Playing Formaldehyde And-Seek at CSI's Creepy Headquarters

It’s a cloudy Tuesday afternoon at a rambling hilltop industrial park in Santa Clarita, Calif.—home to the TV headquarters of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation — and both the temperature and ambiance are colder than a week-old corpse. One room of the set is decked out in modern biology-lab chic (stainless steel instruments, sterile countertops, glass vials waiting to be filled with unseemly liquids); a second is full of pickled pig fetuses, scary looking E.T.-style specimens and chemically hardened bugs. ”Our set people and production designer work hard to get everything realistic,” says technical adviser, story editor, and real-life L.A. CSI vet Elizabeth Devine. ”You could hook [this equipment] up and pretty much do the work.” And the stuff floating in jars? ”They’re real bugs, real specimens from medical labs,” says production designer Richard Berg. ”It’s amazing what you can buy, especially with the Internet.” But the verite vibe doesn’t always extend to the actors. William Petersen can’t claim the stomach of his alter ego, CSI chief Gil Grissom: Two aquariums full of maggots, originally housed in his office, went bye-bye fast. ”They smelled really bad,” says Petersen. Case closed.

(Additional reporting by William Keck)

Grissom’s Office
Part office, part biology lab, the room is notable for its apparent lack of personal effects. ”If he had pictures on his desk, then people would ask him questions about them, and I think he’d rather keep that away,” says Petersen. But that doesn’t mean the room isn’t revealing. The backlit bugs behind his desk reflect Grissom’s interest in entomology, while a Society of the Deaf photo references his hearing-impaired mother. ”With his office, we’re trying to create a physical embodiment of what Grissom is as a character,” says Berg. Which, contrary to what viewers might believe, doesn’t mean humorless: He keeps a Big Mouth Billy Bass that croons ”Don’t Worry Be Happy” over his door.

Eye Sore ”[Grissom] surrounds himself with objects that are visually fascinating, some of which are really quite grotesque,” says Berg, of, among other things, pickled squid and sheep hearts. But when it comes to the truly eerie, the eyes have it. ”Those are absolutely real,” says Berg. ”I don’t know what animal it comes from. Not human.”

Roller Boy The dour Grissom does have one unlikely indulgence: roller coasters. ”It’s his relaxation therapy,” says Berg, who found these vintage postcards. Another source of amusement? A picture of CSI exec producer Jerry Bruckheimer under the glass on Grissom’s desk. ”In case I ever need inspiration,” cracks Petersen.

Return Of The Jedi Is it alien, animal, or vegetable? ”It’s a Yoda fetus!” declares the show’s rep. Well, not quite. It’s most likely a prop from some alien-themed movie, according to Berg, who accentuates the sterile, moody gloom of Grissom’s office by projecting light behind the jarred specimens in colored liquid.