CSI’s Origins NOT Forensics Science!

In 1996-1997 while attending graduate school, and coaching with the California State University Los Angeles Forensics team I worked with two other coaches, Josh Miller (who I still work with today), and Dustin Lee Abraham. Before I go any further it is important to clarify that the forensics I am referring to is not dead bodies, but rather speech and debate – competitive public speaking!   The three of us coached the CSLA speech team together, and prior to that each of us had competed for four years. We were what is known in the speech community as forensicators. Dustin all along however, had made it VERY known that he was in the Los Angeles area, originally from Las Vegas, because of Hollywood!   He wanted to be an actor.

One day he stormed into our shared office waving a piece of paper in his hand declaring that someone at a studio saw him read something – and gave him a hefty retainer fee while they decided what to do with his talent. I saw the check! It was surreal.

Dustin also had another friend from forensics, Anthony Zuiker, whom he always talked about!   Whenever Dustin really liked something, he would say, “Tony would say ‘that is on-edge!'” The two had a long history together inside and out of forensics. Dustin gave Anthony credit for writing the things that made him successful at the public speaking competitions…in high school and college forensics, public speaking competitions. In 1994, Dustin won the American Forensics Association title for Dramatic Interpretation of Literature. Anthony had written the drama for him.

Today Anthony Zuiker is legendary for his creation of the CSI franchise. And Dustin writes and produces for the show. I have often wondered how it all played out – well now I know!

I recently stumbled across a beautiful article entitled, “CSI’s Zuiker: I Owe My Career to a Bookie Runner.” The article was composed and submitted by Anthony Zuiker to TheWrapOnTv.com, and published April 13, 2010. Anthony Zuiker explains:

There’s a buddy of mine who now works with me on “CSI” — Dustin Lee Abraham. We were both competing in high school forensics — speech, not forensics medicine — and I used to write his monologues. And he won a lot of tournaments. He beat me to Hollywood and began to take meetings and perform in front of people with these monologues I’d written for him in college. Meanwhile, I was in a terrible job as a tram host at the Mirage. I rode the tram back and forth from the Mirage to Treasure Island for $8 an hour on the graveyard shift. I didn’t like my boss; and my boss didn’t like me. Then one day an agent from William Morris — her name was Jenny Delaney — called me up at work and said, I’m Dustin’s agent; I’ve heard some of the monologues you’ve written — have you ever had any thoughts about writing a screenplay?   I said no, but she said, if you write me something great, I’ll consider representing you. So I walked to a bookstore and bought the book “Screenplay” by Syd Filed, or “The Art of Screenwriting, ” one of the two, and wrote a movie called “The Runner.” It was based on the job Dustin had back in the early 90s as a runner. A runner was a guy who went from sports book to sports book, jotted down the betting lines, and phoned them into an underground bookie establishment.

Anthony writes Dustin “The Runner” to be performed at college forensics (public speaking) competitions. The piece of literature helps Dustin to win a national title. Several years later, Dustin helps get the story — his story — written by Anthony read in Hollywood! And now we have CSI!

What is extra special here – is that both of these guys seem to have a genuine and HUMBLE love and appreciation for each other. And their foundational bond was forensics, public speaking competition.

Very cool!

I’m speech coach Duane Smith. I have served groups and individuals in the corporate and academic areas develop and improve their public speaking skills. I'm also a tenured public speaking professor at Los Angeles Valley College.

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