'CSI' team's big scene

New deals for Donahue, Mendelsohn

"CSI" executive producers Ann Donahue and Carol Mendelsohn will stay on the case of the shows that are cornerstones of CBS' primetime schedule for another four years under separate, highly lucrative new overall deals with Paramount Network Television.

Donahue and Mendelsohn already rank high on the list of TV's highest-paid showrunners thanks to the enduring success of "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," "CSI: Miami" and "CSI: NY." Their new deals with Paramount Network TV are said to be valued in the eight-figure range and run through June 2010.

Paramount Network TV president David Stapf credited Donahue and Mendelsohn with ensuring a level of quality and stability among casts and crews that is rare for primetime series. Donahue and Mendelsohn teamed with "CSI" creator Anthony Zuiker to launch the first series, "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" in 2000. At the time, Zuiker was a TV neophyte with only a handful of film scripts under his belt. Two years later, Donahue shifted her focus to the launch of the first spinoff, "CSI: Miami," co-created by Zuiker, Donahue and Mendelsohn. Two years after that, Zuiker took the reins of "CSI: NY," also co-created by the trio.

"It goes without saying that Carol and Ann are both masters at showrunning, writing and producing," Stapf said. "They are at the top of their game, and we are incredibly fortunate to have them in our family. Because they are so skilled and run these shows so efficiently, they are able to get out from under the daily grind and really plan story arcs and character arcs. They never, ever live hand to mouth on these shows."

Donahue and Mendelsohn's new deals also cover development for new projects, but for now, both producers said they are focused on their "CSI" babies. They stressed that it is the camaraderie and family atmosphere on the "CSI" sets that have kept them on their respective shows.

"It takes hundreds and hundreds of us to make these shows each week, and we are all connected by not only our love of TV and our deep love for 'CSI' but by our love for one another," Mendelsohn said. "We've all been together for more than seven years. The decision to sign a new deal with Paramount to stay on this show has been the easiest decision I'll make all season."

Mendelsohn and the "CSI" mothership team had the extra challenge this season of heightened competition in the Thursday 9 p.m. slot from ABC's "Grey's Anatomy," which moved from its Sunday slot. "CSI" has held up solidly against its younger competitor and remains CBS' top-rated show in total viewers with an average of 20.3 million viewers, and a 6.7 rating/16 share in the adults 18-49 demo.

"At the end of every season we always say, 'Let's step it up next season,' " Mendelsohn said. "This year, when we knew 'Grey's Anatomy' was coming, we said, 'Let's step it up a little more.' We would've had a great season no matter what, but a good challenge just makes it all the more invigorating."

Both producers couldn't say enough about the support they receive from CBS and Jerry Bruckheimer Television, which produces the three shows in association with CBS and Alliance Atlantis.

"After seven years of working together, we have a real shorthand, and we trust each other," Donahue said.

Beyond the strong professional relationships, Donahue said she was touched last year when CBS Corp. chief Leslie Moonves, CBS Entertainment president Nina Tassler and Nancy Tellem, president of CBS Paramount Network Television Entertainment Group, went the extra mile to help her in a time of need.

"Over the summer I had a family member (hospitalized) in grave condition," Donahue said. "Leslie, Nancy and Nina called me and not only offered their help, but they cut through a lot of red tape and saved a life. I will be at CBS for as long as they want me."

Before "CSI," Donahue's writing and producing credits included CBS' "Picket Fences" and ABC's "Murder One" and "China Beach." She earned a Writers Guild Award nomination in 2002 for the "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" episode "Blood Drops."

Mendelsohn learned the ropes as a TV dramatist working for prolific indie producer Stephen J. Cannell on "Stingray," "Wiseguy" and other shows. She later served a five-year stint on Fox's "Melrose Place." Mendelsohn earned a Writers Guild Award nom last year for the "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" episode "Grave Danger."

Donahue and Mendelsohn are repped by Endeavor. Donahue also is repped by attorney Jeanne Newman; Mendelsohn is with attorney Jamie Mandelbaum.
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