Spinoff Stories: Criminal Minds, The Franchise That Never Was

This edition of Spinoff Stories takes a look back at a show CBS tried and failed to use to spawn a franchise: Criminal Minds. Let us know what you think in the comments! 

The Original Hit Machine
Criminal Minds (2005-2020)

In its own right, Criminal Minds was a hit on CBS in the 2000s and 2010s. It aired 324 episodes on the network across 15 seasons, starting in September 2005 and concluding in February 2020. While CBS had long been known to cancel even long-running shows abruptly, Criminal Minds got the dignity of a pre-announced 10 episode final season. It spent the entirety of that run on Wednesdays, including 13 seasons in the Wednesday at 9 pm time slot. Think of it almost as the Blue Bloods of CBS Wednesdays. Both spent well over a decade as a mainstay on their respective nights, and neither launched successful spinoffs during their runs. 

The difference? CBS tried twice with Criminal Minds and zero times with Blue Bloods. In fact, Criminal Minds’ longevity matches that of CSI, which also ran for 15 seasons. CSI, of course, spawned one of the most internationally recognizable franchises on television. Meanwhile, Criminal Minds came to an end in 2020 as a show that had failed to launch its own franchise. That’s not for lack of trying, and it’s not because of the FBI-themed subject matter; CBS had successfully launched FBI’s first spinoff, FBI: Most Wanted, the same month as they premiered Criminal Minds’ final season.

The First Spin-Off
Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior (2011)

CBS premiered the first spin-off of Criminal Minds in February 2011. Titled Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior, the series focused on a new team at the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit and first launched as a backdoor pilot in Season 5 of Criminal Minds. Back then, premiering midseason on CBS was hardly a sign of support, with the vast majority ultimately getting canceled in the spring. Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior was no exception, lasting just 13 episodes.

To CBS’s credit, they did try to nurture Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior, and it was sampled well. The series premiere was up in the key A18-49 demo and in total viewers from its Criminal Minds lead-in, and was up in total viewers from the backdoor pilot aired 10 months earlier. However, Suspect Behavior was swiftly rejected by its second episode, down almost 30% in the A18-49 demo from its premiere and dropping 25% from its Criminal Minds lead-in. Suspect Behavior would go on to be canceled in mid-May with two previously scheduled episodes left to air. The penultimate episode shed 40% of the lead-in provided by the Criminal Minds season finale. The following week’s series finale was down even further, losing over 45% of the demo audience that watched its premiere. Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior came in 19th place on CBS in the Live +7 demo with a 2.7 rating, significantly lower than Criminal Minds’ seventh-place 3.8 rating.

The sampling of Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior indicates there was an appetite for viewers to at least check out a Criminal Minds spinoff. However, the rejection proves this particular spinoff was not the right way to expand the Criminal Minds universe. Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior was basically seen as a lesser version of Criminal Minds, with viewers not as welcoming of the new team as they were the original Criminal Minds team. CBS tried to use Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior as a second hour of Criminal Minds to close out their Wednesday night lineup, but audiences had something else in mind.

Without looking at the ratings, one might be mistaken and think that Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior was a hit; or at least, a show that lasted longer than 13 episodes. Despite being an all-around flop, Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior actually made its way into syndication. Ion, who had been syndicating Criminal Minds for years, ultimately aired Suspect Behavior as part of the deal. The show has since been largely forgotten about and is not available on any major streaming services in the United States. It can still be streamed in select other countries on Paramount+ and Disney+. 

The Second Spin-Off
Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders (2016-17)

CBS waited four years to try another Criminal Minds spinoff. The backdoor pilot of what would become Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders aired as part of Criminal Minds in April 2015, and the series premiered the following March. Just like the previous spinoff, Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders was a midseason entry that aired Wednesdays at 10 pm, airing directly after Criminal Minds. Beyond Borders lasted slightly longer than Suspect Behavior, airing two 13-episode seasons instead of just one. 

Ratings for its first season were rather unremarkable, averaging a 1.8 A18-49 Live +7 rating and ranking 20th on the network. That’s a far cry from Criminal Minds’ 2.9 demo rating and 3rd place finish. The renewal indicated CBS’s desire to launch at least one Criminal Minds spinoff before the aging drama concluded. In the Live +7 demo, Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders was the second-lowest-rated scripted show CBS opted to renew for the following season; some higher-rated shows, including fellow new drama Limitless, were canceled. 

Any potential Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders may have had in its first season was gone by its second. Season 2 averaged a 1.2 Live +7 demo rating, making it one of CBS’s lowest-rated series. While Criminal Minds itself fell to a 2.4 demo rating, that was still enough for a 5th place finish on the network. 

Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders was canceled at the end of its second season, airing a total of 26 episodes. It was the final time CBS would create a new Criminal Minds spinoff before Criminal Minds itself wrapped its run. 

Like with the spinoff preceding it, Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders was another rather confusing idea for a spinoff. It centered on the FBI’s International Response Team. While the FBI does have an international presence, the International Response Team itself is not a team that actually exists. Expanding internationally was also unusual territory for a CBS franchise at the time; the NCIS and CSI spinoffs were based in other U.S. cities. 

The TV-MA Streaming Sequel Series
Criminal Minds: Evolution (2022-Present)

Just one year after Criminal Minds’ series finale on CBS, Paramount+ announced the launch of a sequel series. Titled Criminal Minds: Evolution, the series would be rated TV-MA and packaged as the 16th season of Criminal Minds. This is a testament to Criminal Minds’ continued popularity, even as its legacy included a failure to launch a hit spinoff. A special preview aired on CBS on Thanksgiving Day, growing from the rerun of So Help Me Todd that aired before it but getting just a small fraction of the ratings it used to receive. Paramount+ renewed Criminal Minds: Evolution for a second season, which will air summer 2024 as Criminal Minds Season 17. 

The (Scrapped?) Docuseries
The Real Criminal Minds

If you’ve never heard of The Real Criminal Minds, it’s because not a single episode has aired. Ordered in 2021 by Paramount+, The Real Criminal Minds is a true crime docuseries that is supposedly to be hosted by an unnamed cast member and delve into real cases. Perhaps this still makes it to the streamer, but more likely it was silently scrapped in favor of 2023’s FBI True. 

The Future Of Criminal Minds

In an alternate timeline, CBS filled up a night in the mid-late 2010s with Criminal Minds, Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior, and Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders. In reality, that did not happen, with both spinoffs flopping at the time and fading into obscurity since. Criminal Minds itself still has a legacy, remaining popular on Paramount+. Perhaps one day CBS will try again with another Criminal Minds spinoff, similar to how they gave the CSI franchise another chance in 2021 after an unremarkable close in 2016. Being an FBI-centered show, a new spinoff could pair nicely on Tuesdays should one or both of the FBI spinoffs end their runs in the near future. It’s much more likely, though, that the Criminal Minds IP comes to an end with Criminal Minds: Evolution. CBS already tried twice to launch spinoffs, and failed both times. It’s unlikely a third try would yield different results.

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