This Is Why AJ Cook Walked Away From Criminal Minds

Throughout its monumentally long run, CBS's hit show "Criminal Minds" saw cast members come and go. The show started with Mandy Patinkin, who left after a few seasons, claiming that the show's dark nature was too much for him. For those who never tuned in, "Criminal Minds" follows the FBI's behavioral analysis team as they jet around the country trying to stop various serial killers and terrorists before they strike again.

Despite the creepy vibes permeated through the show's 16 seasons, it was a smash hit with viewers. It was so popular that when CBS finally pulled the plugin 2020, a revival was announced within months. A key to the show's success was the likability of its characters. Viewers got attached whenever an actor announced their departure. The producers were usually able to convince them to come back for a few episodes as a guest, at the very least. (The only person never invited back was Thomas Gibson).

This brings us to AJ Cook, who played Jennifer "JJ" Jareau, the team's PR expert. Cook appeared on 14 seasons of the show. Keen-eyed fans might remember that despite her long run, her appearances on the show were often interrupted, with Cook disappearing for seasons at a time.

Here's the truth about Cook's complicated timeline on "Criminal Minds."

AJ Cook couldn't get along with producers

After five successful seasons on "Criminal Minds," fans were shocked to learn that the network was not renewing AJ Cook's contract for another season in 2011. Cook appeared on a few episodes of the sixth season purely to wrap up her character's storyline, but the circumstances around her abrupt departure remained mysterious, per Cinema Blend.

There were a lot of rumors swirling at the time about what could have pushed Cook to leave such a successful show. While it might be easy to put an actor's departure down to "creative differences," fans weren't buying it. They thought that Cook's exit might be the result of institutionalized sexism, especially because her co-star Paget Brewster was also in the midst of contentious contract negotiations at the time.

Fans started petitioning the network. Eventually, Cook was invited back (as was Brewster), and the series EP was ousted — giving credence to the idea that there were more deep-seated issues going on behind the scenes than a simple debate of pay scale, per Deadline.

"It's just a breeding ground for love and support. There was no safer place I could have dreamt up or imagined for me to direct for my first time," Cook told TV Insider when the show's cancellation was announced in 2020. "We believe it's building each other up that gets things done and not the tearing down of one another. That's why it was such a beautiful place to come and work and play every day because you felt safe."