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New sheriff (in town) at 'CSI'

Meet DB Russell -- and, yes, he looks very familiar. That jaw. That hair. Those brows. Ted Danson's new character on "CSI" indeed looks a lot like ... well ... Ted Danson. But CBS on Wednesday told a room full of critics to set aside 30 years of accumulated impressions -- most collected from the world of TV comedy -- to consider the newest member of the "CSI" team.

Of Russell -- who replaces Laurence Fishburne's character Ray Langston this season -- we now know this: He's a family man (wife, four kids) from Oregon who grew up under the aegis of free-thinking hippy parents who traveled compulsively (in a van, what else?) and instilled in their smart son a sense of looking at the world differently.

Showrunner Carol Mendelsohn said producers had asked of themselves: "What if someone comes in and has figured out how to balance life at home?" -- a radical departure for this cast of misfits and losers in the game of love. "We also wanted a Sherlock Holmes but not a science nerd," she said.

The Left Coast counterculture upbringing, Mendelsohn added, gave him a way of "looking at the world from a different perspective." Asked of his new job -- handed to him just last month -- Danson said that within the space of two weeks, "I was in Martha's Vineyard humming to myself, then went to a real autopsy in Las Vegas ... yeah I was surprised. Thrilled. Happy. Surprised."

The character, he says, "was described to me as kind of a Phil Jackson [former superstar coach of the Los Angeles Lakers and Chicago Bulls] coming in to handle a group of incredibly bright people who were on a slippery slope" after last season's long serial killer arc. Then the always-interesting Danson proceeded to tell a real-life story of his childhood as the son of a prominent archaeologist growing up out West. One day he and his friends discovered a skull -- a human one with a bullet hole in it which in their callow youth they assumed to be an ancient one.

They played with it all day, and later learning of this, his (appalled) father had the skull turned over to authorities, and the victim was later identified.

"That's my CSI story," Danson said.

Meanwhile, Marg Helgenberger, who plays Catherine Willows, told critics that this next season would absolutely be her last on the show. Danson, who was sitting next to her onstage, immediately said, "We'll see about that."


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