Criminal Minds has been on the air for 15 years now and this week the show broadcasts its final season premiere on CBS. Erica Messer has been there from the very beginning and has served as Executive Producer since 2010.
CBS Local’s Matt Weiss caught up with Messer to discuss what the show has meant to her through the years, some of her favorite quest stars and what you, the fans, have meant to her and the rest of the cast and crew.
MW: Hey Erica, how’s it going?
EM: Great, how are you?
MW: Doing well! Excited to be speaking with you again even though this one is a bit bitter sweet. Criminal Minds is set to air its 15th and final season premiere and obviously you’ve been a such big part of the show, what exactly has this show meant to you?
EM: Oh wow, it’s been 15 years of my life, so I had just become a mom when I started the show. I sort of joke that the show is my middle child because my son was one when I started and then the show happened and then my daughter was born in the second season. It’s funny that I’ve had this amazing, life changing experience becoming a mom all while having this show on the air.
My kids aren’t really sure what to do with me now that I’m home. They’re like ‘wait you’ve always been at the show’ and the funny thing is because they’re 15 and 13, they haven’t really watched the show because it’s clearly a little darker. My son who is now in high school, all his friends are now watching and he’s asking questions about it, so in this funny way I feel like this show is going to keep living on because of syndication and everything else. It’s wild to think I was a part of that for the whole time. It’s meant, I don’t know, nobody’s ever asked me that before. I’m perplexed. It’s just been everything, it’s been a defining moment in my life.
MW: What incredible timing for you personally, it really is like another child to you.
EM: Yeah, it takes time and nurturing and all that stuff so yeah it’s been wild. When I see old episodes on or a re-run or something, I think oh my gosh, and I can remember exactly when it is; that’s season 3, that was written by this person, directed by that person, like I have this weird memory recall when I see the show. Because I was just so in it I can remember if it was raining that day, it’s weird, this useless knowledge in my head right now.
MW: No that makes total sense, it’s such a big part of your life, that makes total sense. So looking back a little bit more throughout your time with the show, a lot of guest stars have come through, who are some of your favorite that you feel like have left a really good impression on the story?
EM: I think my favorite probably has to be Jane Lynch. Coming in as Spencer Reid’s mom, who’s already a beloved character, and then she came in and you love her just as much and the ups and downs and sort of the breaks we have to take periodically because she has such an amazing career. The years that Glee was on we couldn’t get her on the show and the minute Glee was over we were like ‘ok can we get Jane back there’s a story we want to tell now.’ I feel she’s the most consistent recurring character that we have.
Jane Atkinson who played Strauss who was also one of my favorites, a lot of Janes on the set. Any time we had an opportunity to revisit a character like C. Thomas Howell, playing the reaper, Foyet, we brought him back, he became a huge part leading up to our 100th episode, in one of the most heartbreaking episodes we ever done and then a few years later we found a way to bring him back sort of in this dream sequence opportunity. We’ll also see him again in this final 10. Anytime we can revisit characters that have been on the show and made such a big impact on the show, it’s sort of a gift for all of us. Good or bad, you just don’t want those people to go away forever. Those are the most memorable recurring characters we’ve had on the show. I picked a good one and an evil one. [laughs]
MW: Those all certainly resonate with the fans just as much as the regular cast does and that’s what has stood out to me about this show is the relationship with the fans. These people have been following along for 15 seasons and for some it’s a big part of their lives. I’m sure you got some fans who started watching when they were 15 in high school and now they’re 30 with a family. What can you say about what the Criminal Minds fans…
EM: …Oh my gosh that’s crazy! That’s insane. Ok, that’s weird. I’m sorry I cut you off because my mind just got blown for a second. I’m so sorry!
MW: No, no, it’s all good. It’s a crazy thing to think about I’m sure. What have the Criminal Minds fans meant to you over the years?
EM: Oh my gosh we do it for them. We do all of this for them. We make decisions, we veto decisions, because we don’t want the fans to feel like we’ve lost sight of the show. I think there are somethings that are out of all of our control, it felt like that has happened in the past and we’re all there in Glendale making this show for 15 years and we’re all fans of the show too, that was thing, everyone who’s making it the cast, the crew, writers, producers, we’re all fans of this thing.
It’s been a part of us for so long, no one ever wanted it to end to be totally honest. One of the ways we would get feedback, because we’re just going to work every day doing our job, the feedback we’d get would be from people on the street saying to Joe Mantegna, “I love David Rossi, please don’t ever let him retire!” Or people coming up to Kirsten, or Matthew, or Padget, or Daniel, any of them. Aisha was getting a lot of it, where people are invested in these characters that have been created. I know A.J. Cook said people come up and say, “Oh my gosh I can’t believe all the stuff your character has been through!”
Sometimes I think the lines get a little blurred too, especially when people see Kirsten when she’s truly dressed as Garcia, like if she’s going to an invent, where she looks a little more like Garcia then she does Kirsten. People almost talk to her like she is Garcia. I think the fans have been so supportive and so engrossed in these characters and it’s meant everything. You don’t get to do this if the fans aren’t supportive, you don’t get to do this for this long.
MW: Right, when something lasts for 15 years, something was going very right.
EM: Yeah, yeah! The fans also didn’t give up, we’ve had a long hard road and they didn’t give up. I think part of that is because we didn’t give up either. There are plenty of times we could have just thrown in the towel, and said this is crazy, but we didn’t.
CBS gave us a gift of a heads up that things were going to end, which doesn’t always happen either, so that was really lovely to know that these 10 are your final 10 hours of this show with these characters. You never want it to end, so we’re not going to please everyone, but I think we did all we could to stay true to the show that we all loved for so long.
MW: What can we expect from the final chapter of this show, obviously without giving too many details or spoilers, but in general, what can fans look forward to in this final season?
EM: I think they will enjoy a serialized nature, which we don’t get to do that often. In catching the Chameleon, we’re able to see the damage he’s done to not just Rossi psychologically, but the rest of the team. Also, the physical damage he’s done by the end of this first hour of the final 10. We really wanted to explore some things we’ve never been able to do, but we really wanted to stay true to the series and someone wanted to do an episode that was done entirely from the point of view of the unsub, so you wouldn’t see our team until the team is catching the unsub. We thought that was great and we’re talking about the story and what it could be and then we all said, that would’ve been great last year, but this year when we only have 10 hours, we want to see their faces as much as possible. We want to be with this team as much as possible.
In a way that drove the rest of the way breaking out this final season because we could say, even though that’s a great idea, that would be a lot of fun, we want to see this team and how well they work together and when they do have conflicts how everybody’s right and everybody’s wrong where you never really have a side because they’re both right in their arguments in a way. That’s what makes them a really good team and good collaborators and staying true to our good guys catching the bad guys, it just felt like if we stay true to that, it’s never guided us wrong.
By the end of these 10 episodes you have quite a few nods to the history of this series and for all of those who have been watching you’ll see some flashbacks, see who you remember the names of and the episode titles and who wrote it and who directed it. The die hard fans know all that stuff and all of that is in there for them. I feel like it’s a bit of a scrapbook. I feel like these last 10 episodes you’re going to be reminded why you’ve been watching all this time.
MW: That sounds like a great benefit, the fact that this is it, and you’re able to give this story the it the conclusion it deserves.
EM: Exactly, but really, you know, no one wants it to end but at the same time if it’s going to at least we were prepared for it.
MW: Right, and like you said the show gets to live on in syndication and on streaming services like CBS All Access so more generations will get to experience it. That’ such a great thing about where we are today, that things can be so easily accessible.
EM: Yeah absolutely. I do love the fact, we were told pretty early on that there were kids that may have been in high school when the show first started who wanted to study criminal psychology in college. The show has inspired a lot of kids who are now in law enforcement because of Criminal Minds. that’s pretty cool. Criminal Minds made people feel like, ‘oh maybe I could be a part of a team and learn what makes people tick,’ right?
EM: I thought that was really neat.
MW: Well Erica, congratulations on everything you’ve done an amazing job and all the best with whatever you move onto next, even if that’s trying to figure out how to co-exist in the house with those teenage boys of yours now that you have more free time.
EM: [Laughs] Thanks so much Matt!
Be sure to tune in as this iconic program marches towards its ultimate conclusion Wednesday nights at 9:00PM ET/PT, only on CBS. Check your local listings for more information.