By JUDY SLOANE
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—On Oct. 6, 2000, CBS premiered “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” touting it as a new kind of police drama, which would become the first in a lucrative franchise.
The longrunning series followed a team of forensic investigators working with the Las Vegas Police Department and solving murder cases by deducing the evidence involved. It starred William Petersen as Gil Grissom, Marg Helgenberger as Catherine Willows and Jorja Fox as Sara Sidle.
During the show’s run, the characters of Grissom and Sidle got married, and in the ninth season both left the department and sail off together from San Diego. The series went on to run another six years, with Petersen and Fox occasionally appearing as featured guests.
Now, they are back starring in “CSI: Vegas,” with a new cast including Paula Newsome, Mandeep Dhillon, Matt Lauria and Mel Rodriguez. The series premieres on CBS Wednesday, Oct. 6, at 10 p.m.
Petersen and Fox talked with the TV Critics Association via Zoom about returning to the iconic series.
Q: Jorja, you played Sara for many years. What does it feel like coming back? Does it feel the same, like you never left, or does it feel different?
Jorja Fox: It feels all of those things. It is familiar and also brand new. (Having new co-stars) gives it a freshness and a newness, plus all the new science. The world, weirdly enough, is even more topsy-turvy than it was in 2000. There’s so much new happening, and yet it was great to be grounded with William Petersen and come back as Sara Grissom. Boy, what a thrill that is. And that kept my feet on the ground a little bit.
Q: Bill, did you watch the show when you were on it and after you left?
William Petersen: I didn’t actually watch the show that much up until 2015. I didn’t watch (it) that much when I was shooting it, except at the very beginning to see what we had. By being in the show, I felt like I knew and felt the show. It was unexpected to be asked to start a new version of this. It was a thrill. I jumped at it, because of the idea of revisiting Grissom and Sara, from who we were to where we are now.
As Jorja said, it’s a different world than it was 20 years ago. So, the idea of being able to come back into the land of science I thought was really a great opportunity. It’s different because it’s 20 years later (with) all new people. That’s been great and exciting.
Q: Bill, in what ways do you think you’re like Grissom, and in what ways are you not like him?
Petersen: When I started this way back, I never liked science. I didn’t like it in school. I just didn’t understand it. It worked the other side of my brain, which is pretty empty. And once I started this, I became fascinated by it. I learned so much just through the process of daily dealing with tech advisors and the real scientists that we get to interact with. I’ve become more like Grissom in that I appreciate the things that he appreciates. I think Grissom’s a little like me in that I’d like to be off on a boat somewhere; which is where Grissom ended up for a long time until this point.
Q: Was there anything that, maybe after all this time, was difficult to pick back up?
Fox: I think I was a little rusty, for sure, on all things science. (And) just being on a set and hitting my mark; really simple actor stuff I was a little rusty at. Billy?
Petersen: I hadn’t done any television acting in a long time—since we did the finale— so it was interesting, because it’s a whole new lab. It’s all kinds of new machines, new technology that Grissom wouldn’t have been all that comfortable with even 10 years ago. I think the skills in the lab itself were rusty, as Jorja says.
Fox: Billy and I used to be really good at that stuff.
Petersen: Yeah, age caught up with me.
Q: I’ve always thought Grissom was one of the more fascinating characters on television, because he was like Sherlock Holmes, but he only focused on bugs. Because you were playing such an intellectual character in a police drama, there wasn’t a lot of running around and shooting, did that make the character more interesting to play all those years?
Petersen: Yes, very much so. When we first started “CSI,” the idea was I didn’t want to carry a gun at all. I think there was maybe two times when I had to involve myself with a handgun. Having played cops, and run around all over L.A. and the East Coast chasing bad guys, and shooting them or being shot myself, the idea of being able to work with just the mind, as an actor, was a challenge and a great opportunity to grow as a performer. That was a big part of it for me.
Q: Jorja, as the stand-out female in this series, what does it mean to you that more shows are putting female leads as their main characters?
Fox: It’s fantastic. I would say that it’s all been way overdue for as long as I’ve been alive, which is getting to be a long time now. But it is so exciting to a woman artist now, because pretty much every role that I could conceive of has opened up to women. Even 10, 15 years ago, things were still a little more iffy.
Q: Bill, any final thoughts about coming back to the franchise?
Petersen: I want to say thanks to the producers for having given us all this material and to CBS for giving us the opportunity to do this again in a completely new and different way.