Laurence Fishburne, who plays Dr. Raymond Langston on CSI, has decided against renewing his contract in May with CBS’s long-running procedural drama. Fishburne, who was brought on to replace William Peterson (who played Gil Grissom), will be leaving the show after two and a half seasons. Emmy-winning and Oscar-nominated Fishburne is expected to return to his movie career full-time, according to Deadline.com.

The Matrix star’s departure just one month before shooting was scheduled to begin for the 12th season has compounded worries for CSI’s producers and writers: Marg Helgenberger (who plays Catherine Willows) has also said she will appear in only a few episodes next season, and the show has been moved from its current timeslot of Thursdays 9 pm EST to Wednesdays 10 pm EST for the fall, making way for J.J. Abrams’ new show Person Of Interest.

Many CSI insiders were unsurprised by Fishburne's decision. “Nobody expected him to be on the show for seven years,” one said. “It's Laurence Fishburne.” He is the second leading man of a hit drama to leave this summer, following Christopher Meloni's surprise exit from Law & Order: SVU.

Despite his exit, Fishburne admitted he’d immersed himself in the show in order to make his character a believable and worthy replacement of Grissom. “I made it my business to sit down and watch almost every episode of CSI from Season 1 until I came on," he told Entertainment Weekly. "I love it."

CBS hired Fishburne for $14 million after Peterson’s exit in an attempt to hold onto its declining viewership. For the first nine seasons, CSI was a ratings grabber for CBS, but the season 11 finale was the lowest rated one ever for the show (11.4 million viewers, 2.6 rating in the adults 18-49 demographic).

Speculation's now rife about who will replace Fishburne, and wishful thinking will have a lot of fans hoping for the return of Peterson as Grissom.

Dr. Langston’s storyline ended on a cliffhanger – having murdered his serial-killer nemesis Nate Haskell in the season finale, it's unclear whether his character admits to the crime as the episode ends.

Fishburne will next be seen in Steven Soderbergh's thriller Contagion.

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