Entertainment Television

Why ‘Criminal Minds’ will survive without Thomas Gibson

By Bill Harris, Special to Postmedia Network

Thomas Gibson. (<A HREF="http://www.wenn.com" TARGET="newwindow">WENN.COM</a>)

Thomas Gibson. (WENN.COM)

Maybe Potsie and Richie Cunningham were at each other's throats back in the day.

Maybe it was a non-stop brawl between multiple members of the Bundy family.

Maybe Scully was taking swings at Mulder.

Perhaps there were fist fights and physical confrontations all the time on TV sets in previous eras. There were fewer rules everywhere in those less restricted years, so why would the behind-the-scenes shenanigans on TV shows have been any different?

But this is 2016, and Thomas Gibson has reminded us all of a very valuable lesson:

Keep your hands, your fists, and even your feet to yourself. Otherwise, there's a good chance you'll find yourself fired.

Now you see Thomas Gibson, now you don't.

As the 12th season of Criminal Minds begins, Wednesday, Sept. 28, on CBS and CTV, Gibson might be there, playing BAU Unit Chief and Senior Supervisory Special Agent Aaron Hotchner, as if nothing's wrong. But we all know differently, don't we?

If you follow showbiz, you will have heard by now that Gibson was fired for “the kick heard 'round the TV world.”

Earlier reports indicated Gibson will appear in the first two episodes of Season 12. More recent rumours suggest he might be edited out completely. The truth is, the network could be re-editing those episodes for broadcast as you're reading this. So the exact nature of how the show will handle the departure of “Hotch” in the story line remains to be seen.

Recently Gibson emerged to tell his version of what happened. As you would expect, he downplayed it.

Gibson said that after he and writer-director Virgil Williams had a disagreement about something in a script, Williams brushed past Gibson, and Gibson's foot came up and tapped him on the leg. Logic dictates that if that's really all it was, Gibson still would be part of the Criminal Minds cast today. But hey, I wasn't there.

What is clear, though, is that Gibson was considered a “repeat offender” in terms of outbursts on the set of Criminal Minds. It's the TV version of sports-league justice. If an NHL player whacks a rival over the head with his stick, the suspension likely will depend on how many “priors” the player has on his resume. First-time offenders often catch a break. Recidivists, less so.

In a twisted way, the firing of Gibson has given Criminal Minds a little burst of publicity that it otherwise would not have received. Would I be talking about the Season-12 debut of Criminal Minds had the Gibson controversy not occurred?

Procedural shows such as Criminal Minds are built to survive cast changes, of course. It seems like a generation ago that Mandy Patinkin was part of the cast of Criminal Minds. He was there for three seasons.

Think of how many complete cast makeovers we witnessed on Law & Order, or CSI. You could argue that Law & Order never was the same after Jill Hennessy left, or CSI never was the same after William Petersen left. Nonetheless, both shows kept going for a long time.

It all depends on the series and how it's structured.

Kiefer Sutherland has said repeatedly through the years that the format was the star of his long-running series 24, not him personally. We're certainly going to find out if that's true early in 2017, when a new version of 24, titled 24: Legacy, debuts on Fox and City, without Sutherland.

Currently, Sutherland is starring in a new series called Designated Survivor, airing Wednesdays on ABC and CTV. The positive ratings for the debut of Designated Survivor last week merely confirmed Sutherland's singular star power.

Yes, the format unquestionably is the star of Criminal Minds. But still, if an actor wants to be part of that format, he or she must behave themselves.

Maybe Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer were kicking each other with steel-toed boots every damn day on the set of Friends. But this is 2016. You just can't be so criminally minded any more.

bharris@postmedia.com