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Good Question: How Do Crime Shows Make Things Look Real?

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By Jason DeRusha, WCCO-TV

LOS ANGELES, Calif. (WCCO) – For a country that’s always trying to fight crime, we sure can’t get enough of crime when it comes to television dramas. Seven of the top 10 shows on TV frequently feature bodies in their episodes. So, how do some of the most popular crime shows make things look so real?

Often, their executive producers come from a background of real world crime fighting.

“I worked at the Los Angeles County crime lab for six years prior to coming on the show,” said Bill Haynes, co-executive producer of CSI: NY.

Haynes spoke with us on the show’s set, which isn’t in New York at all. It’s on the CBS Radford Studios lot in Studio City, Calif.

Who’s in charge of keeping the show real?

“As far as the science goes, that’s me. I’m the only one with a previous life of doing this for real,” said Haynes.

The writing staff of CSI: NY has a former New York Police detective and a former District Attorney from Queens, New York.

“We try to be as real as possible while being as entertaining as possible,” he said.

So, all of the equipment in the crime lab is real equipment, the lab likely has a million dollars worth of real stuff, including an, “HPLC. High Performance Liquid Chromatography machine which is used for toxicology tests,” said Haynes.

However, the liquids on the set are often colored, so they pop on camera.

The biggest liquid used in many of these shows is, of course, blood.

“We pour blood on this show like nobody’s business,” said Bill Proctor, from the props truck of Criminal Minds, at Quixote Studios in Los Angeles.

Proctor showed us a 24-ounce bottle of “drying blood,” made of corn syrup and silica gel so it gets good and crusty. It came with a price tag of $101.

“Cost of doing business,” said Proctor.

“Reality is very important to us,” said Executive Producer Ed Bernero, who spent 10 years as a beat cop in Chicago. “One of the things most important to me is that these bodies look dead, the crime scenes look like real crime scenes.”

Criminal Minds and the new spinoff, Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior, both use a lot of so-called “corpse actors.”

“We use a lot of bodies. Even if we solve a crime, seven people died,” laughed Bernero.

The actors are paid the typical union wage for being a “background actor,” which is $139 a day. But they get a premium of $100 extra when they have to do wardrobe fittings or pose for the still crime scene photos that are a hallmark of these shows. They also get an extra $14 or $18 for the extensive makeup, for a total of about $250 a day.

“You’ll see the day before we start shooting a new episode, our lobby will be full of people, looking like a zombie movie. In various states of dead,” said Bernero.

Playing dead isn’t easy, he noted, some actors are better at being poked and prodded without flinching.

“You don’t want to close your mouth, you don’t want to close your eyes, you want to look relaxed,” said Bernero.

Both Bernero and Haynes said they have times when they miss fighting real crimes, but fighting pretend ones are stiill incredibly cool.

“There are times I have to pinch myself and I’m worried they’ll put me back in a beat car one day,” laughed Bernero.

Should we be worried that the real crime tech experts are spending their careers working on the fake stuff?

“I think we’ll be OK,” laughed Haynes.

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