Thursday, January 31, 2008

Patinkin Quits Series Without Saying Why By ~ Ed Bernero 2007

LOS ANGELES, July 18, 2007 by Allison Hope Weiner — When Mandy Patinkin, a star of CBS’s hit series “Criminal Minds,” failed to show up for work in early July for a script read-through, he gave no explanation for his absence, said Edward Bernero, the show’s executive producer.

A week later the cast and crew of the show still had not heard anything from Mr. Patinkin, Mr. Bernero said.

“This is kind of unprecedented,” Mr. Bernero said in an interview. “He just quit and never talked to anyone again. It’s like the story about the father who goes out for a carton of milk and then just never comes home.”

On Monday ABC Studios and CBS Paramount Network Television, which together produce the show, issued a joint statement announcing Mr. Patinkin’s departure from the show after two years and taking the rare step of explaining that his exit was not related contract renegotiations or salary issues. While the studios’ statement offered no reason for his departure, Mr. Patinkin’s own statement, issued along with that from the studios, explained that his departure had been due to “creative differences.”

The spectacle of a studio letting a top star like Mr. Patinkin out of his contract and then wishing him well in his future endeavors left many in the television industry stunned. It also is rare for the executive producer of a popular show to depart from Hollywood protocol and publicly voice his displeasure with his show’s star and the studio that pays the producer’s salary. Mr. Bernero said he was displeased with how the studios had handled Mr. Patinkin’s departure.

“We’d like to know what these creative differences are and who he has them with,” Mr. Bernero said. “I’m an ex-cop from Chicago, and when we don’t show up for work, we have to give a reason. I don’t get the idea out here that someone can walk away from their job and then everyone bends over backward to make it look like it’s our fault. Everyone was worried last week about protecting the show, and then they released a statement that protects everyone but the show. Why can’t we just tell the truth? We expected him to show up for work, and he didn’t.”

Both ABC Studios and CBS Paramount had no comment beyond the released statement. At an appearance today before the Television Critics Association in Beverly Hills, Nina Tassler, the president of CBS Entertainment, declined to elaborate beyond the studios’ statement, saying with a wink that in Hollywood “I think creative differences is a euphemism for personal issues.” She added that she hoped in the near future Mr. Patinkin would answer questions about his departure. Mr. Patinkin and his representatives declined to comment.

The studios’ willingness to let Mr. Patinkin out of his standard six-year contract is at odds with recent history. When “CSI” cast members Jorja Fox and George Eads failed to show up for work during a salary dispute in 2004, CBS fired them from the hit show. (Both were reinstated after issuing public apologies and agreeing to return at their previous salaries.)

“The studios do seem more willing these days to play hardball with actors who want out of their contracts,” said Alan Grodin, a lawyer who represents the producers Doug Liman and David Bartis, whose credits include “The O.C.,” but does not represent Mr. Patinkin. “If you look at all of the series that have been on the air, you very rarely see somebody leave a hit show overnight,” he said.

During a publicity appearance at the Monte Carlo Television Festival last month Mr. Patinkin appeared to be happy with his role as Agent Jason Gideon, Mr. Bernero said. An hour before the cast was to gather to read the first script of the season, Mr. Patinkin called a crew member to say that he would be on the set soon, according to a staff member who asked not to be indentified because of the sensitivity of the situation. Mr. Patinkin did not respond to numerous e-mail messages or telephone calls, said another staff member who also asked not to be indentified.

“There was just no indication of this,” said Thomas Gibson, who plays Agent Aaron Hotchner on the show. “I talked to him two weeks before he left the show, and he talked about coming back.”

Mr. Gibson also said he did not understand Mr. Patinkin’s stated reason for leaving the show. “It’s odd for him to say creative differences when this show is one of the most responsive and collaborative environments in which I’ve ever worked,” he said.

On a fan Web site dedicated to the show,, several postings blamed the show’s producers for Mr. Patinkin’s departure. Mr. Bernero, without consulting the studios and days before the statement about Mr. Patinkin’s departure was released, posted a response on the Web site criticizing Mr. Patinkin’s behavior and maintaining that the show had gone to great lengths to accommodate the actor.

“Fans are searching for a reason to forgive him,” Mr. Bernero said. “We have this incessant need in this country to forgive celebrities when they do something bad. I just don’t want the fans to reject the show because they think we rejected him. We didn’t. The fact is that 16 million people watch this show, and he walked away from all of them and from us without explanation and apparently he still doesn’t feel they deserve one.”

This isn’t the first time that Mr. Patinkin has left a series during its run. He left the show “Chicago Hope” in 1995, citing a desire to spend more time with his family.

Mr. Bernero said he was concerned that Mr. Patinkin’s departure will hurt ratings for the series. "This show is kind of built around Jason Gideon," he said. "Other characters in the show are important, but a lot of people watch the show for him. He has a strong fan base. I’m afraid they won’t watch now that he’s gone."

Mr. Patinkin is scheduled to return for one episode to explain the departure of his character. “It’ll be a difficult day for everyone here,” Mr. Bernero said. “Frankly, I don’t know why we’d think he’d show up for that day.”