Thursday, January 31, 2008

Executive Producer Simon Mirren Takes Us Behind-the-Scenes on Criminal Minds~2007

Pictured above are Simon Mirren, Debra J. Fisher and Edward Allen Bernero.

Executive Producer Simon Mirren Takes Us Behind-the-Scenes on Criminal Minds by Jacki Garfinkel.

"I don't think we wake up thinking about why we're waking up."

Simon Mirren, executive producer and writer of Criminal Minds, believes that's one of the reasons people enjoy Criminal Minds. "It's about us. It's about what we do," he said.

Mirren has written some of the best Criminal Minds episodes to date. Most notably he has scribed The Fox (a serial killer takes families hostages and lives with them as the father figure), Riding the Lightning (when Gideon realizes the woman in a serial killer couple is innocent, yet she won't admit it), and No Way Out (Gideon versus a serial killer in a diner - will Gideon save a cop and let the killer go?).

In No Way Out, the episode started at the end. "What I wanted to do was break the structure," Mirren explained.

Mirren said they try to break the mold of the show every week, "So you don't know what you're going to get, but you know you're going to get Criminal Minds." He added that they want to "avoid the procedural element."

The episodes of Criminal Minds "are not the same thing each week," Mirren clarified. "They're going on a different adventure, which is incredibly important for the success of shows these days."

The people going on the adventures? The illustrious BAU Team made up of Jason Gideon (Mandy Patinkin), Aaron "Hotch" Hotchner (Thomas Gibson), Dr. Spencer Reid (Matthew Gray Gubler), Derek Morgan (Shemar Moore), Emily Prentiss (Paget Brewster), Penelope Garcia (Kirsten Vangsness), and Jennifer "JJ" Jareau (A.J. Cook). "We're character writers. That's what we really, really love to write about. There's nothing more interesting for us than writing about characters," Mirren asserted.

Thomas Gibson, Paget Brewster and Matthew Gray Gubler with guest stars Amy Madigan, Melissa Leo, James Horan and JK Palmer in No Way Out
Photo Credit: Monty Brinton/CBS

While Criminal Minds is not specifically focused on the characters, without the pivotal cast, the show wouldn't work. The cases are always intriguing, but it's the cast that gives viewers an emotional tie to the show. "I think we've set ourselves up and we've shown the audiences that you don't have to have a procedural beat story every week, you can have these characters. We can start exploring that, as long as we don't explore it in a way that's not our show."

By that, Mirren means that he doesn't want the show to get so character-centric that it doesn't feel like Criminal Minds. The characters are necessary, but making them the spotlight of each episode is not the purpose, and it would feel forced if the show delved into their specific stories each week.

Knowing that, viewers will most likely still wonder if we'll ever get to know more about the beloved Penelope Garcia. "A back-story on Garcia? She's really knocked it out of the park," Mirren said. "She's so great in the sense of where she sits. She's the solace. The person who keeps you sane. Whenever I come back to see Garcia, I think, 'Thank God, everything's all right again.'"

As much as Mirren and viewers alike crave the Garcia levity in the show, until her story melds perfectly with an episode, we won't be seeing it. "If you're exploring that character's background and it fits in the story and you know why it's being told, and it has an effect on the main story? Then absolutely," Mirren resolved.

And that's why the writers don't have every aspect of the characters' lives outlined. Sure, they have parts of their stories determined, but Mirren said, "I like to be surprised. I don't like to get married to the idea that Hotch went to this school and he slept with this girl named Ann..."

"I want to explore it, but not explore it because we're running out of stories," Mirren said, elaborating that learning about the characters "comes from something organic. It's got to fit within the story."

As touched on earlier, it's these human stories that are so compelling to watch. Criminal Minds focuses on the "psychology of the why," as Mirren put it. Why do you wake up? Why do you drive a red car? "So many things you're doing for a reason," Mirren said, and that's what Criminal Minds investigates. Mirren compared it to snowflakes - from afar they all look the same, but when you look at one close up, every single one is completely different.

The scary part? "Almost everything we've written about has happened in some variation," Mirren said. "What people do to people in their darkest hour is unbelievable. The things we've tapped into in show are the nice version of what I've seen in crime scene photos."

The season two finale of Criminal Minds will be No Way Out (2), meaning we'll be seeing the aftermath of the first brilliantly written No Way Out episode. According to Mirren, viewers will be left with some sort of a cliffhanger, leading Criminal Minds into its third season.

As for the next season, Mirren said, "I think season three will be more of season two... what it will be definitely is braver than anything else on TV."