PASADENA, Calif. If the revelation that Sara (Jorja Fox) and Gil (William Petersen) are having an affair came as a surprise to "CSI" fans in May's season finale, it was a surprise that was a long time coming. And not just because there have been little hints along the way.
Jorja Fox said that when she auditioned for the role of Sara, the "tiny little character description ... suggested that she was a love interest for the character of Gil Grissom."
And the idea of bringing them together has been kicked around, debated and fought about for six seasons.
"There have been raging debates in the writers' room since season one about Sara's relationship with Grissom pre-Las Vegas what actually happened in San Francisco," said executive producer Carol Mendelsohn. "And the room is fairly divided and has been over the seasons. I happen to think that they were intimate in San Francisco, but not intimate once they got to Las Vegas, at least in the beginning.
"And since I'm the show runner, I won the debate."
There has also been some debate among fans as to whether or not this is a good thing.
"There's been about 50 percent of the audience who would like to know more about the characters and about 50 percent who would really rather stick to the stories," Fox said. "And I think the writers did something bold and brilliant by trying to just really follow their hearts, which is what I think we try to do."
Mendelsohn said she's been told the split on the Sara-Gil romance has been about 60 percent for, 40 percent against.
"And I don't know whether it was just my assistant putting all the pro letters on my desk," she said. "But I read letters from students at Harvard, science teachers, viewers from Italy. And across the board, the fans wrote it was such a pleasure to see two adults, two professionals who are so good at their jobs have found each other and are now engaged in an intimate and mature relationship that's not salacious.
"You didn't see them ripping off each other's clothes."
"That's this season," Fox interjected with a laugh. "Billy (Petersen) and I have been working out all summer."
The fact that fans are reacting as strongly as they are is a good sign either way, the thinking goes.
"When you've got a split that is that significant, all you can really do is to kind of just tell what you feel passionate about and hope that people go on the road with you," Fox said. "But it is really exciting, yeah, and scary, because then you step out into these storylines and you're like what if they go badly? There is an element of safety sometimes with sticking with the hair fibers and the flies."
The feeling among the writers and producers seems to be that the time had come to play the Gil-Sara romance card.
"Six seasons into the show, it was a very organic and I think a well-deserved end to the season for the fans," said executive producer Naren Shankar. "And we hinted at it toward the end of this last season."
"I was very intrigued and I had sort of been gearing up from the beginning of the show that might happen," Fox said. "We suddenly find these characters together, and we know not how long has this been going on. And I think that was a really brilliant way to do it. I think it's going to open a lot of ideas for the characters."
But, apparently, the relationship between Sara and Gil won't become fodder for office gossip. At least not any time soon.
"In this one instance, the viewers will be ahead of our CSIs," Mendelsohn said. "So the viewers will be in on it. The CSIs will not know."
THERE ARE ALSO HINTS that more bombshells are going to be dropped about other members of the cast. Greg (Eric Szmanda) is going to find himself "in a situation where he has to decide what the right thing to do is even though there might be some tragic consequences," Szmanda said.
Nick (George Eads) will continue to deal with the effects of having been buried alive in the May 2005 season finale. And "Warrick (Gary Dourdan) is going to have a storyline this season where Nick is going to be the one that's there for him," Mendelsohn said.
And there's always the possibility that we might find out what's going on between Warrick and Catherine (Marg Helgenberger).
Helgenberger said that Catherine seemed to "take it personally" when she learned last season that Warrick had gotten married. "It was a sad day when she saw that wedding band on his hand. ... Hey, you know, I'd love to spend more time with Gary."
The good news is that, in addition to a seemingly endless supply of gruesome murders to investigate, "CSI" still has a lot of territory to cover in the regular characters' personal lives.
"I think one of the greatest gifts of being on this show is that we're starting our seventh year, and there's still so many intimate stories that we could tell about these characters," Fox said. "I think it's pretty rare for a show to be on for seven seasons and hopefully you still want to know more about the people than you do."
MEMBERS OF THE "CSI" CAST are quick to tell us that they're one big, happy family.
"We're very fortunate in that we're all kind of compatible," Dourdan said. "There's no divas on the set. This is a very rare opportunity.
"I've been on shows, other shows, that it hasn't been this way. Marg and I went on the '(CSI:) Miami' show for a minute, and it wasn't that way. And I'm not going to say anything bad about 'Miami' now, but when we went there, they didn't have that vibration that we have."
The seventh-season premiere of "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" is scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 21, at 8 p.m. on CBS/Ch. 2.