Thomas Gibson was fired from CBS’ drama “Criminal Minds” Friday in the wake of an incident in which he allegedly kicked one of the show’s writer-producers. Gibson had been with the show for all 11 previous seasons, but his character, Aaron Hotchner, will now have to be written out.
Where the show goes creatively is, of course, an open question; Hotchner was the head of the show’s BAU team and an integral part of its stories for more than a decade. The recent history of lead actors leaving shows — particularly ensemble-based ones like “Criminal Minds” — suggests that its ratings likely won’t suffer too much.
“Criminal Minds” has gone through its fair share of cast turnover in its 11 seasons, but its ratings have remained pretty consistent throughout. Original lead Mandy Patinkin left two episodes into the third season; viewers for Season 3 were down about 9 percent vs. Season 2, but almost half of that is attributable to a spike for a post-Super Bowl episode midway through Season 2.
Neither A.J. Cook’s departure following the fifth season nor her return in Season 7 made much of a difference; the show ranked 16th in viewers in Season 5, 10th in Season 6 and 15th in Season 7.
Shemar Moore’s final episode last season drove the show to a season high in adults 18-49 (2.2 same-day rating), but the four episodes that aired after it were right in line with with its season average of 1.8.
Other shows have had similar experiences. After Cote de Pablo left “NCIS,” the show’s subsequent season fell 17 percent in adults 18-49, but still maintained a healthy 3.3 rating. Viewers fell only 7 percent, which is not at all unusual for a show more than a decade into its life.
Christopher Meloni left “Law & Order: SVU” at the end of Season 11, and Season 12’s numbers took a hit; it fell about 18 percent in adults 18-49 and 14 percent in viewers. After hitting its low point in Season 13, the show has posted better numbers the past three seasons.
“Criminal Minds” may wobble this season, especially early on as the show’s writers and cast figure out the new dynamic without Gibson or his character. But after 11 seasons of solid ratings performance, it’s tough to see the departure of one important character doing permanent damage to the show.