Where/When you'll see it: CBS, Wednesdays at 9 p.m. (Eastern time)
What you'll see: Just like the criminals the FBI profilers in this series pursue, I have to confess: I've never watched an episode of "Criminal Minds" in my life. But the series star, Mandy Patinkin, announced he was leaving before the fall season began, and the show has finally gotten around to introducing a new lead, veteran thespian Joe Mantegna. Which makes it a good time to check things out.
Frankly, CBS could put a bunch of stick figures in suits and gun holsters in this show and use animation to move them around. Like many of the procedural dramas for which CBS is well-known, "Criminal Minds" is less about the people in the show and more about the crimes they solve. The murders in "Criminal Minds" are particularly gruesome. Tonight's episode features a stalker who is said to remove the faces of the women he murders (thankfully, not shown on screen). And the profilers are as determined as the crimes are heinous.
Since Mr. Patinkin's departure, Thomas Gibson has become the ostensible series star, playing a steely Aaron Hotchner, putting the team through its paces. Enter Mr. Mategna, who I remember for his portrayal of Mafia hood Joey Zasa in "The Godfather, Part III" ("You will not give? I'll take!"), and lending his voice to the character "Fat Tony" in "The Simpsons." As David Rossi, a former profiler returning to the squad after many years of consulting and book writing, Mr. Mantegna doesn't do much more than any of the other actors -- except he gets one moment in each show to really chew the scenery. In this episode, he faces off with the killer over the phone, frightening his teammates who realize he has taken control of the investigation without asking for consent. Expect Rossi and Hotchner to square off on this issue in episodes to come.
Fans and advertisers shouldn't miss a beat. The show is exactly the same as it was before, only with a new sheriff in town, so to speak. But since the show isn't really about sheriffs, or people, just crimes and arrests, "Criminal Minds" should proceed apace with few bumps in the road.
What's at stake: Wednesday has fast become one of the most competitive nights on the network docket, with CW's "Gossip Girl," ABC's "Private Practice" and NBC's "Bionic Woman" on at the same time. "Criminal Minds" skews a little older -- and broader -- according to media buyers. As the time-slot's old reliable, "Criminal Minds" has been holding its audience, said Brad Adgate, senior VP-research at Horizon Media. While the show's live-plus-same-day household ratings for the first few weeks of the season are down from last year, he said, "Criminal Minds" is still beating those aforementioned competitors. Because CBS's procedural programs are pretty much self-contained on an episode-by-episode basis, maintaining the program's reputation as a must-see thriller is important, particularly as networks use such shows to shore up other nights of the week and hope to gain more revenue from ancillary venues, including DVDs and digital viewing.
Who's on board?: Top "Criminal Minds" sponsors last season included telecom giants Verizon Wireless, Sprint, Cingular and AT&T Wireless; Home Depot; and, interestingly enough, sleeping medications such as Rozerem and Lunesta. Does that mean people who watch "Criminal Minds" are insomniacs who love home-repair and talking on the phone?
Your ad here?: If you're looking for reliable entertainment that brings a wide audience, then "Criminal Minds" is a good bet, though the show's reliance on dark violence and oddball criminals could give pause to more conservative marketers. Other programs on the dial aim deeper into youthful niches, and might be a better place for teen-oriented goods and services.
Media buyer's verdict: If you are seeking live audiences, "Criminal Minds" has proven to be, well, arresting. "The show has been around for a few years, and you're going to see some natural audience erosion and some competition, but it's winning its time period," Horizon's Mr. Adgate said.