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Playing Dead On 'CSI'

Of the thousands of requests The Early Show received for this "Week of Wishes," one letter stood out because the wish was unusual, to say the least.

It came from a viewer who looking to Hollywood, sort of. Her vantage point: a firehouse in South Carolina.

You might think Charlene Hubenthal's job as a firefighter would be as fast moving as a prime-time drama. The fact is: in peaceful Mount Pleasant, S.C., Hubenthal thrives on training drills, the possibility of excitement, and the occasional feline in distress.

Hubenthal explains, "A little kitten was stuck in a peanut butter jar."

Ironically, a more urgent situation, sparked by a candle, sent the fire department to Hubenthal's home.

She says, "I lost everything. With the fire, smoke and water damage, there was nothing to be saved."

That loss reinforced her commitment to both work and friendships at the firehouse where, as assistant chief Herb Williams points out, she's the only woman on her shift.

"She's independent, she's strong," Williams says, "I think with 20 guys and one of Charlene, it's even!"

After a 24-hour shift, she's off to her other full-time job, as a mom. Her 10-year-old daughter Jessica Huger knows about Charlene Hubenthal's wish, but has no idea that she is about to become part of it.

The following is Hubenthal's letter:

"Dear Early Show:

I am 33 years old, a single mother, and I live in Charleston, South Carolina. I am a full-time firefighter, I drive for a private ambulance company, and I was also a reserve police officer. I am a huge fan of several investigative shows on CBS, such as 'JAG,' 'CSI,' and 'Without a Trace.' My wish is to be part of one of those shows, to be an extra or a dead body. I know that sounds kind of morbid. I've always been interested in what was involved in filming shows like this and would give anything for the opportunity to find out firsthand.

Yours truly,

Charlene Hubenthal."

So mother and daughter leave the antics of cheerleading practice for the gritty world of forensics and the set of the highest-rated drama on network television, "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation."

Hubenthal doesn't know if she has been cast as an extra or a corpse until special effects makeup designer John Goodwin gives her the news.

He tells her, "We're very flattered that you wanted to come on our show and play a dead body."

Excited, Hubenthal starts clapping and says, "My wish come true! I'm gonna be a dead body! Yaaaay!"

Goodwin explains what Hubenthal will get, "We're just giving her some injuries, probably from an auto accident. We'll put some fake glass in there."

Asked if it hurts, Hubenthal tells daughter Jessica, "I don't feel a thing."

Now that Hubenthal is ready for her close-up, it's time for a tour: there's the DNA lab, the ballistics room, cutting-edge technology and star power.

Enthustically, Hubenthal greets the coroner. Coroners seldom get a warm reception. But this is Hollywood; coronor Al Robbins is played by Robert David Hall, and he thinks it's Hubenthal who deserves recognition.

He says, "I'm alive because I was very badly burned 25 years ago and firefighters scraped me off the highway and got me to a hospital, so when I read what you did, I just wanted you to know I'm very appreciative of your profession."

William Peterson plays forensics team leader Gil Grissom, and even a dead woman can't resist giving him a hug.

Hubenthal says, "I gotta get a hug. You're even sexier in person than you are on TV!"

After patiently waiting in the wings, Hubenthal is finally led to her death. She is, no doubt, the most cheerful corpse in the morgue and probably the planet. As mom settles into rigor mortis for her 10 seconds of fame, Jessica steps into a new role, too: assitant director.

Jessica called: "Action."

Jessica tells The Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith she enjoyed her role. "It was cool, because I got to order people," the 10-year-old says.

For her mom, the whole experience was a lot of fun. Hubenthal says, "I felt like I belonged there. I wasn't nervous at all!"

Asked if it lived up to her expectations, Hubenthal says, "Oh, definitely."

She and Jessica also got some "CSI" memorabilia. Hubenthal's primetime debut on "CSI" is slated to air in Dec. 18. And be sure to watch Thursday night's episode of "CSI" at 9:00 p.m./ET, 8:00 p.m./ Central, on CBS.

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