Tuesday, August 19, 2008

'CSI's' 'Professor' Fishburne Has A Lot to Learn

'CSI's' 'Professor' Fishburne Has A Lot to Learn

Laurence Fishburne is thrilled to be joining the cast of CBS's "CSI," a TV series he'd never been interested in enough to watch, to play a character he doesn't seem to know much of anything about, including the name. The Oscar-nominated actor is supposed to start shooting early next month.

And it was news to Fishburne that taking this role to sorta, kinda replace William Petersen as the lead actor on one of the country's most-watched series would be a rare instance of a minority lead actor cast in a television drama series.

Presumably, he knows how much he'll be making to replace Petersen, who reportedly was one of the best-paid actors working in TV, in the new role that right now is being called just "The Professor."

We're guessing Fishburne's agent also spelled out for him how important the procedural crime drama is to the health of CBS as, with an average audience of about 17 million, it is the network's most watched series. Petersen, who has headlined the show since its debut in October 2000, asked to bow out this coming season, though CBS programming chief Nina Tassler said last month we will not have seen the last of his character on the show.

Fishburne is supposed to make his debut on the upcoming season's ninth episode, which, the producers said yesterday, they had on their books for mid-December. But you and I know CBS would never waste an episode like that on December, and a publicist doused that flame at the end of a news conference call, saying no date had been set for the transition. So expect it to happen in early '09.

So, early yesterday CBS staged this news conference call with The Reporters Who Cover TV to herald the bit of casting and, taking a page from the "How to Undo Spoilers" book of information management, to mostly un-say what Tassler told the news media about the character when she addressed the summer TV press tour weeks earlier.

Fishburne, meanwhile, was on the call, mostly giving out big stage laughs -- hahaHA! -- being extremely affable, and sounding clueless.

At Thank God We're Still Working Summer TV Press Tour 2008, Tassler said the new character -- the one we now know will be played by Fishburne -- "is an outsider coming into the CSI unit. He comes in not immediately as the boss, but he has an interesting genetic profile that in certain sort of medical contexts, they've noticed that many times serial killers have that same genetic profile." She said, "This gentleman knows this about himself and is sort of on this journey . . . to discover who is his true character."

Naturally, reporters on this call wanted more details on this juicy bit of character development.

One reporter asked Fishburne how he would play someone with the same genetic profile as many serial killers.

"Well, let me just say, I have no knowledge of such a biological profile, nor would I be at liberty to discuss it if there were such a biological profile," Fishburne said in response to one such question. "I'm really excited I'm going to be joining this team. We have a lot of stuff to work out," he said, including "what's the character's name?"


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