The original cast members reflect on the highs and lows of starring in the CBS drama

By Lynette Rice
September 14, 2015 at 12:00 PM EDT

After 15 seasons and more than 300 episodes, the crime drama will bid farewell with a two-hour finale on Sept. 27. We asked some original cast members to reflect on their time behind the yellow tape.

William Petersen (Gil Grissom): “This movie happened very fast. We didn’t have much time to really cogitate about it. They put us in a little bit of bind, cramming it together and getting it done. But that’s appropriate because that’s how it was when we first created the drama in the first place. Nobody had a template for it. It wasn’t one of those shows from Aaron Sorkin or David Chase where someone had been thinking about this for 10 years and knew exactly how they wanted it to be. Creator Anthony Zuiker had never done TV before. Even [then CBS Entertainment president and now CBS Corp. chairman] Les Moonves was like, ‘I don’t get it, you are going to dust for fingerprints? That’s the show?’ Well, yeah. Right off the bat, it was all about the evidence. It can be cool. We always talked about how much of a kismet it was. It was the right idea, at the right time, with the right people, at the right place and we weren’t bothered by anybody. The network left us alone because they didn’t think it would be much of a deal. They put us on at 9 on Friday nights. Nobody really knew what we were doing.”

Jorja Fox (Sara Sidle): “I think Sara is the least-liked character on the show. As much as she has a lot of fans, I think she has more who dislike her. Obviously Sara had her sights on Grissom. He’s our protagonist and all eyes see the lab through Grissom, especially through the first nine seasons. So all of sudden there is Sara in that vision. But there were fans who wanted Gil to hook up with Catherine or Lady Heather [Melinda Clarke]. I also think Sara is socially awkward and stands by her guns no matter what. That can be grating to people. She never cared that much about being popular. She cared about getting to the truth of things. Maybe for my own survival, I tried to see it as a compliment. Whether fans loved your or hated you, at least they were emotionally invested or feeling passionate about Sara.”

Marg Helgenberger (Catherine Willows): “I vividly remember Billy’s last episode and our last scene, which we kind of ad-libbed. I became an emotional wreck. I felt like the bottom dropped out. I had spent a lot of time with him and a lot of late nights in these funky locations. We really connected and it had stayed with us since the pilot. As much as the show was still solid and I loved everybody else, there was something when Billy walked out the door, because knowing him, he probably wasn’t going to come back. That felt like the beginning of the end – though it went on for six more seasons and I went on for two or three more!”

Robert David Hall (Dr. Al Robbins): “I fought for 15 years to get out of the morgue. Once and a while they threw me a bone. I had 5 episodes out of 345 that featured my character solely. But that’s okay. My job was to pull the bullet out of the ass and say, ‘They went that-a-way.’ I got all of the 10-syllable dialogue. I wore a beard the whole time. We had heard the first year that Les Moonves did not like beards, but apparently he liked mine. Now when Billy grew a beard, they didn’t like that so much. But Billy was very smart. He could pretty much do whatever he wanted to do. Even Ted Danson grew a beard in the last season. But one or two beards are enough in a show.”

Eric Szmanda (Greg Sanders):“My favorite times were when I was working in the lab and I had a chance to provide comic relief for what was otherwise a pretty serious episode. There was one time where I was listening to a song by Marilyn Manson and I used things I found around the lab to make myself look like him if he were on stage. We took a surgical mask and cut teeth out of it. We took some eyeglasses and painted two different color eyes. Then I took a latex glove and put it on my head so it looked like a Mohawk. I started drumming with two test tubes while wearing big, long plastic gloves. Catherine and Gil walk in as I’m playing the music on a boom box. I went to take the glove off, but it got stuck and then snapped. I’ve never seen those two try to contain their laughter that much. That was probably my favorite moment ever.”

Paul Guilfoyle (Capt. Jim Brass): “We never got any respect. We were always way out in Santa Clarita, working in a place that used to be a warehouse for spare parts. While we were shooting in the early days, the people had a PA system and the woman would go, ‘Bob, your wife is calling on line 3’ during our scenes. So we’d go, ‘Can’t we get them to be quiet?’ And the word back was, ‘No.’ Then we moved to Universal where one of our stages had very bad acoustics and tour busses would come around the corner. You would hear someone speaking Japanese as they were doing a tour.”

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