'The professor' in 'CSI' class of '08-'09


As expected, Laurence Fishburne has officially come on board "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," succeeding William Petersen on the CBS crime drama (HR 8/6).

Fishburne, who will debut in the ninth episode of the show's upcoming ninth season, will play a former pathologist who is now working as an itinerant college lecturer, teaching a course in criminalistics. His focus is on understanding criminal behavior, how and why people commit acts of violence — which happen to be tendencies he disturbingly sees within himself.

During the course of a murder investigation, he comes into contact with the CSI team and ultimately joins the Las Vegas Crime Lab as a Level-1 CSI.

"This has been months in the making," "CSI" executive producer Carol Mendelsohn said. "We have been talking about the character we wanted to create and pursuing our dream casting, which is Laurence Fishburne."

Exec producer Naren Shankar added that Fishburne and Petersen will appear together in two episodes. Their characters "will be involved in a case together in Episodes 9 and 10," he said. "(Petersen's character, Gil) will definitely have an opinion on who this guy is. The idea is to see a lot of Billy and Laurence together."

Fishburne's character for now is being referred to simply as "the professor." Asked how Petersen's character will depart the series, Mendelsohn said only: "We're not going to tell you how he's leaving."

Fishburne, an Oscar nominee for "What's Love Got to Do With It," most recently co-starred in "21." His last gig as a series regular was as Cowboy Curtis on CBS' 1986-91 series "Pee-wee's Playhouse."

While the actor had been mentioned as one of the "CSI" producers' top choices for the role (along with John Malkovich and Kurt Russell), Fishburne said he hadn't seen "CSI" before being approached about the role, but "the episodes they sent to me were really engaging and wonderful and kind of dark and moody. It was like a lot of work that I had actually been involved in, so I thought, 'Wow, that's cool. This'll work.' "

The producers and Fishburne added that they intend to have a "collaborative" partnership on the series, which is produced by CBS Paramount Network TV and Jerry Bruckheimer TV. Fishburne does not have a producer credit, though, while Petersen is an executive producer. CBS does not yet have an airdate for Fishburne's first episode, but a rep said it might air in 2009. (partialdiff)