Skeletons in the script
Dr. Cassandra Kuba is making her way to the small screen,
and her students are
making no bones about it: They want to get involved, too.
An assistant professor in the Department of Justice, Law and Society, Kuba is a biological anthropologist, specializing in forensic anthropology and historical bio-archaeology.
When she is not uncovering the mysteries of the human skeleton with her students, she helps writers of television crime shows answer technical questions.
Writers from TV shows CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Bones, and Rizzoli & Isles have all turned to Kuba for her expert opinion on the structure of decomposed or diseased skeletons.
“It was by chance, and most likely through a Google search, that I received the first request from a television show,” Kuba says. “Writers need information quickly, and I usually respond immediately.”
It’s not only her quick response that has made her popular among writers. Her creativity counts, too. And Kuba often turns to her students for help in determining if a storyline is plausible.
“We never like to tell the writers ‘no,’ even on technically impossible cases,” she says. “We can usually suggest a few tweaks to the storyline to make the situation in the show more likely to happen in real life.”
Kuba often asks students to brainstorm ideas for making a show’s storyline more realistic. Her classes also discuss TV “cases” that feature forensic anthropology.
“I really enjoy it when we discuss the television shows,” says sophomore Fuad
Abdulkader, an archaeology major. “It lets you be part of the show and makes you think outside the box.”
Students aren’t the only ones who get excited about unraveling television crime scenes. Actors also do, says Jon Wellner, who plays DNA analyst Henry Andrews on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.
“A lot of the success we’ve had on CSIis because we have real components,” he says. “It also keeps us based in reality as actors.”
In addition to acting, Wellner is co-owner of Entertainment Research Consultants, a company that serves as a liaison between television writers and technical experts.
The company often contacts Kuba for her professional help.
“She has been wonderful,” Wellner says. “She knows the shows and really understands that even though we try to be realistic, it is still entertainment before education. She always makes the impossible possible.”
Wellner says he enjoys speaking with students and recently held an educational videoconference with a group at Cal U.
Students were able to ask him questions about the acting industry and the role forensics plays in TV crime shows.
“There is great interest among students in both sides of our work,” Wellner says. “It is just great to hear the questions, interact with students and spark interest in both acting and forensics.”
Overall, Kuba has created a learning environment where students are eager to participate.
“I just love everything about this,” says Barbara Shumar, a nontraditional student
who is majoring in forensic anthropology.
“I enjoy discussing the television cases, my courses and conducting research on my own. I just love all of it.”