September 25, 2003 at 04:00 AM EDT

As TV’s most popular show, ”CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” can afford to dismiss a lot of criticism, even from its own network boss. (Asked about star William L. Petersen’s new beard, series creator Anthony Zuiker tells the New York Daily News, ”We’re in Season 4 on a No. 1 show,” said Zuiker. “I think [CBS President] Les Moonves will let it slide.”) But Zuiker is taking seriously criticism from viewers, particularly from the Parents Television Council, which recently released a poll that found the Las Vegas-set crime drama to be TV’s least family-friendly show. Zuiker was ”hurt” by such complaints, he told the Daily News, and he’ll be cleaning up the often-lurid series a little as a result.

”We’ve been extra responsible because of that poll. Not in a defensive mode, but in a respectful mode,” Zuiker said. ”We don’t want to exclude families. We don’t want to exclude children. The first family that turns off the show because it’s too dark — that’s catastrophic to us.” As a result, he says, at least one storyline, which featured ”a guy coming into town with his football buddies and it was about coke and hookers and a scavenger hunt,” was deemed “too family-unfriendly” and has been yanked from production.

Zuiker says this season will focus less on the seamy side of life in Las Vegas and more on the forensic science that fascinates ”CSI” fans. Still, it’s not going to be completely squeaky-clean. Still on the drawing board is an episode called ”Fur and Loathing,” about a crime that occurs among a group of adults who stage orgies while dressed as animals. Don’t know how Zuiker plans to make that episode safe for kids to watch, but Fido and Fluffy, at least, should probably sit that one out.

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