Paget Brewster Paget Brewster

Although Aaron Hotchner (Thomas Gibson) and Emily Prentiss (Paget Brewster) never got together on Criminal Minds, executive producer Erica Messer planned their final scene for fans who always hoped they would.

"It always felt like in a different time and place maybe those two could be together ... There was always a connection," Messer said this weekend at the ATX Television Festival panel, moderated by this reporter.

Keep reading for more from Messer about replacing Brewster, how John Mayer got axed from the season finale, and who the writers dream of having on their team next year.

Season 7's happy ending was for the fans and Paget Brewster
While most of the series' season enders have included explosions and cliff-hangers, this year's featured the whole BAU team dancing at JJ and Will's wedding. "It was for fans who have watched for the entire time and for Paget, who is leaving us after almost six seasons," Messer said. "Our team never has a chance to smile."

Goodbye, Prentiss: Criminal Minds boss promises a bittersweet finale

The final scene was for the Prentiss/Hotch supporters
Messer says it was intentional to have Prentiss' final line on the series be to Hotch. "For all the 'shippers out there who wanted Prentiss and Hotch together, this was for you," she said. "It always felt like in a different time and place maybe those two could be together. Right now it wouldn't work, but there was always a connection."

CBS wanted to use a John Mayer song in the final montage
Instead of hearing "As It Seems" by Lily Kershaw, viewers almost got a John Mayer tune. "The network was really pushing John Mayer because he was promoting an album that week. Not only does Lily make that whole scene, but it's about a woman's journey — Paget saying goodbye and JJ's love for Will. I was like, 'John Mayer doesn't fit that.'"

There won't be a Prentiss replacement next season — if Messer has her way
If it were up to Messer, she'd keep the team as is. "My initial vote was that I don't want to replace her," Messer said. "I feel like the team could function without anyone else, but I'm getting a lot of other opinions that weigh in. [The network is] interested in another female character, so I'm going to start meeting people and then thinking of the character for who we cast. Of course, whoever that is and having them fit into the team is the next challenge."

Criminal Minds' Joe Mantegna: Our returning troops need jobs

Rossi (Joe Montegna) and Strauss (Jayne Atkinson) have totally hooked up
When viewers (and Garcia and Reid) saw Rossi and Strauss exit the same hotel minutes apart, it was the first visual allusion to their romantic relationship, but, according to Messer, this isn't some new tryst. "When Joe and Jane first started working together they had this flirtation," she said. "I was sitting with them like, 'Oh yeah Strauss and Rossi definitely have before.' So then this season we had that fantastic convention scene and said, 'What if Strauss is coming out of the same hotel?' Joe and Jane loved it."

Why some of the early Criminal Minds fixtures have gone away
Remember how the BAU members would be superimposed into the unsub's mind or into the scene of the crime while delivering a profile in the early seasons? Messer says producers have done away with that because "we had done almost every version of that unsub shot you could." "Ed Bernero, who was the showrunner before me, said, 'Don't just do an unsub shot to do it, it has to look cool,'" she said. "So in Season 4, we backed off and we'll do it now every once in a while." One thing Messer also wants to curb? Revealing the unsub at the beginning of the episode. "That gets challenging with the story line because there's only so many times you can have the shadow in the dark be scary."

Who do they want on the show?
No, not as guest stars, but as writers. "If this is the season to make a splash, I think it would be fun to bring people on to our show who love the horror-ness of it, like Quentin Tarantino and Eli Roth, who are vocal about liking Criminal Minds," Messer said. "It's like then come over and write and play and see what they could do at 9 p.m. on CBS. I think it would be a fun challenge for them."