Exclusive: William Petersen Says B-Y-E to 'CSI'


You know that fancy new CSI contract that William Petersen inked last March? Turns out there was a ticking time bomb buried in the fine print: He’ll 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 on July 11, 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.”

CBS has to be concerned about that, too. Although no one expects ratings to nosedive when Petersen leaves, the network’s top-rated show is staring down its biggest challenge ever. His sorta swan song, coupled with Jorja Fox and Gary Dourdan’s exits last season, brings to three the number of original cast members CSI will have lost in a year’s time.

“This will be a year of transition for the show,” concedes Mendehlson. “We always knew it was coming, and I’m glad it didn’t come until now.” At this point, she’s confident that, like Law & Order and ER, CSI is a franchise that can weather such cast shifts. “There’s never going to be another William Petersen, and there will never be another Jorja Fox,” she hastens to add. “But we are not out to just replace those actors. We’re out to add new characters to the show, and the show will change as a result. But that’s a good thing.” (For more on CSI‘s post-Grissom plans, click here.)

In the meantime, Mendelsohn is plotting one hell of a send-off for her leading man. Just as this is a year of transition for CSI, so too is it for Grissom. The events of last season’s finale — specifically the death of 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?’

“It’s all of a sudden becoming more difficult for him to do his job,” he continued. “What had been a sort of fun job for him to do, because he loved the solving of the riddle, has become ever more taxing and difficult.”

Helping Grissom through the crisis will be his true love, Sara, played by Fox, who is returning for multiple episodes, starting with the season premiere. While Petersen confirms that Sara will figure into Grissom’s final arc, he stops just short of saying the couple will ride off into the desert together at the end of episode 10. “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. “

That explains why he’s having trouble labeling his departure a… well, you know. “My biggest problem with leaving the show at any point isn’t leaving Grissom — I’m an actor, it’s time to do other things,” said the stage vet, whose first post-CSI gig will be a return to the theater — and to Conor McPherson’s play, Dublin Carol — this fall in his hometown of Chicago. “[The hard part will be saying goodbye] to the cast and crew. [So] I’m going to stay as involved as I’m allowed to be throughout the remainder of this show. Until they turn off all the lights.”

So what do you think? Is CSI losing Petersen as a full-timer a crime? Is part-time Petersen better than none at all? Comment away below!


Comments (1208 total) Add your comment
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  • BJohnson

    Hmmm. No Peterson huh? Well I guess that’ll lighten up the DVR by midseason. Part time to me just means “see you only during sweeps.” I was already bummed about Dourdan, now this. On a good note, maybe this means Peterson in some different roles down the road. I’m trying to look at the glass half full people.

  • Shel

    I was just taking a peek before bed, and now I’m just sad. I really can’t imagine the show, longterm, without Grissom. I think that sabbatical worked in 2006, kinda, simply because we all knew he would be back. I’m not giving up on the show – I don’t think. But I can’t say I feel all that optimistic that the show can weather so many changes at once, especially considering it hasn’t really done the whole L&O rotating-actor-thang before. Perhaps it would have been best to consider ending the show this year – perhaps then neither Peterson or Fox would have felt the need to spread their wings.

    • Katy Vanbrugh

      I think CSI will not be the same without William Petersen he’s the only reason I watch it to be honest.

      • ann edney

        i agree , i wont watch without william petersen,sad day

  • Jenny

    I’m actually ok with it. Law & Order has done this many times over and I’m always ok with how it works out. I have faith in the creative team behind the show and faith that WP knows what he’s doing. Good luck to him on the stage & maybe just taking a bit to breathe & relax! Here’s hoping the wrap up of his character’s regular status is worthy of him as an actor & his terrific character of Grissom!

  • jameela

    I feel so sad about the original cast of CSI because I’ve learned a lot from this sitcom. I even bought their dvd compilation and bring it with me wherever I go.How I wish that they could stay much longer because no one can ever replace them. Gonna miss you guys…

  • Sarah

    I remember the first time I ever saw CSI- I moved into Santa Claria and happened to stumble upon the crew filming a scene at the local mall. Ever since- I have been an avid fan of the show and the dynamics of the characters and their relationships. Having Jorja, Billy and Dourdan leave is just plain horrible. But hopefully they don’t follow that up with a poor male lead. Its almost better to choose a unknown actor than one that comes in with a lot of baggage. Anyhow- either way- I am not happy with where this is going. :( Too bad. I just got over the whole roller coaster with the strikes and now they want to throw some more curves.

    • Darrell Chambers

      I just can’t let go of Grissom.Of all the C.S.I’s he’s in my oppion the best lead character.Tough when he wants to be,and very consideritt of his coworkers and most all his fans.Please come back Will.At the very least make a really cool 3 hour movie,I’ll bring coffee.Take care and all the very best of luck in whatever you decide to do.

  • denise woods-ellison

    so sad.

  • Joy

    Eeek! The show is certainly never going to be the same, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. Still…I can’t imagine it without Grissom, although I’m sure CSI will survive. What they need now is a great story arc for Catherine. That character deserves some personal happiness.
    All the best to Petersen. It will be hard for him to shake this character but I hope he finds another great role.

  • Connie

    Well, darn! It won’t be the same without Gil and Sara, but the show will go on and I will remain a fan. It was a real jaw-dropper last season losing Warrick. The cast is wonderful and like good friends. Hope the changes will be positive and keep everyone’s interest and loyalty. Best of the CSI’s!

  • Shara

    I hope they have something or someone really good up their sleeves because I really like Grissom/WP! I missed Sarah/JF a little, I will miss Warrick/GD and I think with all three actors gone in such a short time it will, ah, suck. I won’t quit watching…yet. I hope someone knows what they are doing though! ~~Keeping my fingers crossed!~~

  • France fan

    How we can follow CSI without Grissom
    He was the soul of the team for me
    Sad to learn this really

    • VICKI


  • Snarf

    I found the show had run it’s course for me at the end of the (6th?) season where Nick was buried alive and Sarah and Grissom hooked up at the end. I tried to watch the following season but kept falling asleep – ’nuff said.

  • rose

    since the real gil has been gone since season six, and the scripts and theme of the show has gone down since then…i’m glad william’s finally pulling the plug. i miss the OLD gil grissom. i hate this POD gil that replaced him. oow we can see william in BETTER WRITTEN ROLES !

  • Luisa

    Grissom is the heart of CSI. For me it’s simple no Grissom not interested! The main reason why the original CSI is far better than it’s spin-off’s is the cast and they are managing to ruin that. If the actors want to leave (wich they are intitled after all it’s been 8 years) then instead of hiring other guys just end the show with a big blast and on a high note. That’s what CSI deserves!!!

  • Brenda

    I was not upset with Sara leaving (but I never liked her character from the beginning) when Grissom left it seemed ok because he was coming back. I was absolutely devastated when Warrick was killed. I was hoping they would have him be alive and put into Witness Relocation and bring him back later. His character is such a strong one on the show. But now that Grissom is going to leave also, I don’t see much reason to watch. I love Katherine and Nick but I don’t see them carrying the show.

  • T. Weldon

    I think it will get the other three a chance to step up, change can be a good thing. Plus he said he’d come as a special guest. I for one aint worried.

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