Tonight "CSI" Miami" begins its eighth season on CBS (10 p.m.) and even star Emily Procter, who plays Calleigh Duquesne, will tell you it's a year of change.
"That is an understatement," she says on the phone from Los Angeles. "They say everything changes every 7 years and that certainly applies to us."
If you haven't heard, Eric Delko (Adam Rodriguez) is leaving the show; he's scheduled to appear in about 10 episodes. (He's starring in the new Tyler Perry film "I Can Do Bad All By Myself" and has a role on "Ugly Betty.")
"I was sitting on plane from New York to Raleigh and he called me," says Procter. She's usually careful, she says, about discussing business in public, but with a 45-minute wait to takeoff and surprising news, bystanders got an earful.
"I was saying 'What? What?' I just happened to be sitting next to a fan and I said 'My boyfriend on the show isn't coming back and I'm really upset."
With Rodriguez's departure, the show is getting a new cast member: Eddie Cibrian will play Jesse Cardoza, a police officer transferred from the Hollywood, California Division.
Cibrian comes with some, um, buzz. You might know him as the married actor who starred in the Lifetime's "Northern Lights" with married country singer LeAnn Rimes, and then apparently decided he liked Rimes better than his wife.
That doesn't come up much on the set. "He doesn't talk about it and I don't talk about it. I think it's best that way," Emily says, laughing.
It's also because she's got good home training. I've talked to Emily a number of times over the years since 2000 and she's just as joyful and down-to-earth as she was that first time.
A little background: Emily was born in Raleigh, and graduated from Ravenscroft and ECU, where she majored in broadcast. (She tried to get into the theater department, but it was full so she gave up.)
She became a weather anchor at WITN in Greenville and ended up spending a lot of time watching television. She thought the people on the tube had a pretty good gig and she wanted in.
After graduation she was headed to New York, but changed direction when she got a call from another Raleigh
-born-raised actress Sharon Lawrence. Lawrence told her to save herself five years and move to L.A. Her parents were supportive; her dad even offered to pay for two years of acting classes.
Emily's first jobs were as an extra. After she earned her Screen Actors Guild card, she won a speaking part on "Great Scott," a short-lived 1992 comedy on Fox starring then-unknown Tobey Maguire. Her line: "A carton of eggs."
She had small parts in "Leaving las Vegas" and "Jerry Maguire," did an episode of TV's "Lois & Clark" and "Friends," then landed the leading female role in "Breast Men" an HBO movie.
There were other roles, but you could say her breakthrough was her portrayal of Ainsley Hayes on NBC's acclaimed "West Wing," a Harvard-trained right-wing Tar Heel who shook up the left-leaning fictional White House. And then came "CSI: Miami."
Tonight's episode of the show is a flashback, revealing the story of how the gang got together. With six episodes of the new season shot, Emily says it's her favorite so far.
"I was skeptical," she says. "But it felt really good to do it. There was so much nostalgia. To be with Khandi [Alexander, formerly the show's medical examiner] and Adam, I made me think about the begining of all of us. It was like senior year in high school, when you look around and you realize you may not see everybody again soon."
Although she says they were supposed to do "a Benjamin Button on us," Emily says, she mostly just acted younger. "I don't think they did enough on me. I was a lot thinner 12 years ago. I think they got lazy."
Her Calleigh is smart and tough, the gun expert in the group. But one thing she can't quite master is holding on to a man.
"Calleigh has the kiss of death," Emily says. "She's very hard on men. But this one wasn't her fault. I mean, Eric's father is in the Russian mob."
Still on Calleigh's behalf, Emily's not giving up. "I'm looking for who Calleigh will hook up with next. That's what's of interest to me. At first she didn't have anyone, and now she's had a series of bad relationships."
As for Emily, she had a great four-week break in North Carolina this summer. "I thought it would be too long, but it wasn't long enough." She was in Raleigh and at the beach.
There are projects she can't talk about yet, but Emily's also trying to put a charity together called Chocolate for Children. She hopes to sell jars of dark chocolate sauce from her grandmother's recipe. The proceeds would benefit children in foster care.
We'll see you tonight Emily!
Photo: Cliff Lipson/CBS