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The real reason Paget Brewster left Criminal Minds

Over the course of its 15 season run, CBS crime drama Criminal Minds saw many cast members come and go. High profile actors like Broadway legend Mandy Patinkin, '90s teen idol Jennifer Love Hewitt, and Emmy nominee Jeanne Tripplehorn all had short stints on the show. On the other hand, a few cast members have enjoyed long tenures. For instance, Matthew Gray Gubler and Kirsten Vangsness have played Dr. Spencer Reid and Penelope Garcia for all 15 seasons.

Although she fell shy of Gubler and Vangsness' tenure, Paget Brewster also had a respectable run. She joined the cast in the show's second year and went on to spend ten seasons as a series regular, playing Special Agent Emily Prentiss. Despite the character becoming an integral part of the Behavioral Analysis Unit (or BAU), Prentiss left the squad at the end of the seventh season. Other than a few special guest star appearances, she didn't return as a main cast member until season 12.

What caused Brewster to step away from the show for four seasons? As is sometimes the case with network procedurals, the real reason is more complicated than it seems at first glance.

CBS fired Paget Brewster and A.J. Cook after season 5 and cited creative reasons

In 2010, ahead of the season six premiere of Criminal Minds, a report from Deadline revealed that the show was planning a major shakeup of its core cast. Brewster and fellow series regular A.J. Cook were both lined up with their heads on the chopping block. In its initial report, Deadline cited sources who believed CBS was looking to save money by, "trimming the female portion of its cast."

A source close to CBS later rebuffed that reporting, and claimed the cuts were a creative decision to keep the show feeling fresh. A new character, Agent Ashley Seaver (Rachel Nichols), was brought onto the show for season 6, presumably to take the place of Brewster and Cook. However, Nichols only spent one season on the show, and after spending time in a reduced capacity, both Brewster and Cook returned to Criminal Minds as full-time cast members.

Clearly, something else was going on behind the scenes, and in an interview with the AV Club, Brewster explained the real reason behind her exit.

Paget Brewster cites sexism in her account of being fired from Criminal Minds

In a wide-ranging interview about her career, Brewster told her side of the story to AV Club. First, she shared her recollection of the decision to take her and Cook off the show: "[Someone from] CBS had just called Ed Bernero [Criminal Minds executive producer] and said, 'I want new women.' So we were fired..."

Brewster went on to criticize the network for trying to paint the decision as either financial or creative in nature. Instead, she posited that her firing was rooted in a culture of sexism: "I was so soured by the experience of being fired for no reason. Because it wasn't budget cuts. The person they had hired to replace us got paid twice what we got paid! It's a network that's not particularly kind to women. That's why a lot of women leave those procedurals. Or are fired. It's tough."

The decision was difficult for Brewster, who said, "I was heartbroken. I was so happy there. I loved everyone there, and it was easily one of the most hurtful things that's ever happened, to be fired because they wanted 'new women.'" 

Apparently, she wasn't the only person devastated by the decision. She revealed, "Our showrunner quit after that, he was so pissed off. He felt that he couldn't run his show after we were let go."

Despite being let go from the show at the end of season 5, Brewster didn't just pack up and leave. Her agents managed to secure for her the opportunity to wrap up her storyline, and she was ultimately kept on for two additional seasons. After season 7, however, she made the difficult decision to leave for good.

Why Paget Brewster ultimately walked away from the show ... and then came back

Although Brewster loved working on Criminal Minds, being fired left a bad taste in her mouth. She described feeling "forced" to come back for the two seasons she appeared on after the announcement was made, and ultimately realized she could no longer continue.

As she described to AV Club: "So I did that last year, and then I said, 'I love everyone here, but I realize now, having left, that my heart isn't in it.' And that's what they wrote for Emily Prentiss: They wrote Emily Prentiss saying, 'Since I've come back, I've realized that my heart isn't in it, and I want to do other things.'"

Other than two guest star stints, Brewster remained off the show until season 12. The end of season 11 saw two major departures for Criminal Minds in the form of original cast members Shemar Moore and Thomas Gibson, who was fired due to his volatile on-set behavior (via Variety). When the cast for season 12 was announced, it was revealed that — in addition to new series regulars Aisha Tyler and Adam Rodriguez — Brewster would be returning to the show. She remained a regular until the series' cancelation after season 15.

Although Paget Brewster's tenure on Criminal Minds was certainly a bumpy ride, it seems that her love of working on the show and her fellow castmates more than made up for the unfortunate network decision that led to her leaving in the first place.