If the folks at ''CSI: Crime Scene Investigation'' aren't careful, they may have to call their Thursday night schedule mates at ''Without a Trace'' to do a missing persons search on Gil Grissom. The Vegas squad's lead forensic investigator may not be long for the show, since William Petersen says he wants to leave the series as soon as his contract is up. ''We're just finishing our 81st episode," he says in an interview in the latest issue of Playboy. ''That's a lot. I'll do 'CSI' until I legally don't have to do it anymore -- which I think is the end of next year. Right now, that's as long as I can foresee doing this show.''
Actually, it might be a little longer; CBS tells the New York Post that Petersen, who is also a coproducer of the series, has three years to go on his contract.
Why would Petersen want to leave TV's top-rated program, especially when he has a stake in it? Petersen has complained openly in the past that CBS and producer Jerry Bruckheimer are diluting the show with spinoffs -- first ''CSI: Miami,'' and coming this fall, ''CSI: New York.'' ''Hey, they can do the show five nights a week with five different casts,'' Petersen tells Playboy. ''But as long as they don't have my guys, they're not going to do it as well. Taking a blueprint of something that was organically conceived and trying to synthesize it is the difference between organic chicken and beef jerky.''
Petersen's so miffed that he'd like to see the decision makers dead -- at least on the show. He suggests that CBS entertainment chief Leslie Moonves, as well as ''CSI'' producers Jerry Bruckheimer and Peter Sussman, should play cadavers on ''CSI.'' ''All [three] are getting filthy rich off the show,'' he says. ''They should spend a day on the slab while we poke and prod them. You'd have to ask their wives if they'd be convincing as stiffs.''