March 09, 2001 at 05:00 AM EST

A forensic scientist I’m not, but CBS’ new top-rated drama, CSI — starring Marg Helgenberger and William Petersen, about Las Vegas crime-scene investigators Willows and Grissom — is still a favorite, despite all the scientific jargon. So when CBS launched its WebTV interactive version on Feb. 1, I decided to conduct my own investigation into the true value of a CSI two-way.

My report: I tune into the ”To Halve and to Hold” episode, about a pile of human bones found in the Las Vegas desert and the widow who just may be to blame. A border of icons — Crime Lab, Vegas, Personnel, and Case Files — frames the show’s action. I click on Vegas. A street map of the Strip pops up, distracting me from who was killed, when, and with what. While perusing the Case Files (plot summaries), I miss a quality moment of sexual tension between Willows and Grissom.

I’m about to trash my WebTV remote when the victim is declared ”chopped up!” The CBS Insider logo appears above a diagram of the victim’s serrated thigh bone and again after Grissom suggests conducting a phenolphthalein test, which, I’m informed, detects the presence of dried blood. (Turns out the suspect’s bathtub drain is caked with it.)

Despite such moments of suspense, only a handful of viewers participated in the Feb. 15 episode, hardly making this must-see WebTV. (So far, only a little more than 600,000 Americans subscribe to interactive TV.) With CSI already such a compelling show, the trivia and techie tidbits are more distracting than drama-enhancing. Logging on just doesn’t yet seem worth it, not to mention the cost of the equipment ($199 plus a $24.95 monthly subscription fee). It’ll take a few more innovations, before I’ll consider reopening the case.

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