Tonight marks a keynote event on one of TV's top-rated series, as William Petersen begins his end run on "CSI" (CBS, 9 p.m.) when replacement Laurence Fishburne is introduced.
Petersen's final appearance as Gil Grissom won't take place until mid-January, giving fans of the show a chance to see a smooth transition to Fishburne's character.
It's rare that you see the lead of a No. 1 series leave, especially when the series was developed as a vehicle for the actor, like "CSI" was for Petersen. On the other hand, series like "Law & Order" and "ER" managed to survive major cast changes over the years, though those were developed as ensemble shows.
Speaking of ensembles, it looks as if "Grey's Anatomy" could be undergoing yet another casting upheaval as the drama behind the scenes far surpasses the soap opera onscreen.
TVGuide.com is reporting that cast member T.R. Knight is unhappy with his role on the series and is looking to get out of his contract. A spokesman for the series told the magazine that the story isn't true, but it would hardly be a shock considering all of the drama that has gone on during the show's turbulent history: the fistfight between Isiah Washington and Patrick Dempsey over Washington's slur against Knight (that led to Washington's firing), the criticism against the show's writers leveled by star Katherine Heigl, and the recent odd firing of actress Brooke Smith, for apparently doing her job.
The show's rabid fans have not been happy the last couple of seasons with the various storylines that have fallen flat, and perhaps Knight is thinking of getting out while the getting is good.
It's hard to fathom sometimes that a show that is as all over the place as "Grey's" continues to stay pretty strong in the ratings, but it still manages to chug along in spite of itself.
THURSDAY'S BEST BETS: One of my guilty pleasures is "Dragon's Den," the wonderfully witty reality show (BBC America, 9 p.m.) about would-be entrepreneurs seeking partnerships with five British multi-millionaires. Tonight's episode looks back at some of the entrepreneurs who signed deals with the Dragons, and some who didn't, and where they are now. I find it fascinating to see how some of these projects turned out.
The new "CSI" anchors a night that includes the penultimate "Survivor" (CBS, 8 p.m.) and a new "Eleventh Hour" (CBS, 10 p.m.)
NBC's night of comedies are all new, as is "ER" (NBC, 10 p.m.)
Finally, ESPN has the college football awards show (except for the Heisman) at 10 p.m.