Andrew MacPherson
Lynette Rice
October 01, 2007 AT 04:00 AM EDT

CSI‘s Jorja Fox — who was briefly fired from the show in 2004 during an ugly contract dispute with CBS — is expected to leave the top-rated drama before year’s end. A source close to the show confirms that Fox, whose contract expired last season, has agreed to appear in six or seven episodes this year before leaving the show that made her a household name and turned her into an unwilling poster child for greedy TV actors.

Back in 2004, CBS offered what it described as ”fair and equitable raises” to the CSI ensemble. To avoid last-minute sick-outs, like the ones that happened with the Everybody Loves Raymond cast earlier that year, the network then required many of the supporting actors, including Fox and George Eads, to promise in writing that they would show up on time when production resumed on the fifth season. Supposedly, everyone signed, but Fox opted to send her agreement in the mail and CBS received it late. On July 14 of that year, she was fired from her $100K job. (Eads was also briefly fired for not showing up on time.)

”I sat on it because I kept thinking there was still talking to be done,” Fox told EW back in 2004. ”I wouldn’t say I was in denial, but I thought, ‘This can be fixed.’ When it hit the press late Thursday, that’s when I started to worry it was really happening. I didn’t know whether I was supposed to accept the fact I’d lost my job or whether I was supposed to be figuring out a way to get it back. It was all very confusing and fast.”

With production delayed one week, CBS started to explore contingency plans, like hiring new actors and having Fox’s character disappear into rehab after she was picked up for driving drunk in season four. Ultimately, no auditions were needed: CBS decided to let the letter incident go, and Fox and Eads was hired back — albeit at the same pay they earned before the negotiations.

Fox is leaving at a time when CSI couldn’t be stronger. Last night’s season premiere bested Grey’s Anatomy by 21 percent in the overnight ratings.

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