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What Joe Mantegna Wants Fans To Know About Criminal Minds - Exclusive

The CBS procedural series Criminal Minds spent 15 seasons bringing viewers the sometimes-harrowing adventures of the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit. Tasked with using profiling to investigate crimes and find perpetrators (known as "unsubs" in the parlance of the show), the BAU faced challenges both professional and personal over a whopping 324 episodes. In the process, Criminal Minds developed a passionate and dedicated fan base that even branched into forms of media that didn't exist at all when it aired its premiere in 2005. (We're looking at you, TikTok.)

Still, even in a world in which behind-the-scenes info is more readily available to die-hard followers of TV and movies than it's ever been, there are things even the most diligent of stans won't catch. Fortunately, to find out what those things are, we can go straight to the source — and in this case, the source is one of the most venerable names associated with Criminal Minds: Joe Mantegna, who hopped on board during 2007's third season as Special Agent David Rossi. As a long-time presence in front of the show's cameras and a creative who also directed several episodes of Criminal Minds, Mantegna possesses a unique perspective on what goes into making its proceedings special, and why it has resonated with fans for so long.

With Criminal Minds having aired its series finale in February 2020, Looper sat down with Mantegna to find out what he most wants fans to know about the long-running CBS hit.

What women want: Criminal Minds

The first thing Mantegna highlighted is the makeup of the Criminal Minds fandom itself. According to the actor, the percentage of the show's followers that are women surprised him.

"I was always amazed by how big our fan base was in terms of women," he said. "Females make up a big part of our fan base, and a lot of the fan mail and the interest. More than once, I've had people contact me because their daughters wanted to go into this line of work, and in a couple instances, I know definitely two, I spoke to them when they were kids out of high school, and today they're FBI agents."

For Mantegna, this flies in the face of the idea that female viewers might be turned off by Criminal Minds' sometimes graphic nature. He shared, "A lot of people would think it's so graphic, and it's so this and so that, and I've always defended that aspect of the show. I know others have felt like, 'You're going too far, it's too creepy.' And my attitude is, no we really can't go too far, because the real people go that far and beyond. For us to cut corners, and for us to sugarcoat it, is a disservice to what these men and women really do."

So, it's established that women aren't turned off by Criminal Minds' darker themes, but what is it that draws them in? Mantegna believes the answer lies in the series' focus on the psychology of its unsubs. 

"What made our show somewhat different than a lot of procedurals — it was more about the psyche of these people," he asserted. "And I think women, for the most part and understandably so, find that very interesting and fascinating. Because it's something they want to be on top of, be aware of. These are people out there in the world, and what can I do to educate and protect myself."

How Criminal Minds made people safer

Mantegna believes that educational aspect of Criminal Minds was a key factor in its success, and made it not only entertaining, but also informative for its viewers — and he has the real-world examples to prove it. 

"I always point to one example that did this, and that was in an episode where the unsub was one of those guys that parks your car — a valet," recalled Mantegna. "In this one speech that [Dr. Spencer Reid actor] Matthew Gubler gave, he says, 'Oh wait a minute, I think I know what happened.' And then they were showing a flashback of each thing he said. He says, 'It's the valet. What happened is, she gave him the car, he took the car, he punched the button for home on her navigation system, all of a sudden he knows where she lives.'"

It only gets more harrowing from there. "She's got a garage door opener on her visor," continued Mantegna. "He takes it, he's got a device to copy her garage door opener. So, now he knows where she lives, and he has a way to open her garage. And he says, 'Most people who have a home with a garage attached to the house, they don't lock the door between the house and the garage, because they know the garage door is closed.' So, in that one-minute speech ... I know watching it myself, I thought to myself, 'Well, f***, I'm not going to label home for my home on my navigation system, I'm not going to leave the thing on the visor, and I'm always going to lock that door.' I've gotten letters from people who literally have said, 'I want to thank you all because watching your show ultimately saved my life because of dot-dot-dot.' And they'll go into detail, even the episode that taught them something."

Whether watching for educational or entertainment purposes, there's no doubt that Criminal Minds fans got a lot out of the series during its 15 years on the air, and they have artists like Mantegna to thank for it. You can relive the final season of the show now by watching it on CBS' streaming service CBS All Access.