Ted Danson shocked a lot of people this summer when CBS announced the funnyman would be replacing Laurence Fishburne as the lead of aging procedural “CSI.” But as Danson and the creative team promised during the Television Critics Association summer press tour, the show will be changing a bit with him.
Per the first clip of the season premiere (now embedded below), Danson plays DB Russell, a father of four and kindly eccentric we first see questioning a child witness by amusing him with an invisible tennis ball he got “on sale” at Target.
The whimsical tone is something showrunner Carol Mendelsohn says be in no short supply on the series after the conclusion of last season’s particularly dark serial killer arc.
“I think this season will be a little lighter,” says Mendelsohn. “We’ll still have one or more dead bodies or maimed individuals in every episode, and that will never change.”
Mendelsohn also said that it was the series’ intention to bring on a Sherlock Holmes type character and not another science nerd — something Danson insists his comedic background has proved most helpful with.
“Looking for a funny takes a certain kind of intelligence,” he says. “And it’s the same brain that looks for clues and solves things. I feel at home in a funny way, even though I’m not doing jokes.”
It’s been quite a serious turn for Danson, whose other current gig on “Bored to Death” finds him solving mysteries while smoking pot. The 63-year-old says he went from a summer vacation in Martha’s Vineyard to sitting in on a real autopsy in Las Vegas to prepare for the role.
“I’m the Phil Jackson coming to to handle a group of people who were on a slippery slope because of what happened last season,” Danson says, referring to the beloved NBA coach. “I’m here to make the team work as well as possible.”
That won’t initially sit well with Marg Helgenberger‘s Catherine Willows, who’ll be demoted within the crime lab upon Russell’s introduction.
“There’s a little bit of resentment there,” she says, “but Ted’s character, so far, is pretty endearing. I think he kind of gets under everybody’s skin a little bit, in a good way.”
As for Helgenberger’s future on the series, when asked if this season would be her last she gave a definite “yes.” But her co-stars insisted they were working on getting her to change her mind.
Update: Watch the first clip of Danson as Russell below…