That Time Quentin Tarantino Directed 'CSI'

The CSI franchise is returning to CBS this fall with CSI: Vegas, a follow-up to the original Las Vegas-set CSI: Crime Scene Investigation series, with William Petersen and Jorja Fox coming back. When CSI originally aired, it was a global phenomenon and attracted dozens of guest stars during its run. It even attracted the attention of filmmaker Quentin Tarantino. Ten years after directing an episode of ER, Tarantino returned to television to direct the 2005 CSI two-parter, "Grave Danger," earning an Emmy nomination for directing.

Tarantino did not direct the episode just for a quick paycheck. "It wasn't a challenge in that regard because... I like the show," Tarantino told Today in 2006. "I just wanted to do my episode of it. So the format was all the stuff I embrace. I just wanted it to be bigger, to feel in some way like a CSI movie." He even came up with the storyline. It was subtitled "Vol. 1" and "Vol. 2" to reference Tarantino's then-latest movie Kill Bill.

(Photo: Robert Voets/CBS Photo Archive via Getty Images)

While making parts of Kill Bill on location in China, Tarantino watched episodes of CSI, a testament to the show's global reach at the time. The Pulp Fiction director became "fascinated" by the forensic angle of the show and he called Petersen's Gil Grissom the "best detective" on television since Columbo.

"Word spread like wildfire that Quentin Tarantino was watching and we all took such pride in that, and eventually we started to think if he's such a big fan, why don't we ask him to write and direct a show," executive producer Carol Mendelsohn, who is now working on CSI: Vegas, said in 2006. Petersen called up Tarantino to offer him a chance to direct, and he accepted. "Grave Danger" was originally supposed to be just an hour, but it became a two-parter after filming began.

"Grave Danger" shares several traits with Tarantino's better-known feature film work, including cameos from well-known Hollywood icons of the past. Tony Curtis and Frank Gorshin both appeared as themselves. The episode aired just two days after Gorshin's death and the episode was dedicated to the Batman actor. John Saxon, who died last year, guest-starred in a prominent role, going toe-to-toe with Grissom as the episode's criminal. George Eads' Nick Stokes was also buried alive, just like Uma Thurman's The Bride was in Kill Bill.

The episode was critically acclaimed and aired during CSI Season 5. Tarantino earned an Emmy nomination for Oustanding Directing for a Drama Series in 2005, but he had the misfortune of going up against J.J. Abrams, who won that year for directing the Lost pilot. Tarantino has not directed a television episode since. He most recently directed Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and published a novelization of the film earlier this year.

All episodes of CSI, including "Grave Digger," are available to stream on Hulu. You can also find the first two seasons and Season 15 on Paramount+. CSI: Vegas will debut on CBS Wednesday, Oct. 6 at 10 p.m. ET.