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The Real Reason Rachel Nichols Left Criminal Minds

Like any long-running network crime drama, Criminal Minds was no stranger to cast shake-ups in its 15 seasons on the air. However, none were quite as substantial as the drama surrounding the show's sixth season. Fans were shocked when it was announced that two of the series' stars, Paget Brewster and A.J. Cook, were going to be dropped from the show. Not only that, but there was going to be a brand new agent joining the Behavioral Analysis Unit: Ashley Seaver, played by Rachel Nichols.

The casting game of musical chairs ended up causing nothing but chaos for the show. Brewster and Cook, who played agents Emily Prentiss and JJ Jareau, ended up staying on the show longer than the initial reports of their firing suggested, causing confusion for viewers. Then, after half a season as a series regular, Nichols was dropped from the show herself.

The ordeal not only drew the ire of fans, but it also got them curious. What was going on behind the scenes of Criminal Minds? And why exactly did Rachel Nichols leave the show after just one season?

Who was Ashley Seaver?

As a new addition to the Behavioral Analysis Unit team, Seaver was unique for a couple of reasons. When we first meet her, she's still a cadet at the FBI academy. Special Agent Rossi (Joe Mantegna) approaches her for help on a case involving a serial killer. While Seaver is a high ranking cadet, he doesn't come to her because of her stellar academy performance. We soon learn that Seaver is the daughter of a serial killer called the Redmond Ripper.

Seaver uses her unique lived experiences to help the BAU with their case, and eventually becomes a full-fledged member of the team. However, that assignment doesn't last for long. After the end of season 6, we never see Seaver again. In the seventh season premiere, it's mentioned that Seaver has transferred to the Domestic Trafficking Task Force. That's the last we hear of her on the show.

Typically, when a character is written off so hastily, viewers are left confused and frustrated. But with all the drama surrounding the introduction of the character of Seaver, it wasn't too much of a surprise when she eventually left.

Behind the scenes chaos led to Rachel Nichols getting dumped from Criminal Minds

Nichols was brought onto Criminal Minds after Brewster and Cook were fired in what industry sources told Deadline at the time was an attempt to "[trim] the female cast" for financial purposes. While CBS claimed the ouster of Brewster and Cook was an attempt to refresh the show, neither actress ended up outright leaving. Brewster stayed on in a reduced capacity through season 7 before departing (and later returning in season 12). Cook spent season 6 as an occasional guest star, before being bumped back up to series regular in season 7.

According to the Criminal Minds showrunner at the time, Erica Messer, that ended up meaning there wasn't room for Nichols. She told TVGuide, "Having eight characters on Criminal Minds seemed unlikely," adding, "Rachel is a real trouper and a pro. She walked into an incredibly difficult position and handled it with grace."

Although Messer said that Nichols handled the situation with grace, it doesn't sound like it was managed particularly tactfully on the part of the network. In an interview with Parade, Nichols said of receiving the news of her firing, "I found out via Twitter when I was on vacation in Peru."

It's likely doubly frustrating considering, according to former Criminal Minds showrunner Ed Bernero, the character's conception originally had nothing to do with the drama. He told Criminal Minds Fansite, "I did have high hopes for the character, she was originally envisioned as an addition to the cast, not a replacement."

Fans didn't love Ashley Seaver

While it's hard to deny that it sounds like Nichols got a pretty short shrift during her stint on Criminal Minds, that doesn't mean that viewers had warm feelings toward the character of Seaver. On Reddit, fans of the show reminiscing about older seasons have been very forthcoming with their dislike of the character who they felt was brought on to replace two they didn't want to see go. User the_scientist52 said, "I hated Seaver and was beyond annoyed that they brought in a JJ clone."

User kellzbellz_ agreed, adding, "CBS wanted the changes much to the chagrin of the fans. I detested Seaver's character even more because of this." They did go on to add the caveat, "Nothing against Rachel Nichols bcuz I've enjoyed her in other shows."

In her Parade interview, Nichols herself acknowledged the rough reaction from fans. "They were very angry about the Paget and A.J. situation. Fans hated me," she recalled. However, as kellzbellz_ alluded to, Nichols felt that eventually, fans realized she herself was not the problem, and began directing their ire to the network. She reported, "Suddenly, people went, 'Okay, okay. Yeah, we don't really like Ashley Seaver, but you seem kind of okay.' And then it turned into, 'You know, Ashley Seaver's not so bad. We really like you.'"

Even though fans weren't pleased with the way the character of Ashley Seaver was introduced to the show, for the most part, they came around to Rachel Nichols.