Every CSI Series Ranked

By Jonathan Klotz | Updated

The CSI franchise has been a mainstay of network television for over 20 years, spanning five series and thousands of cases. Yet not every show is equal; some are better than others. All of them are fun to binge on Paramount+, but we couldn’t help ranking them.

5. CSI Cyber

The unique CSI spin-off series features a team of FBI Special Agents working with former black-hat hackers to investigate crimes involving technology and the internet. Despite the impressive cast, including Patricia Arquette as Dr. Ryan, James Van Der Beek as Special Agent Elijah Mundo (the greatest name in the franchise), along with Peter MacNicol and Shad Moss (fka Bow Wow), CSI: Cyber didn’t add anything to the franchise.

Bringing over Ted Danson as D.B. Russell from CSI didn’t help it stand out; frankly, the episodes were boring. Making technology exciting within the procedural series framework has always been difficult, after all, viewers are used to “hacking” meaning typing rapidly on the keyboard while the magic “enhance” button transforms the grainiest videos to 1080p HD.

The shortest-lived series in the franchise, CSI: Cyber only lasted two seasons and 31 episodes, from 2015-2016. The first episode reached 10 million viewers, but within a few weeks, it averaged only 6 million, as the constant hack episodes failed to connect with the audience.

4. CSI: Miami

The second show in the franchise, CSI: Miami differentiated itself from the dark Vegas original with bright colors, lots of sunlight, and more action. Starring David Caruso as Horatio Crane, Miami was a huge hit for CBS, lasting for ten highly-rated seasons from 2002 to 2012. As with the other team leads, Crane had a specialty that would often come up in the investigations; in his case, it was bomb disposal, which went well with the more action-oriented plots.

CSI: Miami crossed over a few times with both CSI and CSI: New York, but as the years went on, the show became known more for David Caruso removing his sunglasses to say a horrible one-liner leading into the opening yell of The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” While Cyber leaned into technology, Miami relied on explosions and gunplay for its crimes, and while it’s not a bad show, it has a very different feel from its more cerebral siblings.

3. CSI: Vegas

csi: vegas

The first sequel series in the franchise, CSI: Vegas went back to the franchise’s roots, complete with original stars William Peterson and Jorja Fox, with what was originally a limited series. Due to its popularity, the show was renewed for a second season, this time bringing back Marg Helgenberger as Catherine Willows.

Intended to revive the franchise after the cancelation of CSI: Cyber, Vegas has been a tremendous hit, and while it’s a great show on its own, nostalgia for the original series carried it for the first two seasons. Going back to Vegas, and small-scale crimes, has been a recipe for success, and the top of this list will show, it’s the hallmark of the best shows in the franchise.

The newcomers, led by Paula Newsome as Maxine Roby and Matt Lauria as Joshua Folsom, do a good job matching the dynamic of Grissom/Catherine and Mac/Stella, so with a few more seasons, CSI: Vegas may be able to grow from being a nostalgia trip.

2. CSI: New York

CSI: New York, led by Gary Sinise as Mac Taylor, keeps the focus small throughout the show’s run, with few serial killer gimmicks and more of a character-driven focus. There’s a killer cab and a stalker that uses 3D puzzles, but the majority of the episodes are focused on scorned lovers, elite society behaving badly, and low-level criminal activity.

For the first part of the show’s run, Melina Kanakaredes as Stella serves as Mac’s second, but when Sela Ward joins later as Jo, the show doesn’t miss a beat. Part of that is because while Sinise’s Taylor is the head of the team, it’s clear that the heart of the is Anna Belknap as Lindsay, and Carmine Giovinazzo as the very New York Danny.

With solid characters from top to bottom, tight story focus, and deciding that sometimes celebrity guest stars should be murder suspects (most notably Kid Rock), CSI: New York is everything great about the CSI franchise. Also, it uses The Who’s “Baba O’Riley” as a theme song, and that’s a definite plus.

1. CSI

The original, the best, CSI is one of the most influential shows of all time. Originally anchored by William Peterson as Gil Grissom, the show kept going with Laurence Fishbourne and Ted Danson joining throughout the years, a testament to the premise, the writing, and the excellent work from the rest of the cast.

CSI didn’t invent the network procedural, but it can be argued that it perfected the formula. The season-long villain arcs varied widely in quality, from the excellent Miniature Killer to the disappointing Dr. Jeykll and the truly scary Dick and Jane Killer, but when the lab techs can be the focus of multiple episodes by themselves, it’s a testament to how solid the show is.

Besides, CSI used celebrity guest stars the best, from murdering Taylor Swift to killing Justin Bieber in a hail of bullets.