were to the staff. You say you came on as a co-EP. Had Anthony run either of those shows, or was this the first show he was running?

Pam Veasey:

Yeah, it was the first one he was running. Then he found out in the first year that he just didn’t … it was such a … as a showrunner, if you know that title, it’s part business. It’s about budgets, and crews, and who’s doing what, and schedules. He was such a creator. He’d come in the room and go, “We’re going to do a show about this.” He’d explain it in 20 minutes, and then he’d dash out. You’d go, “What was that? I think it was a show.” He was such a creative mind that he said, “I don’t want to do the business part.” Then I became an executive producer showrunner, and it gave him opportunity to go out and develop other things.

Pam Veasey:

But the process was really that everybody brought in stories. We made it a requirement on CSI: NY, and it was also a requirement with the Bruckheimer studio, to not tell stories the other shows had told. We were already 150, 200 stories behind, right? You had to keep pitching. But if we found stories that were very unique to New York City, it made it easier. The writer would have to come up with pitch ideas.

Pam Veasey:

I think you watched Right Next Door, right? Okay. If you notice in that episode, there was a comment made by one of the characters about the goldfish losing their color. Those were the key things that we had to do. We had to find those little tidbits of information that could ultimately be a clue, and that had to be unique to either New York, or just unique and not used. We spent a lot of time researching New York City. How old it was, the kind of plants that were in New York City.

Pam Veasey:

We did an episode where you touch the plant, and it recoils. Just your touch makes the leaves fold up. We started to .. say to ourselves, “How can we use those as evidence?” Again the difference being Vegas had to deal with heat, desert, money, casinos, the climate. Miami was water, the beach-

Kary:

Sin City.

Pam Veasey:

Sin City, yeah. The Miami was the water, and the beach, alligators, swamps. We could never do boat stories. We never did gambling stories. If we did gambling, it was a hint at it in a private gambling situation in a house, but never at a casino or such thing. Then we had the privilege of weather. We told a lot of snow stories, a lot of rain stories, a lot of stories about older buildings, and where people hear things above them and below them, because that’s the way you live in New York City. Things having to do with ferries, and bridges and things like that. Each show was unique because of their city, but also, of course, because of the actors and the personalities.

Kary:

Talk about that a bit. Were characters conceived and then cast, or were your leads cast and then you wrote the characters around them?

Pam Veasey:

I wasn’t involved in most of the character development because I joined CSI: NY once it had already been picked up. But having spoken to Anthony, they used the city to decide who the characters were. It’s not by accident Horatio Caine took off sunglasses every episode. That’s his attitude. That’s his punctuation. Characters were created, but then the city helped inform them. Actually, Gary Sinise’s character, Mac Taylor, was from Chicago, and had moved to New York City. Melina Kanakaredes had a character. Stella had a background from being in an orphanage. But we created these characters, and then the actors helped to develop them. You spent time talking to them, and they felt this is who I am. Mac Taylor, when you first met him, played by Gary Sinise, had lost his wife in 9/11. Not something that could be done in all the other shows. It was really a goal to be unique with these characters based on the city they were living in.

Kary:

Who was the the cinematic aesthetic, custodian of the show? How did that work?

Pam Veasey:

That was definitely the Bruckheimer company. Jerry Bruckheimer obviously had a reputation in film and television. He had very strict requirements about the directors that directed on the show, the way it looked. He wanted his shows to look like movies. I call it the Michael Bay-ish thing. We have cameras moving with people moving. Everything’s moving all the time. Our transitions are moving. Things shake. Things move. Part of that is New York City is always moving. It’s a very tight, cramped place.

Pam Veasey:

If you watch Vegas shows, the Vegas CSI, you’d often see a wide screen, and maybe the lead character’s often in the distance in the desert, because Vegas is a wide, expansive place. To see the entire strip, you have to be high up in the mountain and look down. In Miami, their colors were orange, and yellows, and limes. Very beach colors. For New York, we started out with blues, and then we switched in our second season to the colors of Times Square.

Pam Veasey:

But it was Jerry Bruckheimer’s company that decided who our directors were, and our DPs were, because he wanted a look that was like a movie, and he wanted movement and style that was like a movie. That was the one thing that was always approved by him. He always had a comment about it. He wanted it to look interesting. The way the sets were built were approved by him, because this was his signature. The first name that comes up after the show’s over is Jerry Bruckheimer. That’s something he wanted to be really involved in.

Kary:

Take us through an episode from conception in the writer’s room, all the way through post-production.

Pam Veasey:

Usually-

Kary:

Take us through this episode, if you could.

Pam Veasey:

The fire episode?

Kary:

Yes.

Pam Veasey:

Oh, that was-

Kary:

Just take us through an episode.

Pam Veasey:

Well, I can take you through that one. That started literally with a collection of clues, meaning there is a time in a room we called blue skying, where writers come in, and they say, “Do you know that fish fade after three days?” You put it on the board. “Do you know that if you have magnets in front of your television, it’ll ruin the television visual? You have to turn it off and then turn it on.” We put it on the board. You gather up in the writer’s room all these different clues, and you just start listing them on a board. Then you talk about New York City. We talked about fire in New York City, because if you live in a high rise it’s going to go up, or spread out. How does it travel in an apartment building? That’s how the duct story was devised. How do you chase it? We’re not fire investigators, but you’re trying to put that information together for the clues.

Pam Veasey:

What happens is, to build an episode, clues are on the board. People come in every week on a Monday and say, “I found this. I found that. I found this.” It doesn’t necessarily go in their episode that they’re going to write. It’s just a collection of new information. We literally had to call the Bruckheimer company and say, “We found these five clues. Reserve them for our show, Sometimes they’d say, “Oh, they already have that.” You’re like, “Oh my gosh.” Again, the goal was not to repeat what the others in the franchise were doing.

Pam Veasey:

Once you had all those clues, you started to say, “What’s a good story we need to tell? What haven’t we done?” We literally would list on the board, “We’ve killed people with a knife this season. We’ve killed people with a gun this season. We poisoned three people.” It’s like what haven’t we done? What’s our method of murder, and what are we investigating? We often did murder because we loved using the autopsy room with that body. Even if we had done a gun before, is there a new way to do it? I remember specifically one clue is that a newspaper was coiled up so tight it stopped a bullet before it shot someone. But we had to find that bullet in a newspaper that was on the ground. It’s like what’s the murder, and then what is the emotional drive of our story? Why is anyone going to care about this?

Pam Veasey:

Right Next Door was about a kid had been taken. The fire was inconsequential. It was just leading to the discovery that a kid had been taken from his family for so long. How can we take this story on an unexpected path? Those were all the requirements. Writers come into the room. We’d start talking about our season. On CSI: NY, we created this thing called trilogy stories where you’d start with one personal story in episode one, but you’d finish it by three. Now they didn’t have to be consecutive, so you could do it in episode one, three and four. But you’d have to finish the arc, that emotional arc of that story in three episodes. It just made it different for us. Something could carry over. It was usually not the crime story. The crime story had to have a beginning, a middle and end.

Pam Veasey:

The writers come in the room. We discuss what’s going to be happening. We start to just jump in and build a story. You write teaser, act one. You start discussing clues. You have a researcher in the room who’s double checking. We had a forensic expert, a guy named Bill Haynes, who had worked with the Los Angeles CSIs. He would say, “You can’t do that. That’s not true. That won’t happen. That might happen.” You’d have to wait to see him, see if he’d go just, “Is there a one percent chance, Bill? Just a one percent chance?” He would go, “All right, all right. We can do that.”

Pam Veasey:

We had an expert about forensics who would teach us about what would happen in a scenario. We had a former NYPD cop who told us about the city, and we had a researcher for every question we couldn’t answer who would go out and research that. Then the writers would continue to build the story. While one story was being built, one story was being shot, while one story was being written, while one story was in outline phase. You have this going on in a series. A lot going on all at once. That’s basically how the writers worked.

Kary:

So the story’s built in the room, and then how do you pick who is going to write it?

Pam Veasey:

If there was a story that someone was passionate about, they’d wave their hand. They’d say, “I love this story. I really want to do it.” If there were two people, you judged it on how far away are we from production on this. Do I need expertise who can write it quickly, or does this person have time? There were writers you got to know who had a specialty. Some people were great with character. This is a character-driven episode.

Pam Veasey:

We did the same thing with directors. We saw the list of our directors. Before the season starts, you try to book all your directors. Those directors have no idea what script they’re going to get. They have no idea what story. You try to say, “Wow. If I have to choose between these two, let’s make this episode Vi, because that director really knows action, and there’s a lot of it in here. This writer really understands how to write action.” I always say to writers, “Make sure you showcase what you do well. You’ll learn how to do all the other stuff. But if you do something really well, you’re very valuable to an executive producer showrunner.”

Kary:

On average, when you hit prep, how far out do you start prepping on a given episode?

Pam Veasey:

You start eight days. I’m sorry. Seven day prep, eight day shoot. Seven days before your first film day, you start prep, meaning searching for locations, and wardrobe meetings, and stunt meetings. Every department head. There’s so many divisions. There’s special effects, visual effects, stunts, wardrobe. There’s lighting, camera, I mean just everything. You’re meeting with the DPs. You’re meeting with the set decorators and the set designers, everything. Then you’re going out on location, finding practical locations, if you’re not building them on a set. Seven days to do all of that before the first day you shoot.

Kary:

On balance, what was the script status on day one of prep?

Pam Veasey:

On my show, you had to have … the writer had to have at least … a script is usually 48 to 52 pages long. You had to have 36 pages in to a director. You had to have some storytelling, 36 pages. Usually, everybody completed a script. I demanded that scripts were completed. The only one who broke that rule was me, and that’s because I was always doing 18 other things. I would make sure at least 36 to 38 pages were in front of that director the night before. Midnight. There’s a deadline, so that they knew the story. Then when they’d come in the next day, it would either be up to 48, or it would be coming the next day.

Pam Veasey:

But you wanted to give the director, and your team who were prepping, the script from the start. There’s a lot of shows where they’re getting pages, and it changes. Sometimes the networks would throw things out, and you’d have to start over, but you would tell them. But it was really important to get them the entire script. Again, I was the only one who broke that rule because I was so busy show running, or fixing things, or in post doing some editing. My producer would always say, “Are you really writing a script right in the middle of all this?” I’m like, “I love this story. I’ve got to write it.”

Kary:

Once a script is given to the director, what is the role of the showrunner during the shooting, and what is the role of the writer of that episode during the shooting?

Pam Veasey:

As a showrunner, you are … on my shows, and it varies. Some showrunners take full control, some do take no control after that. They’re busy to the next thing. I would always go to what’s called the concept meeting. It’s the very first meeting you have, and it’s with all the department heads. That’s stunts, wardrobe, casting, makeup, hair, everybody, production design. You literally go through the script, and the writer is there to say, “This was my vision. I was thinking it looked like this, and it goes like this, and it goes this way.”

Pam Veasey:

All of those people, all of your crew are trying to make that dream come true. The showrunner is there to hear that vision, to make sure it’s consistent with what’s behind them and what’s coming forward, because usually a writer who’s finished a script has been out of the writer’s room for quite a while. They’ve been out at least 10 days, so they don’t know what’s changed in a script that preceded them, and they don’t know what’s coming because they weren’t in the room. You try to be the connective tissue. A showrunner then is also a person who says, “Yes, that will happen. No, that won’t happen. Yes, that will happen. No, that won’t happen.”

Pam Veasey:

But the writer takes the lead. That writer sits at the table with those people, describes their script, and decisions are made. How many cops are in a scene? I mean down to the little details. There’s another production meeting later that goes into much more detail. What time we’ll start, what the schedule is, what day we’ll do which things. You start on day one in your prep. The writer also goes on the location scout. The writer goes to all the meetings with all the departments, because you are the voice of the script. The showrunner does not go to all of those meetings. They just check in when there’s a problem, because the showrunner has now moved on to the next script that’s coming up in seven days to be prepped, while that script will shoot in eight days.

Kary:

Post-production. Take us through the post on this episode.

Pam Veasey:

I’ll do it on the cyber episode that you saw. That script was actually written in two days because something had happened. I think we were telling a story very close to the Sony hack, and had to throw out a story that was too reminiscent and looked bad. We had to come up with a story very quickly. All of a sudden, we thought, “What do we know?” Writers got together, wrote the script. It went to the table. Literally was scenes, various scenes. Then we pulled the name literally out of a hat to see who would get credit for that show just because everybody had worked on it. We thought that was the fairest way to approach it, excluding the executive producers, and people who were … it was usually the young writers who would love to have that script money, and an opportunity, because everybody contributed.

Pam Veasey:

When we got to post on it, we shot the show, and we got to post, what happens in post is your editor, while you’re shooting, has put together the show in the order of your script. Exact order. The director of that episode gets to see the show before the executive producer, or any producers do. Director’s cut. It’s a DTA rule. The director spends three days putting it together, switching things around, doing what he wants to do, because the director had the vision. What camera moves he wanted, how he directed the actors, and he puts that together and makes his changes.

Pam Veasey:

I then, as showrunner producer, get that cut. I look at that cut, and then I go in. I have three days to make my changes. I usually made changes in order, or structure, or tightening things up, or transitions, or things like that. Then the next step that happens is your music, and sound, and Foley, and all that kind of guys, the guys that make it live, that make the gunshots pop, and the music sit, and the city sound like the city come in and watch the show, and they take notes.

Pam Veasey:

The showrunner is saying, “Here’s what I envision. This is the kind of music I like. This is what I was hoping would happen,” because when you watch a really raw version of an edit, it is flat. You think, “How can this be TV in three days?” There’s no music. The sound effects are buried. It’s just dialogue. There’s performances. You’re like, “What are they thinking?” But suddenly it starts to bloom. It starts to grow because everybody’s adding things to it, and seeing things.

Pam Veasey:

Once that all happens, we also had a lot of visual effects. You notice on the Cyber show there was a lot of things that came off the screen, because we had the challenge of how do we let the audience see what they see on tablets, and in the cyber world without cutting away and slowing our story? We had to spend time with our visual effects guys, who had to study the show as well. That comes all after you’ve shot the movie. Then all of that is put together, and then the thing you go to is what’s called a mix where all the sound is added, and put together, and the songs, and the special effects are dropped in. Suddenly the show comes together. Then one day it’s sent up on a satellite, and sent to New York, and New York says, “We got it. We’re going to air it.” Then you have a show. But post-production is about … I would say safely it’s about 14 to 21 days long.

Kary:

How involved was Bruckheimer in that process?

Pam Veasey:

During that process, both the studio … for us that was Jerry Bruckheimer company, and the network, are giving notes. There’s a point when after I finish my producer’s cut, it’s called producer’s cut one. It’s sent to Jerry Bruckheimer’s company. He gives notes. The next cut’s called producer’s cut two. Their notes are incorporated, the Bruckheimer company. It’s sent to the network. Then that’s network cut one. Then if other people have other notes, they’ll drizzle in. By the time we got toward the end of nine seasons of CSI: NY, there weren’t a lot of notes. They were happy the system was working, the process was working.

Commercial for crimestory.com.

Kary:

Talk to us about ratings, and about how that … what’s it like inside the tank as you’re-

Pam Veasey:

Horrible. It’s the thing I disliked most, because I’ll just say it. Writers and producers are whiny about ratings. So is the network. The reason I say that is when you’re at a high and your ratings are good, you don’t think about them. But when they start to drop, the answer quickly is what should we have done. They tend to change each year. I think of all the shows we went against that we had to beat. We started out having to beat Law & Order. Then we had to try to beat Lost. There was a show called Eyes, and then there was a show called … I think it was an investigative show, Nine Lives… I mean every year there was a new show put up against us.

Pam Veasey:

We were really proud by the time we got to the fifth year, because there was a movie called … I forget what it was called… The Big Picture or something with Sigourney Weaver. She’s playing an executive, a TV executive. She says to her staff, “All we need to do is find something that’s going to beat CSI: NY on Wednesday nights.” Our room went crazy. “That’s us,” because we constantly were beating our competition.

Pam Veasey:

Now let’s go back to Lost. Lost, though, had the young audience. What happened in the middle of my career is you used to get ratings, and if you had the largest audience you were good. Then suddenly things started to change. It was called the 18 to 49s. It was called the people who spend their money on things that advertise in the show, or around the show. We were starting to lose that. Why? When you start out, you have young actors. But when they become nine years older, they’re old actors. The audiences aren’t connected to them that much anymore. You need the strength of that show to be its concept, or you need to add some life to it. You often see shows adding characters, or bringing back people they know, or adding people to the show.

Pam Veasey:

Ratings were always a burden when they started to change. It’s gotten more difficult in recent years, because you probably look at CW and you go, “Nobody is watching that show,” but then you see there’s a new thing called seven day, or three day. It’s the within a certain number of days that someone like you guys … you guys are really … you guys have a lot of power in TV. When you guys record a show, and how soon you watch it. They can tell that a population watches it within three days, or within seven days. CW survives off all of you recording a show, or streaming a show within three days of its original airing. It may not get ratings that are way up here, but people are watching it. That’s why Crazy Ex-Girlfriend lasts, because if you look at the ratings you’re like, “Who is watching that show?” But if you look at who ultimately watches it, possibly in three days or seven days, it survives. You do sometimes say, “Out of the box.” Mostly it’s the first scene of the show. You say to yourself, “How can we ask the audience to stay with us?” That’s the only scene that you’re thinking, “Ratings,” because you really want to hook the audience right after the show that precedes you or something. What visually, what exciting thing can we show? What’s going to make them say, “Don’t change the channel?”

Kary:

Act breaks too, right?

Pam Veasey:

Yeah, act breaks that happen before going to commercial. You really want to say, “Stick around for this.” But the one that you’re concerned about ratings is the first one. After that, you’re hoping the audience is pulled in, and you keep wanting to bring them back. There were patterns. There were absolute patterns to what brought an audience back. It was interesting.

Pam Veasey:

But once the audience start to like the characters, then you would see a switch, because you have to think about the show. Probably a lot of you may watch This Is Us. They really pulled you in with the characters, with what is the drama that’s going on in their lives. There’s no violence or anything really out of the extraordinary in there, except for the compelling stories and the mystery. I believe every show, regardless of whether it’s a crime show or not, has a mystery, and you guys get pulled in. The audience gets pulled in.

Pam Veasey:

So yes, there were episodes where you had to start big, really big. One of our most famous was, if you know the movie Risky Business, was a tribute to Risky Business. It was great. Then music. Music is a big key. Pulling with the audience with, “Oh, I like that song.” What writers visualize is what if the person’s in the kitchen? What’s going to make them turn around and look at the TV screen, and walk in and say, “What’s that?” Sometimes it’s sound. Sometimes it’s music.

Kary:

Talk to me about bringing CSI: NY to a close.

Pam Veasey:

Yeah, that was tough. It was nine seasons of CSI: NY. I think we started on Wednesday night, then went to Sunday night, then went to Friday night. I mean we moved around a little bit. But we ended up on Friday night. Melina Kanakaredes had left the show, and we had Sela Ward join us, which we loved. She joined us one year, and we thought, “Oh, it’ll be our last year,” but we lasted two more. It was really struggle of, again, its ratings that dictate it. The money that it costs to produce the show. I’ll give you a little secret. Our budget was about three million an episode, roughly, okay? The money it takes to produce a show, are we getting that back? They’re getting that back, but is it worth it? Can we do better? An executive is always asking, “Can we do better?”

Pam Veasey:

It was nine seasons. Pardon me. We were on our 197th episode, and we begged them to let us do three more to reach 200, but that did not happen. We were three shy of 200 episodes. They didn’t tell us exactly, so we wrote an episode that could be the season ender. We didn’t know. We really didn’t know. But we wrote something that we said, “If the show had to end on this episode, we’d be happy with this ending.” That happened. Then I was done with the franchise. I mean we thought, “Okay, that’s it.” The only thing remaining was the original. I think it lasted a year later.

Pam Veasey:

Then suddenly I got a phone call that they want to do CSI: Cyber. I was like, “No, no, no. I’m done with that whole franchise.” Then they said, “No, no, no. No, you’re not.” I started to investigate the whole cyber world. I was fascinated with it. I thought, “If you’re going to do something different in the franchise, this should be it. This definitely should be it.” CBS were big fans of Patricia Arquette, and brought her back because she had been on Medium. We started casting the show. I did not write it. Anthony, Ann and Carol, who had created Miami together … Anthony created CSI, the original. Ann, Carol, and Anthony had created Miami and New York. Then they created Cyber. But none of them wanted to run it, so they said, “Get Pam and ask if she’ll run it.” That’s how I came to that.

Pam Veasey:

The idea was what do you do next if you do something else cyber? Do you pick another city? It was New Orleans. Do you do New Orleans? Do you do Denver? Do you do Seattle? Cities, who knows? Then they found cyber. We spent a lot of time in Washington, D.C. I went to the NSA. I went to lots of places, FBI. I met hackers underground, overground, in back rooms. We met with former FBI investigators who were investigating cyber crimes out here. We did a lot of research to find out, met a lot of really intelligent, bright hackers that actually get paid by our government to hack on our behalf. That’s how the show was put together.

Kary:

What were the unique challenges? How did it differ from the other franchises?

Pam Veasey:

What was easily understandable about the previous was people understood murder and loss of body. If someone was murdered, there’s an emotional feeling toward that. The science led you through. There was always a surprise with the science. Then you got your bad guy. With cyber crime, it all had to do with a criminal who sat at home in a chair. It wasn’t very active. That was our challenge. Because you can rob a bank from your bedroom, and all bank heists prior to that had been stick them ups. Go into the bank, run from the … all the excitement. All the chases. All the big stuff.

Pam Veasey:

It was really a challenge to create this world where the criminal was someone who could … this is a crime that actually happened. Go to their computer. Get into a bank’s website, and into their system, and take one cents from every single account in that bank. Who’s going to miss one cents from their account? 30 minutes later, millionaire. Millionaire. That’s all it took. How do you have the audience understand that, make it an action-packed show, get them coming back for more and not scare them to death? When you watched a murder show, I think most people go, “That’s not going to happen to me.”

Pam Veasey:

In these, when you watch up there, you’re all going, “What’s on my phone? How does this happen? Somebody can get in. Somebody can spoof my phone. Somebody can get into the email and send something all over the company.” You start asking those questions. Those were the challenges of making it interesting, at the same time not making … every time someone watched an episode, they’d go, “I’m never watching that again. I don’t want to know this stuff.” It was a franchise that was too soon. Too soon, too much information. That was our biggest challenge, trying to get the audience to understand we’re giving you this great amount of information. We were excited about it, how do you make them excited and not afraid? That always was a challenge, always.

Kary:

How did it come to a close?

Pam Veasey:

We were moved from a Wednesday night to a Sunday night. CBS was really questioning, because you remember it was the last remaining, because the mothership had died, so to speak, had been canceled. I think they just thought, “We’re done with the CSI franchise.” The audience isn’t really jumping up and down over the cyber aspect of this, and many of the shows, because … which is true in the crime world. Most crimes are becoming cyber crimes, so why are we creating a show that’s a specialty in that when all the other shows we have on our … Criminal Minds is doing a cyber episode. Someone else is doing a cyber episode, because that is the way of crime today. They’re taking the cyber crime as an element, opposed to the whole show’s about cyber.

Pam Veasey:

They were reevaluating what kind of crime shows are we going to be doing, and decided we’ve tried cyber. It’s not kicking it out of the box, although nothing in that slot is that high rated as we have since then. But I think they were more saying, “We’re done with the franchise.”  

Pam Veasey:

Ted Danson came in for a last season because the mothership had finished. That’s what we called it, the mothership. He came in, and then Ted went off to do the comedy he’s on, called Good Place. Good Wife? Good People? Good Something. Ted Danson, by the way, delightful, delightful man. Fantastic to work with. What a pleasure. All of those people. Gary Sinise, Melina Kanakaredes, Patricia Arquette. I was very fortunate to work with really talented, talented actors.

Kary:

One final question. What do you want to write? What’s your dream show to create and write?

Pam Veasey:

That’s a great question. I’ve written it, I think. People are reading it. When I first left the franchise and the cop world, I started in comedy, as I’ve told you. I thought, “Oh, do I want to go back to comedy?” Then I thought, “No, I’m not so sure.” That is a very rigorous … not that all writing isn’t, but it’s to be on, to be constantly pitching jokes. You feel like you’re tap dancing all the time. Be funny, be funny, be funny. It was funny yesterday, but the network’s already heard it so be funny again. The comedy drive is really difficult. All of you guys who want to go into comedy writing, it is great when you’re there. I was so blessed to be on a show like In Living Color. But it’s a challenge. It’s a real challenge. I was older and slower now.

Pam Veasey:

Then I thought, “I know so much about crime. I’d like to do the show that is still a crime, but not … how do I reinvent it?” What I came to is crime as a coverup, because it’s about the people who know the secret. I created a show that deals with a female basketball coach, I promise you, I created this two years ago and wrote it two years ago, whose player after they win the national championship accuses the assistant male coach of sexual assault.

Pam Veasey:

There’s a murder that takes place that you find out about really early on. It’s not so much who did it, but how do we get from a national championship to a murder? You see the lead of your show cover up … try to cover up this murder. I thought, “How fascinating that I can take the audience on a journey, try to convince them to be on the side of the murderer, and follow a coverup. At the same time, give them the answer of how did we get from A to Z. I wrote this script. Right now, it’s at Paramount TV. It’s called Long Slow Exhale, because I think that’s what it’s about, taking a long, slow exhale.

Pam Veasey:

But it was about, for me, approaching through a backdoor crime. How do you tell it differently so that you’re not following cops, and you’re not picking up evidence? But you’re following the coverup, how people keep a secret. It was inspired by an episode of Oprah Winfrey show many years ago where I saw these … I turn on this TV, and these three little girls are crying. They’re sobbing on the Oprah … I’m like, “Oprah, what have you done to these girls?” They’re sobbing. They are begging. They’re trying to tell their story, and begging a judge to let their stepdad out.

Pam Veasey:

What you learn is he was a man who had committed a crime, fled from the crime many years ago, came to this small town, and became the pillar of strength for this woman and her three children, and became part of the community. Rebuilt himself, and took a new name. Now the police officer is knocking on the door and say, “You murdered someone. We’re taking you away, and you’re going to jail.” They lost their lives. They lost someone they could count on, this man who they … they were in tears saying, “He saved our lives.” It was so moving to me, but I thought how every single day, every time the door … there was a knock on the door, he must have thought, “Today.” He must’ve thought, “Today.”

Kary:

Fantastic. Please join me in thanking Pam Veasey.

End of interview.