One of the longest-running scripted series currently on television, CBS’ Criminal Minds, is coming to an end, but not before getting a final chapter. The network has renewed the crime drama for a 10-episode 15th season. The series, which is currently filming the finale of its 15-episode 14th season, will remain in continuous production, shooting the 10 additional episodes right after to air during the 2019-20 broadcast season.
At 15 seasons, Criminal Minds’ run will match those of NBC’s ER and CBS’ CSI, with only Gunsmoke, L&O, L&O: SVU, NCIS and Grey’s Anatomy currently ahead of it on the list of the longest-running dramas ever. Criminal Minds, starring Joe Mantegna, will sign off having produced 325 episodes, landing in the Top 20 of all time for most TV episodes.
“It is the quintessential CBS hit. We are so proud to have aired it,” said Amy Reisenbach, CBS’ EVP current programs. “It speaks to everything we do best, which is air quality television. It’s been successful not only on air but online, in syndication, internationally for ABC (Studios).”
Indeed, Criminal Minds has been a top draw in reruns on basic cable, and it has done very well on Netflix, in addition to strong international sales. (CBS has shared revenue from the series’ sales with Disney, whose ABC Studios co-produces with CBS TV Studios.)
The decision to pick up a final installment was made in late fall when Criminal Minds longtime executive producer/showrunner Erica Messer was breaking the stories for the final episodes of Season 14 and sought guidance whether to make the ending a season finale with cliffhanger(s) or a series finale. (The series spent last spring on the bubble, clinching a last-minute Season 14 renewal in May.)
All the parties involved, CBS, ABC Studios and CBS TV Studios, got together and decided to extend the series to give it a proper ending.
“We wanted to make sure Erica had the time and ability to write a season (14) finale that honors the characters and the fans,” said Reisenbach. “We discussed wanting to keep the show in continuous production so 10 felt like the right number for us to roll straight into and give Erica enough episodes to end the series the way she wanted to.”
That Season 14 finale will feature SPOILER ALERT a wedding, as David Rossi (Mantegna) and his third ex-wife, Krystall (Gail O’Grady), who reconnected last season, are headed to the altar, though the rain forecast for next week has put the outdoor location picked for the ceremony in doubt.
As for the 10-episode 15th season, it will be more serialized than the procedural drama is known for, including a two-part season opener, and will feature a major confession and a BAU member in jeopardy.
The biggest through-line of the final 10 will revolve around “a very worthy adversary for the team, especially for David Rossi,” Messer said of the “unsub”, who will be introduced later this season. “Will be up against another formidable villain and will be concluding the 10 episodes with a showdown with that person,” she added.
Since it’s the final season, there will likely be memorable bad guys from the past 14 seasons making an appearance. “We have one in the works right now who’s a very memorable villain, but I don’t want to say too much if it doesn’t work out with casting,” Messer teased.
There is also hope of bringing back fan favorite characters, including former cast members. Criminal Minds has seen several stars depart over the years, including original lead Mandy Patinkin, who opted not to return for Season 3, Thomas Gibson, who was fired in 2016 for an on-set altercation, and Shemar Moore, who now headlines another CBS drama, S.W.A.T. (Moore has since returned to Criminal Minds for a guest stint). Another popular cast member, Paget Brewster, rejoined the show after being away for a few seasons.
“I am very hopeful that we can honor all of those characters who have been beloved and with this team, with the audience for years, but I don’t know what that’s going to look like; I don’t know the logistics of anything or the story. That won’t be shooting until the spring, so I have some time to think about it, but the hope is to be able to honor all of that history, all of those heroes who have come and gone.”
Messer has been on Criminal Minds since the start, becoming co-showrunner in 2010 and sole showrunner the following year. She admits that the idea how to end the series has evolved over the years.
“That journey has changed a lot from the early days on the show because I wouldn’t have anticipated all the changes that’ve happened. I also don’t know if I would’ve anticipated that we’d have 325 episodes by the time it’s all said and done. It’s such an honor to be part of a series for that long,” Messer said.
She indicated that there may be no plans to kill off beloved characters in the final stretch.
“These people are family and friends to us at this point,” she said. “I know it’s a drama, but I’m less likely to injure or write someone off in a way that says they’re not breathing anymore. I know a lot of shows, when they find out it’s going to be over, then characters are killed off or something like that. That’s not my instinct, mainly because I’ve been here for so long with all of these voices, I just don’t want that to be how it ends for them. So the jet won’t crash, I can tell you that.”
Still, Messer believes that the finale, which she will co-write with Criminal Minds star Kirsten Vangsness, with series executive producer/director Glenn Kershaw directing, will be very emotional.
“My gut is tearjerker probably because that’s how I’ll be feeling,” she said. “I think in honoring the series and saying goodbye, it’s probably going to feel like a little bit of a eulogy. So my guess is tearjerker more than anything else, that’s how I’d describe it.”
Criminal Minds, which was created by Jeff Davis, has aired on Wednesday since its launch, spending 12 seasons in the 9 PM slot until sliding to 10 PM in fall 2017. While its ratings have slipped since, from Seasons 4-12, Criminal Minds was a Top 20 broadcast series in total viewers.
“Its entire run, it’s been an asset for the current programming department,” said Reisenbach, who joined CBS the year Criminal Minds premiered with a job at CBS TV Studios before moving to the network. “It’s performed very well against so many different types of series it’s held up against Modern Family, Empire, Lost, American Idol. It has this rabid loyal fan base that tunes in every week. It’s made it so successful and so dependable for us.”
Added Messer, “In some ways, the series has always felt like the little engine that could,” thanking CBS for being “a great home for a very long time.” “What’s so bittersweet about it is that we are going out still with stories to tell, and we’re not on life support,” she said. “We’re not a show that got moved from night, to night, to night. I’m not talking ill of any of those shows, but all those signs that you usually see before a show is gone, we didn’t have any of that.”
Messer reminisced about Criminal Minds’ original 13-episode order, how she and the rest of the writers “were sitting in a window-less room in Culver City just hoping people liked what we were coming up with, and thankfully, none of us were well versed in the world of serial killers. So we were all doing so much research and having to do these deep dives into darkness,” Messer said. “It’s the learning curve of all of that and then realizing that the audience was just as fascinated in the stuff we were learning as we were. And even though we have to dive into the darkness, they’re really stories about the light.”
That is important on a show about serial killers, which sometimes has been criticized for its onscreen violence. And for Messer, telling the stories of the people tracking down the killers has been a personal passion.
“There are stories about the heroes who are fighting the good fight every week, and there’s something that makes me really proud to be able to tell those stories, to honor the men and women who keep us safe at night. I have a personal reason behind that, because my brother has been a police officer for 25 years. He has a much different job than I do, but I write about these heroes, and he is one of them. So I always am humbled by the hard work that these people do.”
Telling these stories week after week hasn’t been easy.
“There’s times when, as the writing staff, or the actors, or even members of the crew just say, I can’t do this anymore, I don’t want to paint another crime scene red, I don’t want to do these things. I understand that, certainly, but I think, gosh, we’ve got it easy because we’re just making it look like that, where there’s real people out there who are fighting these monsters every week, every day,” Messer said.
She added that she is also proud that Criminal Minds has helped viewers, noting they have received a number of letters from fans who’ve said they knew what to do in a dangerous situation because they watch the show.
Looking to making the last 10 episodes, “I think everyone will be really sad, and I know this cast especially is so fond of one another, they are truly a family,” Messer said. “Anytime anything comes to an end, there’s sadness, but this is an end of an era. Since 2005, that’s a long time in anyone’s life and career and everything else. So I think we’re all going to be sad about it for a while. We’re sad that it’s over, but also thankful that it happened.”