When “CSI: NY” returns with new episodes on Friday night, Detective Mac Taylor (Gary Sinise) takes us through a history lesson of a major crime from 1957 when a present-day lab tech is murdered in case that closely parallels what is known as the Lana Gregory Murder.
“I am always fascinated with history, cold cases and the Black Dahlia,” says Executive Producer Pam Veasey, who wrote the episode. “We created a case in New York City that has history and notoriety. When somebody recreates it, we travel back to see how it connects.”
Veaasey’s inspiration for the story came from her personal fascination with a photojournalist named Weegee — the pseudonym of Arthur Fellig — who worked as a press photographer during the 1930s and ’40s in New York City.
“I wanted to recreate that kind of vision, so it is picturesque,” Veasey continues. “It is that one mystery that nobody has ever solved.”
You have compared this to the Black Dahlia. Is it at all based on a real unsolved case?
It really started with me seeing this photo of the Human Head Cake Box Murder, which was taken by Weegee, a famous photographer in New York City. I was so taken by the composition, the look of the photo and the period it went back to and, because it was an unsolved case, I was wondering what it was about. Then I looked at more crime scene photos from the past. You sort of think that crime scene photos only exist in your world, but they took them back then. There are these looks on their faces … the Black Dahlia was that way, although that was pretty gruesome if you look that crime scene photo up. I was taken by the composition and the mystery in the story. I looked at the photo, thinking, “What is this about? What is the history and the mystery behind this?” So that is what really inspired me, but when I started to get into the period, how far ago the murder was, I got totally hooked on the ’50s and the cars and the clothing. I was really excited about that. The one thing that is so beautiful about New York that isn’t like most cities is what was built in New York still stands. That brownstone can still be there. In L.A., things are torn down and moved over, but in New York, they are still there. So much has happened on someone’s doorstep before they moved in. How many lives have gone in and out of those doors? They may renovate them, but that is still the same foundation.
Preview Friday’s Episode “Flash Pop”:
Also, the photo from the ’50s was in black and white and there is just something special about those photos.
There really is. The way they compose them. I could feel the flashbulb. I was a photographer in college for the newspaper. I have a certain appreciation for when someone captures something. I really was taken with it and then when I saw more crime scene photos the same thing happened.
When you go back in time, do you have to take budget into consideration because of costumes and old cars?
You do. You pick and choose. That is why you are at a brownstone on a stoop instead of some massive location. You choose what you are going to spend your money on and, when you know you are going back in time, you want to capture the clothing. You have to get police uniforms that look like that. We built an autopsy room that went back in time and did a lot of research on that. We wanted to capture particularly the clothing, the style for the women. All the people in involved in production — our costumer, Vaughan Edwards is our production designer Steve Fidler is the construction guy. Everybody got together and did their own research and brought something to it. It was wonderful. We were on the Paramount lot and we were creating fog and steam and snow because I also added snow to this whole thing. You felt that you went back in time.
I heard that the original name for the lipstick in the story was Cherries in the Snow, which was perfect because there was snow, but when I watched, it was Stormy Red. What happened?
Revlon wouldn’t clear it for us. So we had to go with something else. We had to make something up that didn’t ever exist and that was a difficult thing because you should know the names of red lipsticks. I mean, they have been everything, so I was really disappointed. We fought to the bitter end, but they didn’t want to associate it with a murder. You can still go on websites and find it.
How much did you stretch reality in casting Lee Majors because in my mind he wasn’t really old enough to play the detective on the cold case?
You think he is too young as the old guy? He is the exact same age as the guy I wrote in the script. He just dyed his hair.
You don’t become a detective overnight, so I thought he was too young.
You could get on the detective track quite immediately back then. We did our research, believe me. It happened very quickly. He was in his early 20s. You can start at 18 as a police officer. Back then you didn’t have to have a college degree. You can get right out of high school and go into the academy.
The fact that Lee Majors is so well known for his roles in the “Six Million Dollar Man” and “Big Valley,” did you think people might not accept him?
You do think about it but he came in and wanted to do the part. You think, Is it going to feel gimmicky? But he came in and he nailed it so beautifully and became that character with such ease there was no other selection. He got it. It was so great.
It looks as if Christine (Megan Dodds) and Mac are going to have a romance?
Yeah, did you respond to that?
I did. I want him to find someone. It has been a while since his wife died.
Well, Mac has always been pursued and these are two people at a certain time who like each other, have someone in common that they really liked — meaning her brother — who was Mac’s partner, so there is a history there, so there is a comfort level, but there was always an attraction for her. It is easy to get into that relationship, but they are two people who are kind of reluctant souls about it but find it easy to go at the pace they are going, so we are heading into a relationship there.
The “Flash Pop” episode of “CSI: NY” airs Friday, March 30 at 9 p.m. on CBS.