Tuned In: Fishburne brings fresh view to 'CSI'

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UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif. -- After tonight, Gil Grissom (William Petersen) will no longer walk the halls of the Las Vegas crime lab in CBS's "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation." The episode wraps up the story that began in December and introduced Petersen's replacement, actor Laurence Fishburne as Dr. Raymond Langston.

By the time the episode ends, Grissom will depart and Langston will be offered an entry-level job in the crime lab. (Tonight's show on KDKA has a 9:15 p.m. start due to President Bush's prime-time farewell speech.)

Executive producers Carol Mendelsohn and Naren Shankar said scripting Grissom's exit began with a few false starts.

"A long time ago there was a season one episode about Grissom talking to Warrick about when the time comes for him to leave the lab he didn't want to have a cake, he was just going to walk out the door," Shankar said. "Well, I think Carol and I were in a little bit of denial when we first wrote the scene because the first scene we wrote had a cake in it and that caused some problems. Billy [Petersen] was really definitive about how he wanted to leave the show, and what we got to ultimately is, I think, extremely moving and it feels very right."

With Grissom moving on, Catherine (Marg Helgenberger) will take over as team leader. Helgenberger said her character is ready.

"There's no anxiety whatsoever, because Catherine's sort of been in charge in a lot of ways when Grissom was still around because he didn't particularly like some of the tasks of running a crime lab and I would just pick up, like most wives do," she said. "Obviously we weren't married on the show, but the relationship was something like that of a marriage, and I just did things seamlessly without being told."

The addition of Fishburne's Langston to the team gives producers the opportunity to tell stories through his point of view.

"We're with him on his first graveyard shift, the audience can see through his eyes the process and we show how to process fingerprints, how to collect evidence, what to wear to a crime scene," Mendelsohn said. "These are all issues we'll address in these future episodes."

Fishburne said Langston's new experiences will allow viewers to experience "CSI" from the beginning from a fresh perspective. He'll also become one of the few African-American leads on a prime-time series.

"I was asked to join this company because of my intelligence and my gifts as an actor, and for that I am extremely grateful," Fishburne said. "The fact is I happen to be a man of color. I like to think of it as a bonus in much the way I think of the man who will become our president in a week's time. He is intelligent, capable and engaging and interested in bringing people together, and he happens to be an African-American, but I think it is his intelligence and passion and compassion as a human being that will make him a good president. So I'm going to try to be a good leading man here and do that with all of my humanity and hope that reflects well on the show."

Read Tuned In Journal at post-gazette.com/tv after "CSI" concludes tonight at 10:15 to read a producer's thoughts on Grissom's final scene.

CBS sitting pretty

While other networks struggle (cough, cough, NBC, cough), CBS has the No. 1 new show of the season ("The Mentalist"), opened a second night of comedy on Wednesday and has seen its Monday comedies repeatedly reach new ratings heights. On Monday, "The Big Bang Theory" delivered its largest audience ever.

CBS Entertainment president Nina Tassler defended her network's reliance on crime dramas, which continue to be successful.

"I'm not concerned about how many crime dramas we have as long as they're distinct, well-crafted and resonate with our audience," she said.

CBS's crime shows have held up better for longer than many expected, but at some point the audience is still likely to move on to something else. CBS may be attempting to prepare for that time by adding more comedy to its lineup. The network has family, buddy and youth ensemble comedies in development for fall.

"You look to zig when the other guys zag," Tassler said.

The network is close to a deal for singer John Mayer to host a variety show. CBS is also developing a spinoff of "NCIS," and an episode that introduces new characters for the spinoff will likely air later this season.

'Development' movie develops

At a Fox press conference for his new animated Fox comedy, "Sit Down, Shut Up" (April 19), executive producer Mitch Hurwitz said an "Arrested Development" movie is still in the works.

"We want to do it. We have a deal more or less in place from Fox Searchlight," said Hurwitz, the creator of "Arrested."

"We're getting all the actors on board and we have a story, which is basically 'Valkyrie' meets 'Hotel for Dogs,' " he said, joking. "But I don't have any updates. I was hoping I would have a better statement to make today. But we're close."

Series regular Michael Cera has indicated he doesn't want to appear in an "Arrested Development" movie, but Hurwitz hopes he'll change his mind. He praised Cera as "a very smart guy" who was deliberative and took his time before signing onto the "Arrested Development" TV series.

"He's making smart decisions for himself, and I hope this will be one of them," Hurwitz said.

No script has been written yet.

"I want to wait until I know who's in it," Hurwitz said. "This won't be a big-paying job so it's not something I want to do on spec."

Channel surfing

This weekend, Rosario Dawson hosts NBC's "Saturday Night Live" with musical guest Fleet Foxes. … A&E's "Paranormal State,' which chronicles the adventures of the Penn State-based Paranormal Research Society, begins its third season at 10 p.m. Monday. … Bravo's "Make Me a Supermodel" returns for its second season March 4. … Tuesday's eighth-season premiere of "American Idol" drew 30.1 million viewers, the highest-rated prime-time program in the past year, according to Variety, but down 10 percent from last year's "Idol" premiere.

Post-Gazette TV editor Rob Owen is attending the Television Critics Association winter press tour. You can reach him at 412-263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com.


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