“Criminal Minds” is one of the longest running shows on television today. The show, which premiered in 2005, finds a way to authentically scare the audience and at the same time glorify the heroes who hunt down serial killers. Erica Messer has seen the show through since it’s infancy. Messer was named showrunner back in 2010 and worked every job from screenwriter to executive producer.
Messer chatted with CBS Local’s DJ Sixsmith about her career, the reasons behind the longevity of “Criminal Minds” and tonight’s season finale.
DJ Sixsmith: Why did you want to pursue a career in entertainment?
Erica Messer: I studied TV/Film/Radio in college and I was really going down the route of documentaries. Instead of taking a news magazine job in New York, I moved to LA and got into working for Fox on the network drama side. From there that was it and I said forget documentaries, I’m going right into scripted television and I’ve been doing it ever since. I moved out here in 1996, so it’s been a while.
DS: “Criminal Minds” debuted in September 2005. What stands out in your mind about the early days working on the show?
EM: In the very early days of this show, the amazing writing staff that was assembled then knew nothing about serial killers, which I think was a good thing. We did so much research about these people and found that the stories are endless. It’s not just ones you have heard of. It’s not just Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy or Son of Sam. There are so many throughout history going back to Jack The Ripper. It was amazing how much history there was. One of the things that has worked for our show over the years is that we sit around every week and we’re going to tell you a scary story. We have a pact with the audience that we’re going to scare you, but we’re also going to make things right. I always look at the show from the point of view of our heroes. They are the light in the darkness. I try to give a platform to those people who stand up and do good in the world.
DS: That motto is one of the reasons why your show has been on the air for so long. How have you created a show that’s been so consistent and successful?
EM: It’s a combination of many things. The talent of the cast has gone through changes, but still comes out stronger and better each year. They are complete professionals who embrace the characters they are playing. They are continually surprising one another and themselves. I think the writer’s room has evolved over the years and one of the things that we say is make sure you bring in stories that would scare you. We have a really talented crew and producers and a great partnership with the network that really allows us to have freedom and ability to keep evolving, but at the same time we stay true to who we are as a show. That allows us to stay true to the audience, who have remained loyal to us throughout the years.
DS: These loyal fans are excited for the season finale tonight. What can people expect when they tune in?
EM: It is two separate episodes that are scheduled to air on the same night. The continual story will go between the finale and what we hope will be the season premiere, which will be our 300th episode. We are putting a lot of eggs in that basket and hoping we get the chance to tell that story. The first hour is a stand alone episode about The Hum in Taos, New Mexico. It’s a really interesting phenomenon. It’s a low frequency that has been known to drive people mad. Our finale is not connected to that episode at all. It brings back Dr. Reid, who has been gone for two episodes on a sabbatical. He’s back and is looking for an FBI agent who has been missing for over a year. There’s another big surprise before a cliffhanger that will surprise a lot of viewers.
DS: You’ve worked with a lot of talented producers and actors over the years. What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned so far in your career?
EM: I feel like every season of whatever show I’m on, you learn what to do and what not to do. Hopefully, you make those adjustments as you move on. Sometimes, you learn that episode by episode. I’ve been so fortunate to work with some of the industry’s most amazing talent. I just feel honored to have had those experiences. You learn from your own mistakes and from what those around you have done right. I’ve learned from the best.
Watch the “Criminal Minds” season finale event tonight at a special time, 9pm EST/PST on CBS.