Forest Whitaker, Thomas Gibson
Are two Criminal Minds better than one?
Chris Mundy thinks so.
"Believe me, you want these people out there following serial killers!" the Minds executive producer tells TVGuide.com. "The more people, the better."
For the past five years, it's been Hotch & Co. giving the BAU a good name, but on Wednesday (9/8c on CBS) fans will meet a new profiling squad, led by Sam Cooper (Forest Whitaker), within the BAU in a backdoor pilot for a spin-off written by Mundy.
Forest Whitaker to star in Criminal Minds spin-off
A spin-off was discussed in the third season, but it was put on the back burner when Mandy Patinkin abruptly left Minds. Then the writers' strike truncated Season 3, leading to a longer Season 4 before things settled down this year for the idea to move forward.
Titled "The Fight," the episode takes the BAU team to San Francisco after Cooper, who worked with Hotch (Thomas Gibson) and Rossi (Joe Mantegna) until he went off the grid eight years ago, calls in a favor about a missing father and daughter. Their absences, however, have not been reported, and Cooper must convince Hotch the case is worth his team's time.
"Hotch has to put himself on the line for him, and he does because there's a lot of affection and respect from both sides. There's nothing antagonistic about it at all," Mundy says. "It's two halves of the case coming together. I like the idea of: How do you track a crime that you don't even know exists? And I have two daughters, so I feel like on a subconscious level, I said, 'What would you do to save your daughter?' That's really the core of the episode. It was like a math equation trying to fit our seven characters, their four characters, two halves of the case and this father-daughter relationship in one episode. It was a challenge, but it was fun."
Watch a preview of "The Fight"
The spin-off — currently untitled ("CSI has Miami and N.Y., and NCIS has Los Angeles, but we travel everywhere, so we can't do that!") — would be similar to the original in terms of the crimes, but its style would be distinct. "These guys definitely try to exist free of as much bureaucracy as they can," Mundy says. "It's tough to get darker than [Minds] ... but they'll be a little looser, a little scruffier."
Also unlike the original, which started with Patinkin and Gibson as co-leads, Whitaker's Cooper is the sole "charismatic team leader" — similar to the Academy Award winner's role off-camera. "Forest has been amazing. He was on our crazy wish list, like, 'Wouldn't it be amazing if we could get Forest Whitaker?' ... Next thing you know, he's doing it," Mundy says. "He took it upon himself to get the new cast together a bunch of different times and talk about their relationships as characters and how they interact. I was so impressed at every stage with him."
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Cooper's team includes military brat Gina (Beau Garrett), who was plucked by Cooper straight out of the FBI academy; sniper Mick (Matt Ryan), formerly of the British special forces and who mysteriously worked with Cooper in the past; and ex-con Prophet (Michael Kelly), who was originally conceived as an African-American character.
"You think Michael can't play an African-American?" Mundy laughs. "We looked at a ton of actors and in the end, it was about picking the best person for each character. We also talked about Cooper being a woman at one point. ... Prophet is an ex-con still. If we're lucky enough to exist, we're going to look at the year as three acts and ... find out how someone with a record got into the FBI, Cooper's past and all these things."
Mundy says he won't know until CBS' upfront on May 19 if the spin-off will be picked up. If it is, he would leave Minds, where's he's wrapping up the season with the team's first trip to Alaska and another cliff-hanger finale. (Fun fact: Alaska is one of 16 states the show hasn't visited.)
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"Honestly, I'm having such separation anxiety. It's been my home," he says. "We're all incredibly close. I feel very odd about it. They'll be fine [without me]! It's a very talented, great bunch here. I mean, Matthew [Gray Gubler] did an unbelievable job directing, so they'll be great. ... I hope he'll direct again, and I hope we'll tell good stories on the new one with good characters who can cross [paths] with our originals. Rossi and Cooper can pass in the hallway or have a beer after work, you know? I love that our world just got bigger."