LOS ANGELES Stage and screen star Laurence Fishburne's last turn as a series regular on network television was the role of Cowboy Curtis on the 1980s kids show "Pee-wee's Playhouse."
So the acclaimed actor better known for playing dark, brooding characters says he looks forward to his new TV gig as a forensics investigator with disturbing tendencies on the hit CBS detective drama "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation."
Not that he had ever seen the series before his first meeting with the show's executive producers, Carol Mendelsohn and Naren Shankar.
"I felt a little stupid and embarrassed that I hadn't watched the show prior to having a meeting with them," Fishburne, 47, acknowledged in a conference call with reporters for the announcement that he is joining the show's cast.
"But I'm happy to say that the episodes that they sent me to look at were really, really engaging and really wonderful, and kind of dark and moody, like a lot of the work that I've actually been involved in," he added. "So I'm very excited."
Famed for his movie work as Morpheus in "The Matrix" trilogy and his Oscar-nominated role as Ike Turner in "What's Love Got to Do With It," Fishburne is slated to make his "CSI" debut in episode nine of the show's upcoming ninth season.
"CSI," which averaged 17 million viewers last season, ranks as CBS's top-rated show and the third most-watched scripted series in all of U.S. prime time.
Mendelsohn and Shankar hailed Fishburne as their "dream" casting choice.
He was hired to replace actor William Petersen, who has starred since the show's inception in 2000 as Gil Grissom, the brainy head of a Las Vegas police crime scene unit, and is leaving the series to follow other creative pursuits.
PROFESSOR WITH 'DISTURBING' PAST
Producers said Fishburne and Petersen will overlap for two episodes, probably airing in mid-December of early 2009, before Petersen's exit. Production on those episodes is set to begin next month, they said.
Fishburne will join the cast as a medical doctor and expert in criminal behavior who, after being forced out of his career as a research pathologist, became a college professor and ends up involved in a CSI investigation, Shankar said.
Fishburne's character, who does not yet have a name, specializes in probing the underlying causes of violent, aggressive behavior, "tendencies he disturbingly sees within himself," according to CBS press materials.
But Shankar said producers have backed off an earlier idea that the character's own genetic profile might match that of many serial killers.
"CSI" marks Fishburne's return to the CBS network two decades after his recurring role as the psychedelic Cowboy Curtis with Paul Reuben's Pee-wee Herman character on the children's television show "Pee-wee's Playhouse."
Fishburne's other small-screen credits include the HBO television movies "Miss Evers' Boys," for which he won an Emmy, and "The Tuskegee Airmen." He also won an Emmy for his guest appearance in the pilot episode of the short-lived Fox series "Tribeca."
Fishburne recently completed a Broadway run, and earned a Tony Award nomination, for his role as Thurgood Marshall in the one-man show "Thurgood." In 1992, he won a Tony for his stage performance in the August Wilson play "Two Trains Running."
(Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)