Jorja Fox by Michael Caulfield/ Jorja Fox by Michael Caulfield/

Now that Jorja Fox has officially confirmed the worst kept secret in the TV biz - she's ditching CSI next month after seven years in the forensics lab - we can start to focus on more important things in life. Like, you know, her return to the show! In her only interview, CSI's top gun, Carol Mendelsohn, weighs in on the circumstances surrounding Fox's exit, responds to published reports that she considered killing her off, previews tonight's big marriage proposal, and utters the words grieving fans have been dying to hear: Sara Sidle will be back.

Are you bummed that something couldn't be worked out to keep Jorja around?
Carol Mendelsohn:
I am very bummed. You know, it's been something we've been facing for a while now [so] I've given it a lot of thought. When Jorja expressed her desire to move on - even though I would have loved nothing more than to have had her here for Season 8 and Season 9 and on - you [react] as you would in any family: You love the person and respect them and want them to be happy and fulfilled. If this was the very end for Sara Sidle on CSI, I don't think I could have handled the last few months. But it's not. Jorja was always No. 6 on our call sheet. We're retiring No. 6, so it's there for Jorja when she comes back.

She's definitely returning?
Yes. You can count on it.

This season?
That I can't say. But the fans will not have seen the last of Sara Sidle. Nor will Grissom.

Would you describe her departure as a mutual decision?
No. It was, in the end, Jorja's decision. And we accept it. I think sometimes the fans don't really understand that the writers are fans of the show, too. And we love Sara Sidle. We love writing for Sara Sidle. And, as an actor, it doesn't get better than Jorja. She's phenomenal. So, yeah, it's heartbreaking [for me], as well as for the cast and the crew. I'm almost tearing up now because it's very hard to say goodbye, even if it's [just] goodbye for now.

Did you know she was leaving before you shot the season finale last April?
Yes. I didn't have a definitive date, but yes.

There were reports that the original plan was to kill her off in the finale, but Jorja refused to show up to work and shoot her death scene. Is that true?
No I don't, as a fan or a writer, embrace killing off characters - especially when you see this outpouring that we have gotten from the fans in support of keeping Jorja and Sara on the show; it has just been mind-boggling. [We] owe the fans so much and I don't think killing off Sara Sidle would have ever been a way to pay a satisfactory ending for Sara.

So what kind of send-off are you giving her?
I'm not telling you. [ Laughs]

As the season unfolds through November, there is a character arc threaded through the episodes for Sara Sidle. And it is something that will build and build and build until the episode in which she departs, sometime in November.

Can you shed any light on the final scene, like who's in it with her?
Jorja is in it with Jorja.

She's by herself?

What do you make of the intensity of the fan reaction to Jorja's exit?
It has been astounding. It's incredible how creative our fans are. We got two cases of chocolate covered insects with the message " CSI without Sara bugs us." We got a bouquet of red, pink and white balloons with Hershey kisses and the message was, "Don't break our hearts, keep Jorja Fox on CSI." We got two large cases of Lifesavers with the message, "You were Sara's lifesaver, now be ours, keep Jorja Fox on CSI." They've been sending money in from all over the world [as part of the] Dollars for Sense campaign. One woman named Kim West from Northern Ireland, she and her friends sent in 60 pound notes, and she wrote a four page letter. It's just been overwhelming how many people love Jorja.

Did you go back to her and beg her to reconsider?
I had done everything that I could. But in the end, I respect Jorja. This is something that she wanted to do, and I would never stand in her way. She's coming back at some point anyway.

How long before Grissom is ready to move on?
Oh my God. I don't think that Gil Grissom is the kind of guy that moves on quickly. I was thinking about how Gil Grissom thinks about time, and there's an Indian poet, Rabindranath Tagore, who said, "The butterfly counts not months, but moments." I think Grissom thinks about time that way. I wouldn't count on Gil Grissom moving on.

What about a little fling here and there?
Well, you know, gosh, I don't think of Grissom as a flingy kind of guy. Of course, there is Lady Heather... Grissom's family is the team, and moving forward, you know, that's what Grissom will focus on. His team. His family.

Speaking of Lady Heather, will she be back this season?
You know what? We haven't really talked about it. [But the door is] always open. We love Melinda Clarke.

What can you tell me about tonight's episode - specifically the marriage proposal?
It's very CSI-style. David Rambo wrote the scene and he and Jackie Hoyt wrote the episode. We have been talking for months about how to do this. And, originally at the beginning of the season, we had a plan to take Grissom and Sara back to San Francisco, because, as we all know, that's where they first met. And then last week, Grissom found this beehive and it just occurred to us what the scene should be, and I love it. I love it. And again, there are many, many more scenes between them in the last few episodes and they're all terrific.

For more from Mendelsohn - including scoop on which CSI couple will fill the Sara/Grissom void and her hopes (and fears) regarding the looming contract talks with the rest of the cast - come back tomorrow for Part Two of my interview. In the meantime, post your reaction to Part One in the comments section below!