Criminal Minds is expanding its world again — by going around the world.
Five years after launching the short-lived Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior, the CBS procedural will air the backdoor pilot to Beyond Borders Wednesday (9/8c, CBS) — or as executive producer Erica Messer describes in a nutshell, Criminal Minds International.
"In its simplest form, that's what it is," Messer tells TVGuide.com. "[Executive producer] Mark Gordon had been wanting to do another spin-off and I felt like we just needed to wait until we found the right idea. Certainly going the international route felt like it was the right thing to do, the right time to do it. We are 10 seasons in. It answers that spin-off dilemma, which is: How is this show the same but different from the mothership? And I think we were able to solve that nicely by saying that [the two shows are] the same in that they're profilers solving crimes via behavior, but it's different because they're doing it outside of our country when Americans are in trouble."
That was the main lesson producers learned from Suspect Behavior, which saw Forest Whitaker lead a team of rogue agents around the U.S. — basically what Hotch (Thomas Gibson) & Co. already do. "I felt like it was too similar because they could be in Cleveland the same week we're in Cleveland solving a similar crime. The element of being rogue didn't stand out for me as being different enough. I think that was the misstep," Messer says. "You always learn from what came before you, so we learned a lot from that show. I was there on the mothership when that one was being created, so I had a sideline view of what was going on, so I just wanted to make sure that everybody, in front of the camera and behind, was excited about this project."
And they were, once they learned who would star: Gary Sinise. Joe Mantegna, a longtime friend of the Forrest Gump and CSI: NY alum, introduced Messer to Sinise last May at PBS' National Memorial Day Concert, which the actors host every year in Washington, D.C. As the spin-off was getting underway, Messer couldn't get Sinise out of her head. "People naturally started saying, 'Well, who do you have in mind?' And I immediately said, 'A Gary Sinise type,'" she says. "The more I said it, the more I felt like it had to be Gary Sinise because that's the only person in my mind right now who would fit this role. He is so lovely. Then I told all the actors [about the spin-off]. I said, 'I need your support. This is what we're thinking. I think it's going to be Gary Sinise. We had a meeting with him. I think it's going to work out.' Once I said his name, everybody was very excited and thrilled, especially Joe because they are good pals."
"Gary is great. He's a lot of fun," Gibson says. "He's a theater guy. I saw his work a lot in New York back in the day. We had a great time going over what our theater lives were and where our paths crossed and where they almost crossed. He's just fantastic and so wonderful to work with, and I think fans would be on board following him."
Sinise plays International Unit Chief Jack Garrett. His team — which includes international law expert and linguist Lily Lambert (Anna Gunn), special ops agent Matthew Simmons (Daniel Henney) and tech specialist Russ "Monty" Montgomery (Tyler James Williams) — joins forces with the domestic BAU after a family of four is abducted in Barbados. The unsub had previously evaded Garrett two years ago in Aruba and the BAU last year in Florida. Like Sinise and Mantegna, Garrett and Rossi are old pals as well, and will share ample screen time on Wednesday's episode. But the underpinning of Beyond Borders will be family. A 20-year veteran, Garrett comes from a long line of crime-fighters, which will continue through his son, who, as viewers will learn by the end of the episode, has just been accepted into the FBI academy.
"It's like, how does Jack feel? You spend your whole life trying to protect your children and then they want to be in the line of duty with you," Messer says. "That's something Gary and I talked about at length. He really wanted to honor those FBI agents. We all know that that's a tough, tough job and there are many sacrifices you make, and [we wanted] to show that sometimes it is a family affair. It tells you a lot about Jack as well. He wanted to do what his father did. He's proud and honored that his son wants to do what he does, but as a father, he's concerned about that. As we well know, things can go wrong out there."
For Gunn's character Lambert — the "resident know-it-all, in the best way," according to Messer — her gateway to law enforcement is much more tragic. While on a post-high school graduation trip to Thailand, her brother and his friend were wrongly accused and jailed for drug smuggling, compelling Lambert to study international law to free him. "It is like Brokedown Palace!" quips Messer, who jumped at the chance to meet with the Breaking Bad star after her Fox series Gracepoint was canceled. "Emotionally, that's what drives her because her brother's still in prison."
Meanwhile, army brat Simmons has a family — four kids under the age of 3, including twins — back home in Virginia, where he set up base to give his kids the stability he didn't have as a child. "We planned on him having a large family because that's something we haven't done on the mothership," Messer says. "It's nice to have that mentorship because Jack's been down this road before. As we also learn, Matt's wife is a saint! We know how rough that schedule can be, but we also know people make it work, so we're hopeful there." And wunderkind Monty will be a Garcia-Reid-JJ hybrid of sorts, staying behind in Quantico to work his tech magic and deal with victims' families.
"Monty is a combination of them, but I also don't think that's true. Tyler brings something all his own to the character. He is a representative for the team while they're out of the country," Messer says. "He's the heart of team. He has [JJ's] ability to connect with family members. I think that's something we don't do with just one character anymore, but we will with this show. The plan is, every once in a while, we'll bring him out of the Virginia safety zone like we do with Garcia."
Though Messer is looking ever so slightly ahead, she won't receive word on a series pickup until closer to next month's upfronts (Criminal Minds, with six stars up for contract renegotiations, is itself waiting on a Season 11 order). "I have been thinking of nothing but both of these shows!" she says. "I'm hopeful for both. I don't want to jinx it, but this [spin-off] opens up our storytelling a lot because it doesn't have to be a serial crime of the week; it just has to be an American outside of the U.S. every week who's in trouble." But perhaps most importantly, and what might just make Beyond Borders work, is its relatability. "It's cases you read about or come on the news, and you're horrified," she says. "Someone goes on vacation and they disappear. What happened? I think that's something that intrigues and frightens us all. We want to keep this real simple and scary, and showcase this other top profiling team that goes around the world catching bad guys."
But wait, where were they when The Fisher King targeted Morgan (Shemar Moore) and Elle (Lola Glaudini) in Jamaica in Season 1? "Oh my God!" Messer says, laughing. "Hotch was on that right away, so we didn't need to call them in!"
Criminal Minds airs Wednesdays at 9/8c on CBS.
(Full disclosure: TVGuide.com is owned by CBS.)
Meet Jack's team in the exclusive sneak peek below: