Criminal Minds: Why Each Of The Major Cast Members Left

Thomas Gibson on Criminal Minds.
(Image credit: CBS)

CBS’ Criminal Minds had an incredible run. A little over 320 episodes have aired since it debuted in 2005 and it has even been given a couple of spinoffs, though neither were particularly popular or lasted super long. The original show wrapped after fifteen seasons, and soon, a new spinoff series will premiere on Paramount+ called Criminal Minds: Evolution, continuing the story. But until that comes out, let’s talk about how the cast has changed over the years. 

As would be expected for a long-running drama, over the show’s run a lot of the Criminal Minds cast members have come and gone and come again, some under some pretty sketchy circumstances. So which actors have left Criminal Minds (and which have returned) and why did they do it? And, just who might be coming back to the spinoff?  

Mandy Patinkin as Jason Gideon on Criminal Minds on CBS

(Image credit: CBS)

Why Mandy Patinkin Left Criminal Minds

Mandy Patinkin was the original star of the show. Patinkin played Senior Supervisory Special Agent Jason Gideon, the head of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU). Mandy Patinkin left the show after two seasons over “creative differences.” It would be years before he finally explained his departure. In an interview with Deadline, Patinkin explained that he didn’t feel comfortable with a lot of the subject matter covered on the show and decided it wasn’t something he wanted to be a part of.

His character Jason Gideon’s departure was equally perplexing, as Mandy Patinkin seemed to have caught the producers by surprise. Ultimately, Gideon was written out quickly, resigning after a particularly difficult case. Eight seasons later, the character was killed (off screen) by a serial killer being pursued by the BAU team.

Shemar Moore in Criminal Minds.

(Image credit: CBS)

Why Shemar Moore Left Criminal Minds

Shemar Moore’s character Derek Morgan is among the most popular characters over the show’s run. A star for over 10 seasons on the show, he's returned to Criminal Minds in a guest-starring capacity. However, when he left for good, according to what the character said at the time, it was to spend more time with his wife and baby, though it was announced soon after that Moore would be starring in a new CBS show, S.W.A.T.

Shemar Moore's sendoff was more emotional than many of the other actors, as he was one of the few who left the show on very good terms with both the show’s producers and CBS. On the procedural, Derek Morgan left the BAU for the same reason Moore left the show, to care for his family.

Thomas Gibson on Criminal Minds.

(Image credit: CBS)

Why Thomas Gibson Left Criminal Minds

Thomas Gibson’s exit from Criminal Minds was by far the most controversial. Gibson, who played Unit Chief Senior Special Agent Aaron "Hotch" Hotchner, was fired from the show after an on-set fight with a producer that allegedly got physical during the filming of Season 12 in 2016. The show was only two episodes into the season when the confrontation occurred and Gibson was fired the day after the reported fight.

Gibson's character was written out quickly, as Hotch was placed in Witness Protection to protect his son from a serial killer. 

A.J. Cook on Criminal Minds.

(Image credit: CBS)

Why A.J. Cook Left Criminal Minds

A.J. Cook is one of the original stars of Criminal Minds cast, with her character, JJ, going all the way back to the beginning. However, her run as a cast member has not been without its ups and downs. After Season 5, it was announced that Cook did not have her contract renewed in what was reported to be a cost-cutting move by the show’s producer. She did appear in a handful of episodes in Season 6 to wrap up their storylines and was then gone. Just not for long.

The passionate fans of the show were outraged and eventually the show relented and brought her back before the start of Season 7. A.J. Cook was a cast member on Criminal Minds until the show’s end, and will be reprising her role on Criminal Minds: Evolution.

Emily Prentiss outdoors on Criminal Minds

(Image credit: CBS)

Why Paget Brewster Left Criminal Minds

Like A.J. Cook, Paget Brewster’s run on the show has been filled with ups and downs. Brewster’s character, Emily Prentiss, first appeared in the middle of Season 2 after Elle Greenaway, played by Lola Glaudini, left the BAU when Glaudini left the show.

Brewster would go on to star as a full-time Criminal Minds cast member through part of Season 7, when she left the show to pursue other opportunities. She continued to appear as a guest star a few times after that, though. Then, at the end of Season 11, she returned for Shemar Moore’s final episode, returning for good for Season 12. Paget Brewster was a regular on the show since her return, and will be continuing her role in Criminal Minds: Evolution. 

Jeanne Tripplehorn on Criminal Minds.

(Image credit: CBS)

Why Jeanne Tripplehorn Left Criminal Minds

Jeanne Tripplehorn burst onto the Hollywood scene in the early nineties when she starred in a number of box office hits (and one infamous bomb). She played Michael Douglas’ wife in Basic Instinct, then went on to play Tom Cruise’s wife in The Firm. The only flick to mess that run up was when she starred as Kevin Costner’s love interest, of sorts, in the notorious Waterworld.

She joined the cast of Criminal Minds in Season 8 as Dr. Alex Blake. Her run with the show was fairly short, leaving after just two seasons when contract negotiations fell apart. Her character's exit came after she decided working in BAU reminded her too much of her deceased son and she left.

Jennifer Love Hewitt in Criminal Minds.

(Image credit: CBS)

Why Jennifer Love Hewitt Left Criminal Minds

It’s easy to forget that Jennifer Love Hewitt starred on Criminal Minds for two seasons as Kate Callahan. Her character’s arc ended dramatically when a pregnant Callahan faced every mother’s nightmare. Her niece, whom she had adopted after the death of her sister and brother-in-law in the September 11th attacks, was kidnapped and then rescued. Kate Callahan decided she needed to take some time away to care for her adopted daughter and soon-to-be-born baby.

Like her character, Jennifer Love Hewitt left the show at the same time for maternity reasons. Like the character, Hewitt was pregnant with her second child and it was announced before Season 11 that she would be leaving the show to care for her growing family.

Rachel Nichols in Criminal Minds.

(Image credit: CBS)

Why Rachel Nichols Left Criminal Minds

Rachel Nichols joined the show first as a guest star in a three-episode arc that eventually morphed into her getting signed on as a full cast member. She joined as Ashley Seaver, an up-and-coming FBI trainee, but that gig was controversial at first, with fans angry that she was seemingly replacing the two popular characters played by Cook and Brewster. Ultimately, she didn’t last very long. She was let go after just one season when the other actors returned.

Damon Gupton on Criminal Minds.

(Image credit: CBS)

Why Damon Gupton Left Criminal Minds

Blink and you might have missed Damon Gupton’s very brief run on the show during Season 12 as Special Agent Stephen Walker. Gupton departed the show as fast as he joined when the network decided not to renew his contract in the wake of a number of cast maneuvers before Season 13.

Lola Glaudini in Criminal Minds.

(Image credit: CBS)

Why Lola Glaudini Left Criminal Minds

Lola Glaudini starred as Elle Greenaway in the first season of Criminal Minds. This was not Glaudini's first time playing an FBI agent, as she also starred on The Sopranos as Deborah Ciccerone-Waldrup, a Federal Agent going after Tony Soprano.

Elle Greenaway had a violent end to her run with the BAU, both being shot and shooting suspects in her final episode. Lola Glaudini's personal reason for leaving the Criminal Minds cast was not nearly as dramatic. She reportedly wasn't happy living in L.A., where the show was shot, and wanted to return to her home on the East Coast.

Joe Mantegna in Criminal Minds: Evolution.

(Image credit: Paramount Plus)

Who Is Going To Be Back For Criminal Minds: Evolution?

Unsurprisingly, many of the actors from this list who left the show already are not going to be back for Criminal Minds: Evolution, but we have already confirmed two above – A.J. Cook and Paget Brewster. Of the main cast members who were still on the show when Criminal Minds came to an end in Season 15, Joe Mantegna as David Rossi, Kirsten Vangsness as Penelope Garcia, Aisha Tyler as Tara Lewis, and Adam Rodriguez as Luke Alvez are all set to come back for the reboot on Paramount+, according to Deadline

However, two important characters from the line-up haven’t been confirmed to come back, and those are Spencer Reid and Matthew Simmons, played by Matthew Gray Gubler and Daniel Henney. 

Neither have given confirmation as to why they aren’t returning, but one theory for Henney is that it’s most likely because of a schedule conflict, since he has to also devote his time to the Amazon Prime original series, The Wheel of Time, and its demanding filming schedule. 

Even so, the showrunner of Criminal Minds: Evolution, Erica Messer spoke to Entertainment Weekly about the possibility that some people might return that haven’t been confirmed yet, where she specifically mentioned their desks and how they will still have stuff: 

So their desks will still have stuff on them. They haven't gone away…Dr. Reed's desk still has all of his books on it and all of his belongings. Almost that same time capsule that… I don't know if any of you have gone back to the office, but it's a weird experience because whatever was important to you in March 2020 is still sitting on that desk and must not have been that important because it's still sitting on that desk. So we want that connection still with Dr. Reed and Matt Simmons (Daniel Henney), who is on another assignment as well. It's something we can't really discuss.

Whether that means they’ll be back or not is up in the air, but it’s something to keep in mind as we wait for Criminal Minds: Evolution to premiere.

So there it is. The topsy-turvy world that is the Criminal Minds cast. It's been a wild ride for the fans of the show and for the actors that have helped make the drama the huge success it is, and now, it’s going to be even crazier once Criminal Minds: Evolution debuts.

Hugh Scott doesn’t believe aliens are hidden at Area 51 or that Elvis is alive, but he does believe birds are real and Meghan Markle isn’t treated fairly by the tabloids. He’s been writing about music, movies, and celebrities for most of his adult life after realizing stocking shelves in a paper warehouse in college wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.