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'CSI': 5 Things to Know About the Ted Danson Reboot

Details on the "Cheers" star's incoming character, Marg Helgenberger’s upcoming exit and the crime procedural’s new, lighter tone.

Ted Danson
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images
Ted Danson

While Ashton Kutcher and his Two and a Half Men counterparts skipped Wednesday’s Television Critics Association press tour stop, CBS brass trotted out CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and its new supervisor, Ted Danson.

Coming in after the departure of Laurence Fishburne, executive producers teased that the series’ upcoming 12th season will not only be lighter in tone but also feature something the CSI team hasn’t really seen before: a character able to balance life at home and work.

Here are five things to know about Season 12.

1. Danson will play DB Russell, a new CSI supervisor with his own process for solving crimes. While the team spent much last season in a very dark pursuit and ultimate take-down of Nate Haskell (Bill Irwin), the upcoming season will take a lighter tone and much of that comes from the addition of Danson’s Russell.

“Ted’s character is this guy who grew up with counter-culture parents on a commune,” says executive producer Don McGill. Russell’s parents were former folk singers who traveled around in a van and, McGill notes, Danson’s character wasn’t just home schooled, he was “van schooled” and looks at things from a different point of view. Russell is someone who has his life – both personal and professional – in order, which is something the CSI crew hasn’t really seen before.

Adds executive producer Carol Mendelsohn: “We wanted a scientist, a Sherlock Holmes; we did not want a science nerd,” she says, noting that Season 1 was about “Here comes the nerd squad” and the writers this year wanted someone of great intelligence who is not a nerd. “It got us to this whole left coast, van-schooled [point].”

Says Danson: “He’s the Phil Jackson coming in to handle a group of incredibly bright people who are on a slippery slope because of what happened [with Haskell].”

STORY: ‘CSI’: Ted Danson Replaces Laurence Fishburne

2. Marg Helgenberger’s Catherine Willows is heading out this year. After more than 250 episodes of the series, original cast member Helgenberger opted to return for Season 12 after Mendelsohn approached her last season and asked her to remain on so the writers could properly script her exit.

“The combination of that info and me having a hard time letting go of this show and this group of people, I said, ‘Yeah, Im not done playing this character; I’m not done letting go of this group of people,” the actress confessed.

How Haskell’s takedown plays out will directly impact Catherine’s role with the team. “Ted’s character is pretty endearing and he has a way of looking at a crime scene that’s a fresh perspective and it gets under everybody’s skin – in a good way,” she says, noting that the crew took some “liberties” with the way the crime last season was solved. Catherine, ultimately, is a team player and may directly be impacted in the fallout.

“Marg will be around through January, so Episode 12,” Mendelsohn told The Hollywood Reporter. “People come and go and come back, so hopefully when we say goodbye, that won’t be the last time we see her.”

STORY: ‘CSI’: Jorja Fox Back as Series Regular

3. Elisabeth Harnois is returning -- to Vegas. The actress first appeared last year in Episode 21 as Morgan Brody, Conrad Ecklie’s (Mark Vann) estranged daughter when the team went to Los Angeles. Harnois wowed producers to the point where she was elevated to series regular, with both McGill and Mendelsohn eager to find a way to bring the character to Las Vegas.

“From the get-go, we thought this would be a great character to bring back to Vegas and she was our one and only choice,” Mendelsohn says.

Also returning for the lighter-toned Season 12? Carrot Top.

4. Season 12 will, with the addition of Danson’s Russell, be a lighter, slightly comedic tone more similar to Season 1 of the long-running crime procedural.

“We always talk every year about going back to Season 1, going back to that feel,” Mendelsohn says. “We looked at a lot of our first season episodes and were just inspired by them. I think you’ll see the tone is a little more Season 1. It feels like a fresh start and if you can’t start fresh after Season 12, I don’t know when you can.”

5. Everyone is excited about CSI’s move to Wednesdays.

“We’re really excited about our new time slot, we’re back with Survivor at 8 and Criminal Minds [at 9 p.m.],” Mendelsohn says of the series' move off of its longtime home on Thursday nights. “We think following Criminal Minds at 10 is a perfect place for us to be for years to come.”

Email: Lesley.Goldberg@thr.com; Twitter: @Snoodit

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