Killing off the cast -- ''CSI'' will see if there is life after the death of the series' longstanding star Gary Dourdan

The bullet-ridden corpse of CSI‘s Warrick Brown (Gary Dourdan) had not even gone cold after the May 15 season finale, when CBS announced it would attempt to fill the void by bringing Lauren Lee Smith (The L Word) aboard as a young and flirty investigator. For fans of the eight-year-old series, the news of Dourdan’s exit was surprising and troubling; he was one of only a handful of African-American leads in prime time, and the drama had already lost original cast member Jorja Fox earlier in the season. On top of these departures, series star William Petersen has decided to appear in a limited number of episodes next season — a sign that the actor may be preparing for his own swan song.

Both Law & Order and ER have survived shake-ups of this magnitude; the latter series, in fact, continued to thrive after the death of Anthony Edwards’ beloved Dr. Greene in 2002. Given CSI‘s sturdy format, it could conceivably withstand Petersen’s exit as long as he’s replaced by an actor of the same caliber. It’s too bad the show iced Liev Schreiber after his memorable four-episode stint last season, but another veteran might fit the bill — former CSI: Miami costar Khandi Alexander. We hear the woefully underutilized actress is looking for work.