A.J. Cook rehired for ‘Criminal Minds’
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CBS made a bold move last summer to shake up its FBI-based hit “Criminal Minds,” ditching two popular actresses from the cast even though the ratings were strong and the characters were well-liked.
Now the network has taken an equally surprising step by rehiring one of the actresses, A.J. Cook, and potentially bringing back the other, Paget Brewster. As part of her new deal, Cook, who plays Jennifer “J.J.” Jareau, will appear on the criminal profiling series’ May finale before rejoining as a full-time cast member in the fall. (She tweeted about the new deal earlier this month.)
Brewster, who since leaving the show found a starring role in a comedy pilot, may head back to “Criminal Minds” if her new show doesn’t make NBC’s next season schedule.
CBS executives, who launched “Criminal Minds” in 2005 and its spinoff, “Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior” this spring, were trying to keep the flagship series vibrant while it was still on top and thought mixing up the ensemble would do it, sources close to the production said.
Instead of waiting for the show to potentially fall from favor, as many longtime dramas have done, the network was making a preemptive strike, the sources said.
As it turns out, the most revolutionary change the network will make is to try to put the cast back the way it was before. “Criminal Minds” has consistently pulled in about 13.5 million viewers this season, beating all its network competition save for “American Idol.”
Cook doesn’t fully understand why she was dumped in the first place, a decision that blindsided even the show’s veteran producers. “I was told the network had made a creative decision to try something different with our show; it was nothing personal,” Cook said. “I kind of thought of it as a breakup when someone says, ‘It’s not you, it’s me.’’
Cook, part of the “Criminal Minds” cast since its launch, saw her character promoted -- read: written off the show -- to a new job at the Pentagon at the end of last season.
CBS Entertainment President Nina Tassler, speaking at a television critics gathering earlier this year, said it wasn’t a money-saving measure to cut the two actresses. (The show added one new female cast member, Rachel Nichols, for the current sixth season). Instead, she called it “the nature of the evolution of any show.”
Actor comings and goings are common on TV, especially on procedural and crime shows with large ensemble casts. The “CSI” and “Law & Order” franchises have gone through a number of shakeups, and “Criminal Minds” itself had one of its charter stars, Mandy Patinkin, leave the show abruptly in summer 2007.
Various TV cast changes have come because stars wanted to leave, for movie roles and other opportunities. Sometimes they’ve been shown the door because their characters were played out or unpopular, or actors demanded fat raises and big perks. Producers often cite the need to cut costs when they fire or swap actors.
None of the above could explain the “Criminal Minds” flap, when Cook and Brewster learned last summer that their contracts wouldn’t be renewed. Negotiations hadn’t been contentious, and their two characters were considered fan favorites and pivotal female voices in ‘Criminal Minds’’ gritty Behavioral Analysis Unit in Quantico, Va.
Cook was invited back for a few episodes this season, while Brewster was offered most of the season to wrap up her character’s story. Brewster’s last episode in mid-March, in which Cook also appeared, saw her special agent Emily Prentiss violently attacked by a lover-turned-nemesis. It ended with a did-she-die-or-didn’t-she? cliffhanger.
Cook said she’s going back to work this week, filming her part of the May 18 finale. But Brewster’s “Criminal Minds” future is up in the air, dependent on what happens with the NBC sitcom pilot, “My Life as an Experiment.”
Vocal fans, who launched an online “Save the Actresses” petition that gathered nearly 60,000 signatures when Cook and Brewster were axed from the series, are absorbing the news.
“I’m gonna commend CBS [executives] for seeing the error of their ways,” said one blog commenter among thousands who’ve weighed in on the topic. “Apology enthusiastically accepted.”
For the record, CBS hasn’t publicly or officially apologized.
-- T. L. Stanley