New Faces

July 30, 2008

A few weeks ago William Petersen, who has starred as Gil Grissom for the past 8 years, announced that he was leaving CSI. Gil’s final one liner as Crime Scene team leader will be delivered in the tenth episode of the 2009 season. Fair enough, the guy wants a change. He’s been chasing fictional bad guys for the milennium, only taking one break in 2006 to appear in a play. Apparently he is considering going back to theatre between Executive Producing future CSI eps and making the odd guest appearance. The list of rumoured replacements is headlined by Kevin Bacon, Laurence Fishburne and Eric Stoltz (the guy who played Cher’s disfigured son in Mask).

Predictably, fans are outraged, with comments ranging from despair:

NOOOOOOOOOO  I don’t want him to leave!!!! why?????????? 😦 😦 😦 I knew the day would come but I just can’t face it…. GSR-4EVER

To the slightly deluded:

If Grissom did leave the would be llike a James bond movie w/o james Bond. ( I like spy movies).It would not only mark the end of CSI.But the end of an era of great television. gsr4ever13


Considering that CSI has survived competition from several new shows and franchising, will changing the lead actor really make a difference?


One of the less successful role replacements was on Bewitched, when Dick York’s struggle with a back injury and pain killers caused him to lose the role of Darrin to Dick Sargent.  Growing up watching the repeats, I’d never noticed, but apparently fans at the time did and the series dropped immediately from 12th to 25th most watched show.  Perhaps the fact that the character name didn’t change along with the actor is what upset viewers. 


This would suggest that maybe it’s an easier sell when both the actor and the character change.  But I reckon it’s more of a problem if the new actor’s function is the same. It’s hard to say whether the X-Files would have regained ratings if David Duchovny had stayed, but the introduction of Robert Patrick as Scully’s offsider definitely signalled the series’ ensuing death. 


In the non-drama world, this same issue will play out in the hotly contested arena of American tonight shows.  On Friday May 29th, 2009, Jay Leno will host his final shift.  The gig will be handed to Conan O’Brien the follwing Monday, after he has patiently waited for the guernsey for more than ten years.  That’s some apprenticeship.  There’s already pressure on Conan to retain Leno’s consistent ratings…so you can only imagine how the guy reading for Petersen’s role must feel.  Maybe, since CSI is not the real world, one of the female characters should be promoted and any new guy will have to earn the respect of his boss and all of those loyal viewers.


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