One more video interview from Marg’s round with the Washington D.C. press to promote her upcoming play The Little Foxes. This time the interview is with WTOP Radio. Lots of discussion here about Lillian Hellman, the playwright, as well as how Marg prepared for her role as Regina Giddens. Beyond the play itself, Marg also discusses her time as a weather girl in Nebraska, as well as her roles on TV and in film. Great interview!
For those who have requested them, we now have transcripts of the Walk of Fame speeches from Marg, Jorja Fox, and Dana Delany posted in our Press Archive. Thanks for your patience in waiting for those since they do take quite some time to do.
And for those who have also been waiting patiently, we have also now uploaded photos from the event to the gallery. There are lots of great shots of Marg, her family, and her CSI costars in the albums. I owe a huge thank you to Jen, Lynette, and Leah, who attended the ceremony with me, for allowing me to share their photos in our fan album. Between the pouring rain, the tents, the crowd, and waterlogged equipment, quality photos were hard to come by so I’m very grateful that they were willing to add their photos to the collection.
SOAP ACTRESS WASHES UP ON ‘CHINA BEACH’
Worcester Telegram & Gazette (MA)
May 2, 1989
by Gary Deeb
She’s a prostitute. She’s a dope-selling, influence-peddling, black-marketeering war profiteer. And just coincidentally, she’s one of the most popular and intriguing characters on the female-oriented Vietnam War drama series “China Beach.”
Her name is K.C., and as portrayed each Wednesday night by Marg Helgenberger, she imbues “China Beach” with an ingredient thoroughly lacking in virtually all other Vietnam-related movie and TV productions – a bad girl, middle American, who cheats and lies and steals and conducts her business with the harshest cynicism. And yet as this nasty vixen plows her way through Southeast Asia in the late 1960s, viewers are increasingly drawn into her web of deceit, leavened with occasional forays into good citizenship. “I do get mail and personal reactions from some people who resent my character,” Helgenberger said. “Maybe they see K.C. as the enemy because her motives certainly aren’t pure. But despite that, there are people who compare me to women they actually knew over there. They say I give the show an extra measure of authenticity.”
Helgenberger is a recent graduate of the daytime soap operas. She moved from New York to Los Angeles four years ago to make her mark in nighttime TV and films.
Following a stint in the short-lived “Skin Game” adventure series and an acclaimed guest shot on the yuppie-fest “thirtysomething,” she signed on for “China Beach” last year and quickly has become a dramatic force on that splendid program.
“I’ve never been able to meet anybody who was in Vietnam and did the sort of thing that K.C. does,” Helgenberger said. “I mean, who wants to admit to that – even 20 years later?
But I have been told by veterans that there were such women, that they often were connected to the military upper echelon, that some of them were in the USO, and that they maneuvered around in those circles.”
Helgenberger was a 10-year-old kid during the Vietnam era depicted on “China Beach.” Thus, she never had strong opinions on American involvement there, mostly just eavesdropping on the conversations of grownups.
“But even when I was very small,” she said, “I was always aware that it was a controversial war, mainly because the nightly TV news portrayed it that way. TV news was my biggest association with the war. I did have an aunt whose fiance was a Marine and he had served a year in Vietnam and had come back to the states. He attended my Holy Communion party and he kept talking about how he was gonna re-up for another tour. He did, and two weeks into his tour he was killed.
“I always thought of all veterans as heroes. I mean, anybody who serves in a war is a hero; they’re putting their lives on the line for their country. But I think the Vietnam guys were especially heroic because of the controversy and the bizarre nature of that war. When I started on “China Beach,’ I’d sometimes bump into Vietnam vets and some of my friends would say “These guys are crazy, don’t talk to ’em.’ And that made me much more interested in hearing their stories. The whole experience has been a wonderful one for me.
“What makes us so much different from the typical blood-and-guts war drama is our concentration on the female point of view; I think that’s what people want to see. Let’s be honest – it’s a side of the Vietnam story that’s never been told in any movie or any story, just totally a woman’s perspective on that situation. I think it’s logical, too, because there were a lot more women involved in Vietnam than in any other war in our history.”
With “China Beach” seemingly settling in for a long run on ABC, Helgenberger has to be gratified by her rapid ascent to the upper levels of the Hollywood television racket. It surely beats churning out the soap suds, as she formerly did on a regular basis as one of the stars of the now-canceled “Ryan’s Hope,” a typical daytime serial with storylines straight out of the sausage factory.
Copyright (c) 1989 Worcester Telegram & Gazette Corp.
CSI STAR MARG HELGENBERGER BLINDS HER FANS WITH SCIENCE
The Orange County Register
Publication: Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service
February 27, 2001
by Barry Koltnow
Marg Helgenberger always got a lot of letters from inmates.
Most attractive actresses in Hollywood receive correspondence from lonely prisoners, but Helgenberger probably got more than most because she was best known for her Emmy-winning role as a heroin-addicted prostitute on the celebrated television series “China Beach.”
Inmates seemed enamored of the character for some reason, and they usually expressed their affection in a variety of ways. One inmate sent a photo of himself standing in front of the prison with the note: “This is me in front of my palatial estate.”
But the letters arriving from inmates these days have a different slant.
With the sudden and surprising success of Helgenberger’s new TV series, “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” the letters still express a certain admiration for the actress, but they also contain a legal message.
“A lot of the letters say something to the effect that if the police had paid more attention to people like us, then they (the inmates) wouldn’t be in jail,” the actress said during a break between scenes in her trailer on the set of “CSI,” which is shot on a soundstage in a rural area about 30 miles north of Los Angeles.
The “people like us” to which she referred are the crime scene investigators that Helgenberger and William Petersen portray on the first-year crime drama, which has been catapulted into the Top 10 since moving to its new Thursday-night time slot at 9 ET on CBS.
“CSI” began the season on Friday nights and did well enough (it was the season’s top-rated new drama) for CBS executives to believe that it, coupled with the phenomenon “Survivor: The Australian Outback,” could challenge the mighty NBC Thursday-night lineup.
“We thought the Friday-night spot was good for us because crime dramas have traditionally done well on Friday nights,” Helgenberger said, “going back to `Miami Vice’ and the beginning of `The X-Files,’ and continuing through `Crime Story’ and `Homicide.’ When they moved us to Thursday, we took it as a compliment that CBS believed that we could go against NBC.”
The network strategy apparently was right on the mark. Audiences, lured by incessant promotion during last summer’s telecasts of the first “Survivor” series, and corralled this season by the “Survivor II” lead-in, have taken to “CSI” in a big way.
The series, which has a different look and feel than other crime dramas, does not focus on shootouts and courtroom dramas. Each show is a complicated whodunit in which science, rather than a hard-boiled police detective, unravels the mystery and points the accusing finger at the guilty party. The show was inspired by the Discovery Channel’s series “The New Detectives.”
“I think the whole field of forensics has become fascinating to people in this country since the 1990s,” Helgenberger said. “No doubt it started with the O.J. trial, and has continued with other high-profile cases such as JonBenet Ramsey. Look how popular Court TV has become.”
Helgenberger’s character on the new series, Catherine Willows, is a tough, smart and sexy single mother who works the graveyard shift in the forensics lab of the Las Vegas Police Department. Each week, she and Petersen, whose characters have so far shown no romantic inclinations, sift through clues at a crime scene. It is clear that the evidence is the star of this network drama.
“The shows are pretty plot-driven,” Helgenberger said. “Most of the time, the actors are upstaged by what I call the science fair projects. But I adore the show, and I guess so does the audience.”
A native of tiny North Bend, Neb., a town of 1,200 people about 60 miles west of Omaha, Helgenberger appeared in school plays and began studying drama at a local community college before transferring to Northwestern University.
But first, the name. She wasn’t born with what one would call a memorable acting name that rolls off the tongue. Her mother named her Mary Marg (the “g” is hard, not soft, as in Margie), and the actress admits that keeping her real name has been a problem at times.
“It’s never pronounced right, but no one has ever asked me to change it,” she said. “Well, there was one time in college, when I worked as a weekend weather girl for a summer at a local TV station in Nebraska.
“The news anchor’s name was Joyce Eisenminger and the sports guy was Harry Knocklinger, and the station thought it was too much to ask the audience to swallow the Eisenminger-Knocklinger-Helgenberger Report.”
Leaving Eisenminger and Knocklinger in the dust, Helgenberger went to Northwestern and was starring in “The Taming of the Shrew” when she was approached by an ABC talent scout, who was touring the Midwest in search of talent for a new soap called “Ryan’s Hope.”
Less than two weeks after graduation, Helgenberger was playing an undercover cop on the soap, where she remained for the next three years. It was on that show that she met her future husband, actor Alan Rosenberg, who would go on to star in “L.A. Law,” “Civil Wars” and “Cybill.”
The couple has been married 11 years and has a 10-year-old son. It was a desire to spend more time with her husband and son that led Helgenberger to consider a return to series television.
Since “China Beach” left the air in 1991, Helgenberger has been busy making features and television movies. On the big screen, she appeared in “Species,” “Fire Down Below,” “My Fellow Americans,” “Bad Boys” and “Always,” although her best role came in last year’s “Erin Brockovich,” when she was mentioned as a long shot for an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of a cancer victim.
On the small screen, she played Patsy Ramsey in the 1997 CBS miniseries about the JonBenet case, “Perfect Murder, Perfect Town,” and later played George Clooney’s love interest on “ER.”
“Most TV movies are filmed in Canada and most feature films are shot outside Los Angeles, and I just couldn’t take being away from my family anymore,” she explained. “I like playing different roles, which is why I prefer doing movies, but I needed the steady work of a TV series.”
And she almost found it with “Sopranos” creator David Chase, who wrote a pilot in which she would play a mom in the federal witness protection program.
“This was before `The Sopranos,’ and CBS passed on the show,” the actress said. “Of course, after the success of `The Sopranos,’ CBS suddenly became interested. It’s funny how that works. But, by that time, David was busy with `The Sopranos’ and I already had agreed to do `CSI.’
“I loved the idea of `CSI’ even before we started shooting. I loved it from the time I read the first script. It was provocative and edgy. I gravitate toward edgier material because it suits my nature. I guess I’m just that kind of person.”
Keep those cards and letters coming.
X X X
THE SWEET SPOT
By Jamie Diamond
She’s got a huge hit, a wicked wit, and one of Hollywood’s more enduring marriages. No wonder Marg Helgenberger feels sexier than ever at 48.
Her Role on CSI
When Marg Helgenberger plays the forensic detective Catherine Willows on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, she rarely laughs. How can she, when she’s usually up to her elbows in a cadaver? But now, seated for lunch in a sedate Santa Monica restaurant, her light auburn hair making her eyes look an even deeper shade of blue, she is shaking with the kind of I-really-shouldn’t-but-I-can’t-help-it laughter that makes a person gasp for breath. Finally she regains her self-possession, and with her slim hands — you could almost slip a napkin ring around her wrist — she smoothes an invisible wrinkle in the tablecloth. “I guess I was being naive,” she says.
She was chatting one night with David Letterman on his show, you see, telling him about researching her CSI role with a real forensic investigator at a Las Vegas robbery scene. The robbery victim, who was a woman in her late 60s, mentioned that she threw “fun parties” and opened a door to reveal a cabinet full of sex toys, which Helgenberger proceeded to describe to Letterman.
“So I innocently said ‘cock rings,'” she recalls with a shrug. Letterman, looking completely shocked, recovered by pouring them each a shot from a bottle labeled Wild Turkey. “I had no idea if it was going to be bourbon or not; I just thought, I’m going to go for it. It was apple juice,” continues Helgenberger, who knew her words might get bleeped from the broadcast. (They were.) “Dave tossed his shot back and made a face and said, ‘So then what happened?’ “
Helgenberger, who grew up in a minuscule Nebraska farm town and attended Catholic church every Sunday, draws the moment out. Sitting in the restaurant, wearing jeans, a scoop-neck aqua blouse, and delicate opal earrings — a gift from her husband, actor Alan Rosenberg (Civil Wars, The Guardian) — she appears particularly dainty. Then she delivers the punch line: “I said, ‘Well, Dave, naturally we dusted the cock rings for fingerprints.'” She waits for this to sink in, and then breaks into peals of laughter.
And that’s Helgenberger: earthy and elegant, rebellious and innocent, all at the same time. “She’s drop-dead gorgeous, and she’s got something going on underneath. She’s got a bit of the devil inside her,” says Liev Schreiber, who was featured in four episodes of CSI last season. “She’s a rock-and-roll chick from the Midwest, with a ribald sense of humor. She cracked me up the whole time we were shooting.”
At age 48 — well into the Bermuda Triangle for many actresses — Helgenberger is flying high in her eighth season as a lead on CBS’s most popular drama, a show seen by about 20 million people a week. She has earned multiple Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for her portrayal of sexy-steely Catherine Willows, and she has succeeded in bringing a bit of personality to what is basically a classic police procedural. “I had a lot more opportunities last season, and the people on the show have all been very open to suggestions,” she says. “But you have to stay within the formula. It’s very cerebral.”
Cerebral is something that Helgenberger, who has also had roles in Species, Erin Brockovich, and In Good Company, does especially well. “You can see her thinking and feeling things; it’s not necessarily in the lines, which are minimal on CSI,” says Martha Coolidge, who directed her in two episodes last season. “So much more is going on for her.” Indeed — her hyper-competent character is a single mother and former exotic dancer. Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that Helgenberger’s other signature role, the prostitute-madam K.C. Koloski on the acclaimed series China Beach, was also a potent mixture of sensuality and hardheadedness. It’s a duality that the actress embodies herself. “The first time you meet her, there’s a mystery there,” says her husband. “And once you uncover that, you find a willingness to play. She’s comfortable hanging around that kind of joking, unbridled male energy.” Adds Coolidge, “She has that Catholic thing about being proper and fun at the same time.”
On Balancing Work and Family
Her sense of fun and feistiness came relatively late, Helgenberger says. “As a girl, I played by the rules and behaved myself. I didn’t rock the boat.” The middle child of a school nurse and a meat inspector living in North Bend, Nebraska, she started working at age 11, weeding the fields of a soybean farm. “I wanted to buy things I knew my parents couldn’t afford,” she says, “like albums and costume jewelry.” Later, she moved up to being a lifeguard and a swimming teacher, and on breaks from college, she worked at a meatpacking plant. When asked where in rural Nebraska she got her image of femininity, Helgenberger (whose first name, pronounced with a hard g, is short for Mary Marg) looks puzzled. “I sort of knew what a bad girl was, which I didn’t aspire to,” she says. But as far as cool girls were concerned, “I didn’t have any role models.”
North Bend didn’t offer role models for actresses, either. Helgenberger stumbled into acting in grade school and discovered she was good at it; star turns in high school productions led her to the theater arts program at Kearney State College and then to Northwestern. “All of a sudden, I didn’t have to go to church every Sunday,” she says with a grin. “I went to clubs and heard live music and had a good time. I wasn’t a particularly good student. I was focusing on doing plays and musicals.” Her focus paid off: After being spotted by a talent scout, she landed in New York on the soap opera Ryan’s Hope, playing undercover cop Siobhan Ryan Novak.
Helgenberger moved to Los Angeles in 1986 and won an Emmy for China Beach four years later. “She’s very serious about her craft but not pretentious about how she approaches it,” says John Wells, a producer of China Beach and later the executive producer of ER, on which Helgenberger romanced George Clooney’s Doug Ross. “I think she learned the same thing that George Clooney learned early on, which is if you have looks like that, you’d better make fun of yourself or nobody’s going to be your friend.”
Her lack of pretension is something her husband appreciated right away. The two met on the set of Ryan’s Hope but didn’t start dating until they ran across each other in an L.A. bank several years later. They have now been married for 18 years, which, Rosenberg says, is “like 133 years in Hollywood time.” It was a case of opposites attracting: She is fair-haired, Catholic, and Midwestern; he is dark-haired, Jewish, and from New Jersey. “I kind of like people wondering how I ended up with her,” he says. “I’m grateful for the fact that she didn’t think she had to find some hunky stud. She understood my sense of humor. That’s how we fell in love.”
“He still makes me laugh,” Helgenberger says, “and he’s a genuinely good, kind, caring person.” The couple eloped in 1989, in part because “it was never a fantasy of mine to have a big ceremony with the gown and the whole bit.”
A year later, they had a son, Hugh, named after Helgenberger’s father. When Hugh was 13, Helgenberger wanted him to have a bar mitzvah. Although she was no longer a practicing Catholic, she valued the sense of morality and spirituality that catechism class had given her, and she wanted Hugh to be similarly grounded. “It’s a nice rite of passage,” she says. “Your family members and friends all share in this experience … and I can’t believe I’m crying about it!” She wipes away a tear and laughs.
Hugh, now a 17-year-old high school senior, is involved in the tense process of getting into college. “I’m trying not to get all worked up over it,” says Helgenberger, adding with characteristic dryness, “he’ll go someplace.” As for how her life will change when he leaves home, she protests with a laugh, “Oh, I’m not going there yet!”
The only female in a household of males (including a large dog, a Vizsla-Ridgeback mix that the family rescued), Helgenberger had not intended for Hugh to be an only child. “By the time Alan and I said, ‘Let’s try for another,’ I couldn’t get pregnant.” Starting at age 39, she went through fertility treatments but stopped short of in vitro, deciding to let nature take its course. “I figured if it happens, it happens,” she says. “It didn’t happen.” Later, after her career moved into high gear, she considered adopting. “And then I thought, I feel guilty that I don’t spend enough time with my one child. Can I do this to another one?” Which led to a further realization: “Do I really want to be in my 60s and have a teenager?” She shakes her head.
It is she, not her husband, who is the disciplinarian. “I’m the one saying, ‘Wait until your mother gets home,'” Rosenberg says. “Hugh would be a mess if it weren’t for her.”
Helgenberger is also the main breadwinner in the family; Rosenberg has spent much of the past two years serving as national president of the Screen Actors Guild, a job that, although powerful and stressful (guild members are facing the possibility of a strike against the studios next year), is unpaid. He is running for reelection in September. “He’s a very smart guy in ways that he doesn’t always get to use as an actor,” Helgenberger says.
Asked whether the earnings discrepancy bothers her, she shrugs. “I think it bothers him from time to time. It doesn’t bother me in the least.”
Despite her best efforts, Helgenberger, who sometimes works 14-hour days (and many nights) on the CSI set, worries that she’s not doing enough for the family. “Once I come home,” she says, “I need to compensate, or overcompensate, for the time I’ve spent away. But then again, I’m Catholic.” She laughs. “I draw guilt out of the air.”
Even so, she loves the buzz that comes with being a star on a top-five show. “I’m enjoying the attention and the power,” she says. “It can do a lot for your ego. And I feel sexier now than I did when I was 28. I’m more competent, more relaxed, and less frazzled.”
With lunch finished, Helgenberger, who exercises about an hour and a half every day, has a bike ride planned. To pick up some extra layers of clothing, she stops by her pied-a-terre at the beach, a single room with a big white bed and a small white couch facing a floor-to-ceiling view of the ocean. (The family’s home is elsewhere in Santa Monica.)
She grabs a hoodie and a windbreaker, and she’s ready to roll. The conversation along the bike path turns toward jewelry — not the three piercings she has in her left ear but the toe ring she had custom made for her role on ER, which she still wears. “I was playing George Clooney’s love interest — I mean, come on! I had the ring made because I knew we were going to have love scenes.”
A little further down the path, it becomes apparent that her tires need air. So Helgenberger pulls into a bike shop and tries to pump them up. Whatever she’s doing, though, is letting more air out. Finally she gets the lowdown on nozzle technology from another bike rider. “Hey,” the man says, seemingly as an afterthought. “I think you look like somebody I see in the movies.”
She flashes him a smile, then says softly, “I just might be,” and rides off, playful, alluring, and mysterious, all at the same time.
A scan of this article can be found here
EVIDENCE OF LOVE
Omaha Weekly Reader
Evidence of Love: North Bend native and CSI star Marg Helgenberger and husband Alan Rosenberg host a gang of celebrities in the fight against breast cancer.
By Patrick LaGreca
Travelling to Omaha has always been a major event for Marg Helgenberger. The star of television’s top-rated show CSI and North Bend, Neb., native grew up making pilgrimages to Omaha — then the cultural Mecca of her world. “When I got to be a teenager and we could drive, that [going to Omaha] was like going to Paris,” she said laughingly on the phone with the Omaha Weekly Reader. “There was nothing better than getting into our car and driving to Omaha for the day, for girls, teenage girls, who loved to shop.”
However, Helgenberger and actor husband Alan Rosenberg [The Guardian, L.A. Law] won’t be browsing at Westroads this trip. The duo will be hosting Marg and Alan’s Celebrity Weekend, a benefit to raise awareness-and funds-for the fight against breast cancer.
The Cancer Center at Jennie Edmundson Hospital will receive the proceeds from the three-day event that was inspired by Helgenberger’s mother, Kay Snyder, a cancer survivor of 21 years.
“Both of us have been involved in trying to raise awareness about breast cancers,” Rosenberg said. “It wasn’t long before Marg and I met when her mom was diagnosed. Marg’s mom’s medical history makes me concerned for Margi, so it’s something that affects me very deeply and of course Margi, in honor of her mother, and also as someone who is concerned for her own health.”
This year marks the fifth year for this particular event; however, the celebrity couple has been returning to participate in breast cancer awareness events in the Omaha vicinity for some 12 years. Helgenberger said she is eager to return to her roots every year and spoke fondly of her youth in North Bend and adolescent escapades in Omaha.
In high school, with the inevitable freedom spawned by a driver’s license, Helgenberger and her friends began their own forays into the big city. Primarily the trips were based around shopping, teenage girls that they were. “When I was really little they didn’t even have the Westroads. They just had the Crossroads and that was the really big deal. Then the Westroads opened and that was like candy – we couldn’t believe it, and there was a shop called the Hitchin’ Post & Wooden Nickel.”
As the girls matured, they discovered that Omaha was a regular stop for many major acts of the day – ranging from rock ‘n roll to comedy – and their destinations became the Civic Auditorium and the Orpheum Theater. “I saw everybody from Fleetwood Mac to Bad Company to Frank Sinatra, to Lynyrd Skynyrd…Peter Frampton… Occasionally I saw a couple of shows at the Orpheum,” Helgenberger recalled, “which is a beautiful, beautiful house. In fact, I saw Steve Martin there when he was just a standup – and he did that ramblin’ man thing with his banjo.”
Shortly before graduating high school, Helgenberger and her crew discovered the Old Market, which, being the late 70s, was still in a stage of germination. “I think probably when I was in my upper teens was when the Old Market started happening,” she said. “And of course that was always a blast to go down there – it still is, you know? Omaha was always fun.”
Upon graduation, Helgenberger enrolled in Kearney State College and though she enjoyed acting – she had done numerous plays and musicals in high school – she didn’t have her sights set on the theater as a long-term goal. “At the time I wasn’t really thinking of it as a career,” she said. “I just knew that – as I’ve always kind of done in my life – I’ve just kind of gotten on the road and let it sort of steer me.”
Inevitably the road steered her toward acting, and after two years at Kearney, a boyfriend told her about the theater program at Northwestern University. “I started reading up about it and found it had a great reputation,” she explained. “So I thought, ‘Lets see how I do there?’ and I applied.”
Even still, a career as an actress did not seem like an achievable reality. “I don’t think I ever really thought of … I dreamed about it,” she admitted, “but I didn’t necessarily think it was going to come to fruition… but it did.”
Eventually Helgenberger’s patience and Que sera approach paid off and she found herself working her way into the world of television. She landed work on the daytime drama Ryan’s Hope (where she met now-husband Alan) and eventually made her first major prime-time debut on the critically acclaimed show China Beach. Her portrayal of the character K.C. Koloski won her an Emmy for best supporting actress.
Nonetheless the job that propelled Helgenberger into her current stature of superstar and Emmy nominee for best actress is the leading female role of Catherine on CBS’s top-rated show CSI. Her character is a criminalist with a brilliant mind, a tough past – a Las Vegas dancer with a daughter and a less-than-ideal ex-husband-and a slightly cynical sense of humor. One byproduct of this misanthropic nature is that Catherine seems, from season to season, to have one particularly savory/unsavory evidence-gathering activity that becomes her signature.
“Every season I seem to have a specialty,” she explained. “The first season tape-lifting [picking up evidence by sticking a piece of tape to a surface and removing particles with the adhesive] was my specialty. The second season was collecting seminal fluid, and the third season I did a lot of swabbing people’s mouths. Now I’m doing a little bit of everything, swabbing and collecting seminal fluid,” she laughed.
“The other day I had my head in the toilet [gathering evidence], and I thought, ‘God this is so symbolic.”
Clever gags aside, the biggest question the ‘discerning’ television audience has regarding CSI is why, amongst the current cesspool of reality programs and run-of-the-mill sitcoms, is this drama continuing to out-perform virtually every other program on television?
The answer, strangely enough, lies in the concept of realism. Not necessarily fashioning a realistic plot or subject matter-unquestionably not the alleged realism of so-called reality television-but the realism that was intrinsic to its original creation.
“It [the show] was created by a young guy named Anthony Zuiker,” Helgenberger said, “who was a total novice to television [writing]. But he had a very imaginative mind, was a Vegas native and had a desire to be a writer. His wife loved a show called “The New Detectives” on the Discovery Channel, and she said, ‘Take a look at this show, I think there might be something in here.” So he started riding around with criminalists in Vegas.”
Conceivably this chain of events might appear typical, but in the world of corporate television, this germination process is aberrant. This ‘organic’ evolution – an attitude that eventually carried over into all of the elements of the show – is what Helgenberger credits for the program’s astronomical success.
“Anthony, being the novice,” she explained, “[meant] a lot of people had their hands in nurturing the show along and developing it.” The fact that so many people participated in the early stages created a group of individuals that had something vested in the project. They had created their own entity, and they were determined to see it succeed.
“The CBS green-lighting the pilot…it was the last pilot picked up – it was the last show picked up-and it just kind of had this magic surrounding it,” Helgenberger said. “It was all very organic, and everybody believed in the show. I don’t think you can have a wildly successful show when the personalities don’t all come together in some kind of serendipitous way. The show just clicks and it clicked from the beginning. Everybody gets along and everybody is very secure and confident in what they do. I think that [is what] happens with any wildly successful show.”
Proof positive of Helgenberger’s ‘organic’ theory is the program’s red-headed stepchild CSI Miami. The same premise, or ‘formula,’ was prescribed by network executives in an effort to create a test tube version of the original megahit. Though the show was good enough to garner better-than-most ratings – then again so does Fear Factor – the product has nowhere near the charisma of the original.
“I think that the Miami show was a demand by the network in an effort to have an instant hit,” she said. “From a business point of view, I certainly understand their thinking. It was clear the [original] show was a phenomenal success the first season. Even when they reran the show it did huge numbers. They would put us on every night of the week, or they would put us on whenever a show was cancelled, or whenever a show was flailing, and the ratings would go back up.”
Even with the full backing of the studio from the very beginning, and the huge coattails of the parent show to latch onto, Helgenberger said she believes there is no comparison between the two programs. “I just feel anytime something comes out of a business,” she said, choosing her words carefully, “you know…I hesitate to use the word greed, but, in other words, it didn’t come from an organic place. I think it’s an uphill battle to get any magic, and that’s why I think it doesn’t necessarily have the chemistry, the cast doesn’t have the chemistry that ours does.”
“It doesn’t have the look,” she continued. “It just doesn’t have a soul like our show. But I don’t mean to be disrespectful to that show at all,” she added sincerely. “I don’t have anything against anybody personally at all. I just would rather have the [original] show just be by itself and enjoy the wild ride of success. But we’re in a different era now, when it’s really just kind of about finding out what is successful and duplicating it again and again and again. It’s not just the Miami show. There are a lot of other shows that are both on CBS and produced by Bruckheimer that are almost the exact same show but with a slightly different premise and a different cast, and there you have it.”
Helgenberger, however, is by no means a television naysayer. She thinks that the variety alone available on television today is positive and that the industry is just going through another transformation. “I actually happen to think there are some really good shows on TV,” she said adding quickly “not that I’m a big TV watcher. But the fact that there are so many options for viewers – you know when I was doing China Beach – there really weren’t very many options, and now there are.”
In reference to the omnipresent reality TV, she doesn’t deem it the end of western civilization, but she does question the use of the word ‘reality.’ “The reality TV…I think that’s just a phase,” she explained. “I understand it from a business point of view, but it really is pathetic. Let’s face it, I can’t stand to watch it – the dating shows [for example] – they’re just stupid. There’s nothing real about it. Our show is more real than some of these dopey shows.”
As part of Marg and Alan’s Celebrity Weekend, the two are offering some reality theater Friday September 5, at the Rose Theater. Helgenberger and Rosenberg will present a one-time performance of A.R. Gurney’s The Love Letters. Tickets are available through the Rose box office.
The ‘celebrity’ part of the weekend’s events includes actors Dennis Haysbert (24, Far From Heaven), Robert Kind (Spin City), Robert Hayes (Airplane), R. Lee Erney (Full Metal Jacket), and many more names from the entertainment industry.
In addition to the Friday night performance of The Love Letters, other events include:
Sept. 6 – Harrah’s hosts The Survivor Celebration. Tickets available at the Jennie Edmundson Volunteer Department.
Sept. 7 – Celebrity Golf Championship at the Dodge Riverside Golf Club. Open to spectators. Tickets available at Hy-Vee food stores, Harrah’s gift shop and the Dodge Riverside Golf Club in Council Bluffs.
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From a heroin-addicted hooker to a tireless forensic investigator, Marg Helgenberger found her characters mostly falling on one side of the law or the other. Not that she’s complaining, “I either play cops or criminals,” she said. “I gravitate toward edgier material because it suits my nature.” The Nebraska native got her start in 1982 as a spunky rookie cop on the ABC soap Ryan’s Hope. Six years later she lit up prime time with her Emmy-winning portrayal of prostitute K.C. Koloski on ABC’s Vietnam drama China Beach. “Marg could loll in a doorway like Lauren Bacall and the great actresses of the ‘40s,” said John Sacret Young, the series creator. “She was so cool – yet there were always fires burning inside.” After Beach was cancelled in 1991, Helgenberger kept those fires stoked in projects on film (she played the cancer victim whose case spurred the lawsuit in Erin Brockovich) and TV (she had a recurring role as the love interest of George Clooney’s Doug Ross on ER). But roles weren’t always easy to come by. “The comment I get most often is ‘Too old and too pretty,'” she said at the time. “And I’m thinking, so if I were younger and uglier I’d have more of a career?” In 2000, the sultry redhead was welcomed back to the weekly grind on CBS’s CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. As stripper turned criminologist Catherine Willows, Helgenberger is ‘hands down a pro,’ said costar Gary Dourdan. “I call her Margalicious. She brings a real sexuality to her role, a bit of a rough edge.” But for all her tough-chick bravado, the gritty world of CSI had proved a challenge. “I’m relatively squeamish in civilian life,” she said. “When we’re filming autopsy scenes, I actually feel sad.” Off screen she’s more likely to feel happy, now that the series has allowed her to nest in Santa Monica with her husband of 14 years, actor Alan Rosenberg, and son Hugh. Is there anything that could tempt her to fly the coop for a while? Sure, she said. “If Steven Speilberg or Steven Soderbergh or any number of directors were to say, ‘Hey, there’s this role, are you interested? I’d be there in a flash.”
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