Deadline.com reports that after two seasons with 'CSI' Fishburne decided not to renew his contract when it expired in May. He is now expected to return to his movie career full-time.
'The Matrix' star was hired in 2008 as a replacement for William Petersen, and his departure leaves 'CSI' producers and writers with a major headache right before production's due to start on Season 12. Although Paul Guilfoyle is expected to stay on, some actors are still in contract talks, and Marg Helgenberger has said she will appear in only a few episodes next season.
Many 'CSI' insiders were reportedly unsurprised by Fishburne's decision, with one saying: "Nobody expected him to be on the show for seven years, it's Laurence Fishburne."
However, he did recently tell 'Entertainment Weekly'that he wanted to stay with the show. "I'm having a great time,'' he said, while acknowledging that replacing Petersen's character of Gil Grissom had been a challenge.
"I was cognizant of the fact that Grissom was a much-beloved character. I made it my business to sit down and watch almost every episode of 'CSI' from Season 1 until I came on. It was about understanding the world and becoming as immersed in the show as possible. I love it.''
Meanwhile, Executive Producer Carol Mendelsohn told 'EW' that the Season 11 finale was a cliffhanger in more ways than one. "Most of our actors are negotiating for next season, so at the moment we don't know. It must be a test for the writers of 'CSI.' We always start planning for next season without knowing for sure."
Hiring an expensive movie star of Fishburne's caliber was a risky strategy for 'CSI.' Petersen and Helgenberger were a winning team for nine seasons, and 'CSI' was a primetime ratings grabber for CBS. However, by the time Petersen left, the veteran show was starting to shed viewers, and although Fishburne was judged to be worth his estimated $14 million salary in his first season, by the end of Season 11 ratings were way down on 'CSI's glory days, and it dropped out of the Top 10 for the first time.
The drama was already facing a new challenge in Season 12 as it moves to a new day and time slot, airing on Wednesdays at 10PM ET instead of Thursdays at 9PM ET. Speculation's now rife about who will replace Fishburne, and wishful thinking will have a lot of fans hoping for the return of Grissom. Whatever happens with casting, it's likely that 'CSI' will have to be drastically retooled, and in this era of lower salaries and budget cuts execs will probably hire a less prestigious -- less expensive --actor.
'CSI' Season 12 premieres in the fall on Wednesdays at 10PM ET, on CBS.