Why So Many Stars Left The CSI Franchise

"CSI" fans rejoiced in March 2021, when CBS announced that the crime drama, which originally ended in 2015, would be revived during the 2021-2022 TV season. Per the official synopsis, "CSI: Vegas" would feature "a brilliant new team of investigators" who "must welcome back old friends and deploy new techniques to preserve and serve justice in Sin City" after an "existential threat that could bring down the Crime Lab" appears.

In anticipation of the new series — which debuted that October and was set to feature familiar faces like William Petersen, Jorja Fox, and Wallace Langham — we've been looking back at some of our favorite characters from seasons and spin-offs past. Particularly, the ones who left "CSI" too early.

If, like us, you've wondered why some of your favorite characters left the franchise, then keep reading: we have answers. From OGs like George Eads to blips on the radar like Melina Kanakaredes, we'll tell you exactly why they decided to hang up their badges.

William Petersen didn't want to play it safe

For nine seasons, Gil Grissom led the "CSI" team in investigating some of Las Vegas' most gruesome murders. The socially awkward, witty cop was a fan favorite and has repeatedly been voted one of TV's top sleuths. So, it came as a shock to many when William Petersen announced he was leaving "CSI" in 2009.

The actor told Entertainment Weekly (via CNN), "The reason I'm leaving is because I'm afraid I'm becoming too comfortable." He continued, "It's 'CSI' — they pay me a lot of money, and I don't have to work very hard anymore. I've got it all figured out. And I just realized, God, as an artist, I'm going to atrophy. You do anything for nine years, it becomes somewhat rote." Petersen expressed that he wasn't interested in keeping the job for money or convenience.

"Just didn't want it. It was too safe for me at this point. So I needed to try and break that, and the way to do that, for me, is the theater," he said.

Unlike many of his cast mates, Petersen didn't seem especially sad to leave his character behind, telling Entertainment Weekly, "I won't miss Grissom. ... And I hope that the audience won't miss him either." The audience, however, did seem to miss the unflappable leader, with 23 million viewers tuning in for William Petersen's final episode.

Gary Dourdan's mysterious 2008 exit

In 2008, Gary Dourdan was one of the few Black men on television in a leading, prime-time role. His "CSI" character, Warrick Brown, was complicated — a devoted cop who struggled with a gambling addiction and had difficulty maintaining intimate relationships. It was this multifaceted nature that drew Dourdan to the character in the first place. He told Red Carpet News, "When I got the show, it was a great challenge. To be an actor and to be in a drama, you want to be able to play a character that has dimensions, and I was able to do that with that show."

It seemed that the thrill of the challenge wore off, and Dourdan announced he was leaving "CSI" at the beginning of Season 9. Entertainment Weekly reported that his exit was a mutual decision between CBS/Paramount and the actor. The reasoning behind Dourdan's on-screen death (his character is fatally shot at the end of Season 8 and dies in Season 9) is unclear. The actor was arrested in 2008 on drug possession charges, but his exit from "CSI" was reportedly announced before his arrest.

George Eads took time off

One of the very few "CSI" actors to last all 15 seasons of the show's original run, George Eads never technically left the series. However, he did take two notable leaves of absence for two very different reasons.

The first came at the start of Season 5, when he was fired after missing the first day of filming. Eads claimed he had merely overslept, while CBS viewed the incident "as a salary dispute" (via Entertainment Weekly). Eventually, the two parties came to an agreement, and Eads was rehired at his original salary. Then, at the start of Season 13, Eads once again missed several episodes after getting in a heated argument with a pregnant writer.

Despite the drama — and his "I quit" style complaints — the actor continued to portray Nick Stokes to the very end. But his endurance might have been more a twist of fate than actual dedication. In late 2014, Eads announced that "CSI's" 15th season would be his last. Eventually, CBS reported that they'd be ending the series altogether. As a result, Eads went out with the series, and no official announcement or reasoning for his departure was ever given (aside from The Hollywood Reporter's news that it was supposedly "amicable").

Marg Helgenberger was ready for a change

Some "CSI" stars' exits have been acrimonious, but Marg Helgenberger's departure was not among them. After her character, Catherine Willows, was promoted to night-shift supervisor (following the absence of the character Gil Grissom), Helgenberger spent three years leading the cast, leaving in the middle of Season 12.

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Helgenberger said that she was leaving the series because she "instinctively felt it was time to end that chapter of my career. I'm 53 now, and I feel like I'm still young enough to switch it up." Although she decided to ultimately trust her gut and say goodbye to her character and the work, leaving wasn't easy. The actor noted that she enjoyed her time with the cast and the "collaborative camaraderie" that existed behind the scenes. Her son, Hugh, with whom she shares a close relationship, was working in the CSI production offices at the time, and we can't imagine that losing that working relationship was easy on the pair.

Paul Guilfoyle's Captain Jim Brass was retired for a time

By Season 14 of "CSI," Paul Guilfoyle, aka Captain Jim Brass, was one of the last original cast members remaining on the series. Over his years on the show, Guilfoyle had missed only a handful of episodes and had starred in more than 300, an impressive feat for any actor.

It came as a shock to Guilfoyle and fans alike when CBS executives announced he'd be making his departure at the end of that season. Per The Hollywood Reporter, the decision was the producers' call, and while no specific reasons were given, we can only assume it was because they felt the character had reached the end of his arc.

Carol Mendelsohn and Don McGill, two of the show's executive producers, said in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter: "Paul made Capitan Brass a standout character. He is not just an original cast member, he is an original. In a show about forensics, fans always looked forward to the handcuffs coming out, and Capitan Brass putting his spin on the crime of the week, just as Paul Guilfoyle put his stamp on the character and the show. He will be missed."

After many other projects in his career, Guilfoyle returned to the role of Jim Brass in 2021 for "CSI: Vegas."

Lauren Lee Smith's stay at CSI was a short one

Unlike Paul Guilfoyle, Lauren Lee Smith spent only a single season on "CSI" before getting the boot. The decision came from upstairs, with producer Naren Shankar explaining to TV Guide (via TV Fanatic), "It was an issue of how we were feeling the ensemble was working. When we brought in the character of Riley, it got lost in the shuffle a little bit because we had lost Warwick, we had lost Sara, and then in the middle of last season Grissom finally left. I think, as a result, the character never quite found its footing in terms of the rest of the gang." 

Smith seemed to enjoy her time on the series, regardless of the duration, saying in an interview with CBS that she felt "very fortunate" to join the "CSI" gang, and that "everyone was so welcoming," which made her debut an "easy transition." When speaking about her character, Riley Adams, Smith said she admired her "sense of humor," ability to "challenge the authority figures," and desire to "[do] things her own way."

Laurence Fishburne wasn't doing CSI forever

Another actor with a short-lived stint on "CSI" is Laurence Fishburne, who departed after only two-and-a-half seasons. The network, which was thrilled to land the Oscar-nominated actor as a replacement for William Petersen in 2009, didn't seem all that surprised when Fishburne opted out of renewing his contract in 2011. An insider explained to Deadline, "Nobody expected him to be on the show for seven years, it's Laurence Fishburne."

Even though his time as Raymond Langston was brief, there are no hard feelings between the actor and the franchise. When speaking about the role with The Hollywood Reporter, Fishburne called the episodes "beautiful little murder mysteries." Since his departure, the actor has mostly returned to film work, though he has done significant stints on series like "Black-ish" (as Pops), "Hannibal" (as Jack Crawford), and "Roots" (as Alex Haley). Unfortunately for Fishburne fans the world over, he has not appeared in either the "CSI" or "The Matrix" revivals.

Jorja Fox made the 'very difficult' decision to leave

Jorja Fox left "CSI" twice: once of her own volition, and once against her will. In 2004, the actor took what amounted to a brief sabbatical after contract negotiations went awry. According to Variety, a misunderstanding about her willingness to sign a letter saying that she wouldn't skip work as a salary negotiation tactic led to CBS firing Fox, only to rehire her soon after the incident.

Things went smoothly from there, until 2007, when Fox decided she'd be leaving the series for good. She told Entertainment Weekly that the decision to quit was "a very, very difficult one" which was made after "thinking about [it] for a long, long time." She elaborated on her choice, saying, "It's one of the hardest decisions I've made in my life. It has nothing to do with my contract, nothing to do with money ... There are so many things I want to do! Some are personal. Some are professional. And I really need to do some of them before I get too old..." The violence of the series was a challenge for Jorja Fox, but she was able to reprise her role for the 2021 "CSI: Vegas" revival series.

Kim Delaney's character wasn't making sparks fly

The first actor on the list to appear in a "CSI" spin-off rather than the original is Kim Delaney. She was also the first actor fired from "CSI: Miami." After just 10 episodes, CBS announced that Delaney, who played Megan Donner, was being written out of the show. The reason behind the drastic move? Per Entertainment Weekly, "there apparently wasn't enough dramatic chemistry between Delaney and star David Caruso and the rest of her co-stars."

An alumnus of another crime procedural, "NYPD Blue," Delaney was a late addition to the "Miami" cast. Fans were originally ecstatic about her casting, hoping that the leading duo would click in the same way Marg Helgenberger and William Petersen had on the original "CSI." In the end, however, it didn't pan out that way.

CBS issued a statement that said (via People), "The network, the production companies, and the producers jointly arrived at this decision upon recognizing that the character of Megan Donner was becoming less integral to the series as the season progressed."

Melina Kanakaredes' departure was her decision

After six years of fighting crime on "CSI: New York," Melina Kanakaredes decided to turn in her badge and pursue other opportunities. We know the decision was hers, thanks to a statement from CBS (via Deadline) that said, in part, "We hoped Melina would return to 'CSI: NY' for another season, but respect her decision to move on." The "why" behind the exit is murky. 

Kanakaredes' own statement doesn't offer many clues. Per Deadline, the actor simply said: "I made some amazing and lifelong friendships during my six seasons on 'CSI: NY,' and I will treasure them forever!" However, Forbes reported that the actor's move likely had something to do with money. Apparently, Kanakaredes was only making $200,000 an episode, which was significantly less than her co-star Gary Sinise, who was making at least $250,000 an episode.

We do know that creativity wasn't a factor, because the star told HollywoodChicago.com that her work in the "CSI" franchise allowed her to write an episode (something she'd never done before) and include a little bit of her own Greek heritage in its storyline.

Khandi Alexander's CSI role was only a portion of her career

For years, Khandi Alexander played the sweet-talking, empathetic medical examiner on "CSI: Miami." Then, in 2010, she shocked fans by hanging up the scalpel and riding off into the sunset. The decision seems to have been entirely her own — she reportedly wanted to pursue new and more creatively challenging roles – but that didn't make her departure any easier for franchise die-hards.

Alexander jumped right into her next project, HBO's "Treme." And from there, she spent five years playing Maya Pope on "Scandal." In an interview with The World, Alexander recounted how she had "felt like an actress" but had not seen any "consistent through-line of employment for Black actresses," which led her to doubt, for years, whether she could make a real career out of the small screen. This fact underscores just how important her role, and the representation it provided, was.

Eddie Cibrian was a short-term Miami addition

A star who had a more brief tenure on "CSI: Miami" is Eddie Cibrian, who was fired after just one season. The celebrity, who is known for his relationship with country singer LeAnn Rimes, joined the cast in 2009. A few short months later, CBS announced that they wouldn't be renewing his contract.

Though the studio declined to comment on the decision, Deadline claimed that the return of original cast member Adam Rodriguez (who had left to do a stint on "Ugly Betty") was the primary driver in deciding to drop Cibrian as a regular.

Fans had been split on Cibrian's character, Jesse Cardoza, who is perhaps best described as morally gray. However, Cibrian held firmly to the belief that he was ultimately a hero, telling TV Guide, "Jesse was always a good cop and still is a good cop" (despite the character's ethically questionable actions).

Louise Lombard loved being part of the CSI family

One of the franchise's more private stars, Louise Lombard, hasn't ever been particularly forthcoming about her reasons for leaving the "CSI" franchise in Season 8. A 2011 interview with fan site CSI Files, after Lombard's surprise guest appearance in a Season 11 episode, might help shine a little light on her decision.

She said, "I joined the show when I was pregnant with my first child and had a nursery set up in my trailer after he was born. So my time on 'CSI,' playing Sofia Curtis holds a special place in my heart." Perhaps the actor found balancing such a demanding job and role with motherhood a challenge.

Whatever her reasons, it doesn't seem that she's entirely ruled out appearing in the franchise at any point in the future. In the same interview, she emphasized how much she loved the series, producers, and her cast mates. In reference to her 2011 guest appearance, Lombard said she loved executive producer Carol Mendelsohn as well as the series, "so [she] couldn't say no."

Liz Vassey was let go in 2010

Liz Vassey found herself let go from "CSI" in 2010 after CBS opted not to renew her contract. Per Entertainment Weekly's source at the time, the decision was made in favor of "a different creative direction." It came as a total surprise to both the actor and her fans, especially because her character, Wendy Simms, had seemingly been on the verge of a relationship with fellow investigator David Hodges (Wallace Langham).

The news of Vassey's departure caused a bit of a hullabaloo after it was leaked via a Facebook post from her private account. She told CSI Files about the post that she'd put up: "I didn't expect it to move that fast ... I never expect anything to move that fast. The news just all of a sudden with Twitter and Facebook, nothing's a secret for very long. You know, I was surprised, but that was very stupid on my part because everything can travel that fast."

The actor has seemed open to returning to the series, so perhaps a "CSI: Vegas" appearance isn't out of the question.