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Why CSI: Cyber Will Scare the Crap Out of You

Why the show's motto is: "It could happen to you"

Adam Bryant

The next time you use your cell phone to hail an Uber, beware: Your driver could be a serial killer.

Or at least that's what CBS' new drama CSI: Cyberwants you to think. "Our motto this season is: It can happen to you," franchise creator and executive producer Anthony Zuiker tells TVGuide.com. "We were looking for a particular subject matter that dealt with what we do every day. Whether we hop into a different type of taxi, whether we are using a baby camera, or whether we're banking online, there are vulnerabilities and things that could happen in the new generation of crime when your smart device is in the wrong hands. "

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Leading the charge against those tech-savvy ne'er-do-wells is Special Agent Avery Ryan, who is played by newly crowned Oscar winner Patricia Arquette. After sweeping the awards circuit with her performance in Boyhood, the former Medium star says she was ready to come back to TV. Interestingly enough, in her new role, Arquette is the first solo female lead of a CSI series, which nicely embodies the gender equality she called for during her Oscar acceptance speech.

"It was important to me and so cool of CBS," Arquette, 46, tells TVGuide.com. "I think it's really important to show a woman at my age on television being the leader of a group of people. This is the biggest television franchise in the world. To be a part of that and to be the lead in that as a woman is a really cool thing. Women are making a significant impact in every area of society."

But Arquette, who admits that she is not exactly a technological whiz, says it was the subject matter that brought her to this role. "We have this new technology -- it's now in every part of our lives," she says. "It's in our healthcare to the way we communicate with our kids, and our kids with their friends and everything in between. It's in our vehicles, it's everywhere. It's not going to move back. ... [And] we as a public really don't understand what the hell's going on with technology."

Despite the show's digital ambitions, the show is still grounded in Ryan's analog skills as a cop and psychologist. (The character was inspired by the work of real-life cyber-psychologist Mary Aiken.) "There's still a lot of instinct that goes into police work," Arquette says. "She really understands the underpinnings and the subconscious behavior of targets and the choices that they make."

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But she's also driven by her backstory, which makes her work extra personal. "Her files were compromised when she was a psychologist," Zuiker says. "Once those files were stolen from a computer and got out there, one of her clients was unceremoniously killed. This got her to go from that job into [using] the same special skill set in the cyber world. Who broke into her files and who ended up killing one of her prized patients? It's definitely one of her main undercurrent drives as to why she does this job."

Adds Arquette: "She has this survival mechanism. There's a real black and white -- good and bad -- and [she does] a lot to keep not just [herself] safe, but the world safe. This character is really different than any character I've played before because she really is very head-based. Everything about her analytical skills and technology is very brain-based. Usually, I play characters that are much more emotional. She's actually uncomfortable being emotional."

Even so, she does care for her team members: Agent Elijah Mundo (James Van Der Beek), tech whiz Daniel Krumitz (Charley Koontz), and two young hackers, Brody Nelson (Shad "Bow Wow" Moss) and Raven Ramirez (Hayley Kiyoko) whom Avery has brought over from the dark side.

"Patricia is the glue to this series," Zuiker says. "Obviously, she has her own dragon she's chasing with her backstory. She's also kind of a therapist by proxy to James Van Der Beek's character, who has some military issues coming back, and she kind of keeps him on the straight and narrow. On top of the fact that she's picked up these stray 'black hat' hackers. There is a dotted line that all goes back to Patricia's character and how she's going to take care of this family as they go forward to solve the crimes of the week."

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Those crimes range from baby camera hackers who kidnap newborns for an international baby auction to a destruction porn addict who hijacks roller coasters and subways to create massive carnage and casualties. And while the show may take the concepts to the extreme, recent events like the Sony email hack serve as a reminder that these types of perpetrators do exist. "There are new cyber crimes being invented every day," Zuiker says. "It really is the wild, wild west of crime."

Adds Arquette: "I just was shocked every episode at what technology was capable of. It's really unbelievable the impact technology is having on crime. A billion dollars was just stolen out of banks a couple of weeks ago. They hack into cash machines and have them spitting out thousands of dollars of cash. We've been watching cops with guns for 80 years. This is different now. It's fascinating and terrifying."

Although Zuiker says his primary goal isn't to scare viewers, he does hope the show makes people think twice about their online habits. "Ironically, we're in the same position we were 15 years ago, when we were launching what forensic science is," Zuiker says."What I think is really, really great about CSI: Cyber in 2015 is that people will finally understand the consequences of how smart devices can be used for good and can be used for bad. You realize what's capable of happening and how to protect yourself as a undercurrent in the narrative. Ultimately, there's no better public service announcement."

CSI: Cyber premieres Wednesday at 10/9c on CBS.

Additional reporting by Joyce Eng.

(Full disclosure: TVGuide.com is owned by CBS.)

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