'Criminal Minds' features true stories
By Luaine Lee
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
By Luaine Lee
They say that truth is stranger than fiction. That's especially true on CBS' "Criminal Minds." Every case on that show is based on a real crime. The big problem for the writers-creators of the drama is how to tell the true story without shocking the wits out of the audience.
"We've had to tone down almost every single one of them," says executive producer Ed Bernero, who was a Chicago policeman for 10 years before he came to television.
"What is really happening is much worse than anything we could or want to do," he says. "Actually, there hasn't been a single one we didn't have to tone down."
"Some of the details are just too much," adds Thomas Gibson, who plays the taciturn profiler Aaron Hotchner. "There was a show that aired recently, and one of the components of what this particular guy did was too much," he shakes his head.
In fact, the writers and producers purposely camouflage the real cases, says Bernero. "I don't want anyone who was actually involved in it (the crime) to ever know," he says. "So we start out with a kernel of what's a real case, and then we try to make it so different that nobody who was actually involved in it ever would know."
Dealing with sadists, arsonists and other aberrant minds carries side effects, says Paget Brewster, who's a relatively new addition to the show.
"I got bulletproof windows. Hell, yeah, I did. I started reading those FBI books, and they are rough. We're not at all showing what people are capable of, not on television. You couldn't put it on television, the things that are done to victims and their bodies afterwards. It's appalling and burns into your brain. I had a good couple of weeks where I didn't sleep so well ... And it does affect you. Knowing the inside look that we get, just having access to FBI material is disturbing."
The show employs one researcher whose only job is to dig up these real-life cases. "We have an incredible amount of books. We have a huge library. The show is very research-driven early on," says Bernero.
"And then once we find something that we think will really work with our team, then we sort of delve into that case and try to make it as different as possible. Jim Clemente is a resource that we use. He's not actually our technical adviser. He's a Behavioral Analysis Unit profiler. And often times we will just call him and ask him things like, 'What would you think about this kind of a guy?' Or things like that. He never brings us real cases that they're working on or anything. In fact, he stays as far away from those things as possible. So we sort of go to him and ask him questions when we need to."
When "Criminal Minds," first arrived on the air, no one gave it much of a chance pitted against ABC's massive hit, "Lost." But it survived the plane crash and even Fox's juggernaut "American Idol."
Executive producer Mark Gordon says one of the reasons for its success is that's it's different from the others. "Most of the other shows ... the crime has happened, and then we're sort of watching them solve it," says Gordon (who also executive-produces "Grey's Anatomy").
"We're proactive. Our guys are out there stopping it from happening again ... and I think the audience likes participating in the mystery and in the aspect of the show where they're figuring out and trying to stop it at the same time."