William Petersen will stop being a regular after the 10th episode, says Entertainment Weekly's Michael Ausiello. Also, Gary Dourdan will be seen at least one more time, and Jorja Fox will make several return appearances. Details after the jump.
From EW's e-mail:
CSI executive producer Carol Mendelsohn has confirmed exclusively to Entertainment Weekly's Michael Ausiello that William Petersen (Gil Grissom) will be gone by midseason! And not "off too do a play" gone like he was back in 2006. No, this season's 10th episode will be his last as a full-time series regular.
"Billy is leaving," confirms the show's executive producer, Carol Mendelsohn. "But he will remain throughout the run of the series an executive producer. And he will, whenever CBS asks, come back. I don't think you've seen the last of Gil Grissom."
Neither does Petersen. In fact, in an exclusive interview conducted last Friday, the eight-year CSI vet seemed almost reluctant to characterize his departure as, um, a departure. Citing both his ongoing role as an executive producer AND his intention to return on occasion as a (very special) guest star, he said, "I'm in a great place in terms of knowing that I'll be more free to make choices. And I'm responsible enough to not do it in a way that would hurt [the show].
"I want it to work for the writers, I want it to work for the cast, and, MOST importantly, I want it to work for the audience," he added. "I don't want them to abandon the show."
In the meantime, Mendelsohn is plotting one hell of a send-off for her leading man. The events of last season's finale -- specifically the death of Gary Dourdan's Warrick -- will push Grissom to the breaking point. "The easiest way to describe Grissom is 'in crisis,'" Petersen told me. "As a man. As a scientist. As a teacher. As a middle-aged person who has been very successful at what he's done... [he] wonders, 'What's the point?"
Helping Grissom through the crisis will be his true love, Sara, played by Jorja Fox, who is returning for multiple episodes, starting with the season premiere. "I wouldn't want to say exactly what we're going do -- I want people to watch, certainly," he chuckled. "But Sara is involved... It's often darkest just before the dawn."
And lest anyone read any hidden meaning into that statement, the actor reiterated, "For me, it's a really good situation. I don't want the audience to think it's NOT... [It isn't] like there's something going on, like 'Petersen's unhappy,' 'cause it's not true. It's quite the contrary. "
For the full story and more exclusive quotes, please click here.
CSI Execs Preview CSI: The Next Generation
All together now, CSI fans: Breathe. Executive producer Carol Mendelsohn also says that her team was anything but blindsided by the upcoming departure of William Petersen. "We do have a plan," she says. Here, Mendelsohn and fellow EP Naren Shankar offer an exclusive preview of what will go down when this sure-to-be-controversial season starts up.
* Jorja Fox will be back for "multiple" episodes, beginning with September's season premiere -- an hour that will also feature an appearance by Gary Dourdan's Warrick, who was seemingly shot to death in last May's finale. "We're not saying whether or not Warrick lives or dies," hedges Mendelsohn, "but we WILL say the the premiere may be the last time our loyal fans see the entire original CSI cast together."
* Previously-announced addition Lauren Lee Smith (The L Word) joins the cast in the third episode as new CSI Riley Adams. "She will come in to ostensibly replace Sara Sidle," says Mendelsohn. "She has a very distinct personality... a very rye sense of humor. She doesn't take herself too seriously." Adds Shankar: "This is a person who, unlike the rest of our gang, has not had Grissom as a mentor. So there's a very different relationship between Riley and Grissom."
* Another new CSI, this time a male, will be brought in later this fall, but "he will not appear on the landscape as a CSI to begin with," teases Mendelsohn. "He's a professor with background in pathology. He will appear when Grissom is investigating what will be a two-part case. He will help Grissom and the team bring the perpetrator to justice, and then this character will stay around and ultimately become a CSI." And although Mendelsohn says the new guy -- who will possess a very rare genetic abnormality -- will "not necessarily [replace Grissom as] supervisor," he'll inevitably be branded Petersen's replacement -- if for no other reason than the caliber of actor being sought for the role: Kurt Russell, Laurence Fishburne and John Malkovich are said to be at the top of CBS' wish list. Of the three, Mendelsohn would only confirm that Malkovich was approached, adding that "scheduling conflicts" had quickly taken him out of the running.
For the full story and more exclusive tidbits on the future of CSI, click here.