The last time Laurence Fishburne worked on a television series, he played Cowboy Curtis, the psychedelic cowpoke on “Pee-wee’s Playhouse.” The movie and theater star will return to CBS but in a far different role when he makes his debut this Thursday on one of the network’s premier shows, “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.”
Fishburne, 47, is succeeding William Petersen, who plays brainy top investigator Gil Grissom, as the male lead on forensics drama. Petersen, who has been on “CSI” since its 2000 debut, is leaving the cast but may make some guest appearances and will stay on as an executive producer.
“I’m really excited that I’m going to be joining this team,” Fishburne said in a teleconference back in August, when his casting was announced.
“Bringing new characters into such an established piece as ‘CSI’ requires, I think, a lot of thought and consideration. You have to consider, you know, not just the folks that work on the show but the audience.”
His character, Ray Langston, is a former pathologist and college professor when he meets Grissom, who is attending one of his seminars. Naturally, it’s not just any seminar: Langston arranges for his students to talk via camera feed with the notorious “Dick & Jane Killer,” and Grissom goes undercover as a fellow professor when he actually is investigating a similar series of murders.
Not only do Langston and Grissom work together over the course of two episodes, Langston ends up joining the CSI team. But he starts out as a level one CSI, not as a leader.
“We can tell you that Gil will definitely have an opinion on who this guy is,” “CSI” executive producer Naren Shankar said in the teleconference.
Shankar and fellow executive producer Carol Mendelsohn called Fishburne “dream casting” and cited his intelligence and intensity as key to his landing the part.
The Oscar nominee is best known for films such as “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” “Boyz N the Hood” and “The Matrix” trilogy. A Tony Award winner, Fishburne was working on Broadway in the one-man show “Thurgood” when he was approached about the “CSI” role
He also has won Emmys for his work on the telefilm “Miss Evers’ Boys” and the pilot of the short-lived series “Tribeca.”
Fishburne said he isn’t necessarily leaving his film career behind.
“I wouldn’t say that my going into weekly television series is actually stepping away from anything. … It’s another medium in which to work as an actor. In fact, because I haven’t done series television since ‘Pee-wee’s Playhouse,’ it’s a welcome change. It’s going to be challenging and it’s going to be fun and it’s gonna be exciting,” he said.
He admitted that he had never watched “CSI,” which has been a huge hit for CBS, until the producers sent him some episodes.
“I’m happy to say that the episodes that they sent to me … were really, really engaging and really wonderful and kind of dark and moody like a lot of the work that I’ve actually been involved in,” he said.
He said he is looking forward to collaborating with the other actors, writers and directors and even to the challenge of learning the tongue-twisting terminology and facing the forensic show’s ick factor.
“The most important thing for me to remember is not to mistake my presence for the event. You know, the event is the show; the event is ‘CSI’ the show. And everyone has a responsibility to bring their unique talents and gifts to it. And that’s what I’m gonna do. I’m going to enter into this with the most positive attitude I can; I mean, I’m coming to work with people who are wonderful, who’ve made great television for nine years. That’s a gift. So all I can say is I’m excited and I’m ready to play.”