Exponentially more than David Caruso on “CSI: Miami” or Gary Sinise on “CSI: New York,” William Petersen is the face and heart of the original “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.”
that’s why it will be very interesting to see whether the CBS thursday night mainstay can maintain its top 10 standing in the Nielsen ratings when Petersen’s Gil Grissom is gone from the show in early 2009.
The show’s producers announced Tuesday that Petersen, whose Grissom has been head of that series’ Las Vegas CSI squad since the series begain in 2000, will leave in the middle of the 2008-09 season. He will still make occasional guest appearances and serve as an executive producer, but otherwise little is know about why he’s leaving or who will replace him.
Petersen is perfect for the role of the team leader, whose dry humor helps break things up and whose stern, intelligent leadership is perhaps the most believable part about the series (ask real-life police about the “CSI effect” and what the series has done to the public perception of what cops are capable of).
People don’t generally relate to science, but Petersen and “CSI” made a drama that largely deals with scientific elements into a long-standing hit (it was the ninth-ranked show on television last season with an average 17 million viewers).
Producers are confident that someone else can step in and the show won’t miss a beat, but I’m not so sure. Where a series like “Law & Order” truly is about the cases and not the people, “CSI” has always had a bit more of a personal feel to it, much like “Criminal Minds” does (which was still good but NOT QUITE as good after Mandy Patinkin left last season).
That’s not to say that “CSI” is doomed. Petersen took a short leave during 2006-07 to work on a play, and Liev Schreiber stepped in as a guest investigator and the viewers remained. But they also knew at that time that Grissom was going to return atop the saddle at some point.
Nobody can replace Petersen, so maybe CBS’ best strategy would be to introduce a character that brings an entirely different element. The last thing they should seek to do is bring in anyone who would have to be compared to Petersen, because they’d be likely to lose that argument (just ask Aaron Rodgers about that).
Will “CSI” be as good? that remains to be seen, but come 2009 it definitely won’t be the same.