'CSI' to lighten up -- a little -- with Danson

Blog Image 320616 - Gray
Ted Danson and Marg Helgenberger of "CSI" at Television Critics Association press conference Photo: Mark Davis/CBS

TV critics got their first look at Ted Danson's "CSI" character Wednesday and he appears to be a bit of a charmer, good with kids and probably with bigger people, too.

And without a hint of suggestion that he might share any characteristics with serial killers.

One clip's hardly enough to judge the transition from Laurence Fishburne to the former "Cheers" star, whose character, D.B. Russell, will be taking over at CBS' "Crime Scene Investigation" come fall, but  exec producer Carol Mendelsohn told reporters she thinks this season "will be a little lighter," if only because it won't be focused on nailing one particular serial killer.

There will, she promised, continue to be one or more dead bodies each week, but also a bit more of the humor that was once a hallmark of the show.

For Danson, who's just begun filming, it's been a bit of a shift.

One day, he said, he was on Martha's Vineyard, staring at the ocean. "Within a week, I went to my first autopsy -- a real one -- in Las Vegas," he said.

His character's a married father of four who grew up in a commune and on the road with his parents, who were traveling folk singers. "We joke that he wasn't home-schooled, he was van-schooled," said exec producer Don McGill, who said the character will be a rarity for "CSI," because his life is "in balance," something most characters on the show can't say.

Law enforcement's a bit of a leap for Danson, who in recent years has been seen mostly on cable -- in HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and "Bored to Death" and in FX's "Damages" -- but "they still won't give me a gun, so it's not that far-fetched," said the actor.

"My jaw's kind of hanging down a little bit from the newness of all this," he said, but "I feel at home in a funny way, even though I'm not doing jokes."

Danson's character will, by the way, trigger a shift in organization at the crime lab, bumping aside Marg Helgenberger's Catherine Willows.

Helgenberger says this will be her final season on the show. Danson said he and co-star George Eads would be doing everything they could to change her mind.

Afterward, I asked her whether she could be talked into staying.

Helgenberger  laughed. For quite a long time.

"I look forward to hearing their scenarios of how they can engage me to return," she said. "But right now, I'm still feeling that this is it. It's hard show to leave….but I'm still feeling committed to seeing what else is out there."