Scott D. Pierce: It’s kind of sickening behind the scenes of ‘CSI’ — at least for some of us

The fake gore leaves one cast member “heaving.”

(Erik Voake | CBS) Mandeep Dhillon (center) as Allie Rajan during filming of a scene in "CSI: Vegas."

A good many years ago, I was visiting the set of “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” and it was making me sort of sick. There was a room full of fake body parts, and I swear there was an unpleasant smell. Beyond unpleasant. Sort of sickening.

This was in the early 2000s, when “CSI” was the hottest show on TV. And my TV critic pals mocked me for my squeamishness.They told me it was all in my mind. And, honestly, I thought they were probably right. I was a big “CSI” fan, but I averted my eyes at the grosser stuff in every episode.

But all these years later, I’ve learned that I am not the only one who is sickened by fake-but-gross stuff. Current “CSI: Vegas” cast member Mandeep Dhillon is, too.

The smell of the latex gets to her. And I think it was the latex that was bothering me on that set visit. That and the fact that the latex was used to construct foul-looking, dismembered body parts.

“I am the worst at it,” said Dhillon, who stars as crime scene investigator Allie Rajan in the current continuation of the original “CSI.” She said that when she’s on set “in the morgue or … the back of an ambulance,” she is “genuinely heaving” because of the fake blood and gore.

“As soon as they say ‘Action!’ and I’m Allie — fine, not a problem,” Dhillon said. “As soon as it’s ‘Cut!‘ and it’s me, I’m, like, ‘Where is the bucket?’” to vomit in.

All these years later, I’m oddly comforted to know I’m not the only squeamish person to have been behind the scenes on “CSI.”

(Sonja Flemming/CBS) Jorja Fox as Sara Sidle and William Petersen as Gil Grissom in "CSI: Vegas."

It’s a revival, not a reboot

It’s hard to overstate what a big hit the original “CSI” was. It was No. 1 for three consecutive seasons (2003-04 through 2005-06); was in the top three for five consecutive seasons (2002-03 through 2006-07); was in the top 10 for nine consecutive seasons (2002-03 through 2010-11); and didn’t fall out of the top 20 until its 14th season (2015-16).

By its 10th season, “CSI” was airing around the world in about 70 countries, drawing more than 70 million viewers a week. It also spawned two successful spinoffs — “CSI: Miami” (10 seasons) and “CSI: NY” (nine seasons) — along with the less successful “CSI: Cyber,” which was canceled after two seasons.

“CSI: Vegas” (Thursdays, 9 p.m., CBS/Ch. 2) is not a reboot, it’s a sequel. A reboot is a show that takes the original and alters it, to a large or small degree. The dark, brooding, 2003-09 version of “Battlestar Galactica” was a reboot of the goofy 1978-79 “Galactica”; “The Conners” (2018- ) is a sequel to “Roseanne” (1988-97, 2018).

It’s also proof that Roseanne Barr was not essential to “Roseanne.” But I digress.

“CSI: Vegas,” which debuted a year ago, is set in the same city and the same police department six (now seven) years later, but with a mostly new cast. It’s not unrealistic to think that a lot of CSIs would’ve moved on during those six years.

(Erik Voake | CBS) Marg Helgenberger returns as Catherine Willows on "CSI: Vegas."

Season 1 (which was really Season 16 of “CSI”) featured original cast members William Petersen (as Gil Grissom) and Jorja Fox (Sara Sidle) as regulars, and Wallace Langham (David Hodges) and Paul Guilfoyle (Jim Brass) as guest stars. None of them are back for Season 2, but original cast member Marg Helgenberger — who starred as Catherine Willows in 257 episodes of the original series — is a regular this season on “CSI: Vegas.”

(Helgenberger was unavailable last season because she was a regular on then-CBS series “All Rise.” But when that series was canceled by CBS and moved to OWN, Helgenberger appeared only briefly.)

“I just wanted to get back to that character to see where she is,” Helgenberger said. “And I love the fact that she still has so much passion, and still has so much fire, and still wants to like make a difference. And I wanted to do it with a whole new group of people.

“Of course, I miss some of the old gang. But I got over that pretty quickly because everybody has been so welcoming and gracious.”

Is Hollywood out of ideas?

In the past few years, television has been positively inundated with familiar titles. There have been more than enough reboots and revivals of old TV series to populate a channel — or a streaming service — all by themselves.

Although some maintain this is because Hollywood has run out of ideas, the more likely explanation is that with so many outlets producing scripted programming — 559 shows on broadcast, cable and streaming in 2021, according to research by FX — it just isn’t easy to come up with that many totally new ideas.

Courtesy | CBS John Wayne, Lucille Ball, Vivian Vance and William Frawley in a colorized 1955 episode of "I Love Lucy."

And reviving and rebooting old shows is hardly something new. It’s been around almost as long as TV itself. “I Love Lucy” (1951-57) was a reboot of Lucille Ball’s radio show, “My Favorite Husband” (1948-51).

Honestly, what matters most is not whether a show is an entirely new idea, but how well it is executed. “CSI: Vegas” looks a whole lot like “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” — intentionally — and it’s a very engaging show.

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