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Why Did JJ Leave Criminal Minds? A.J. Cook’s Exit Explained

Why Did JJ Leave Criminal Minds? A.J. Cook’s Exit Explained

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Sometimes, TV networks make mistakes with their cast, and fans aren’t afraid to let them know. After being a core member of Criminal Minds for five seasons, CBS decided to let A.J. Cook go from the show along with co-star Paget Brewster.

Rumors flew about why CBS fired Cook, from cutting costs to blatant sexism. Although Cook successfully returned to the show full-time after only missing most of season 6, fans still aren’t sure of the real reason behind her exit.

Read on to find out CBS’s reasons for firing A.J. Cook from Criminal Minds and how Cook, her castmates, and her fans managed to fight back and get her back on the show.

Why Did A.J. Cook Leave Criminal Minds?

A.J. Cook temporarily left Criminal Minds during season 6 due to creative reasons, not financial, according to CBS at the time. CBS also let her co-star Paget Brewster go a short time later, but both quickly returned after fan – and cast – backlash.

Cook had been on Criminal Minds since its second episode and fans consider her integral to the team dynamic. But at the end of season 5, CBS announced that both she and Paget Brewster would not return to the show.

Close up of actress of A.J Cook in 2017
A.J. Cook in 2019. Credit: DFree / Shutterstock.com

After quite a lot of back and forth, A.J. Cook wrapped up her storyline in the first two episodes of season 6. She then returned for two more episodes at the end of the season. Brewster also returned for most of season 6 and 7 before leaving the show until season 12 in 2016.

At first, people speculated that CBS cut Cook and Brewster for financial reasons. Brewster believed this theory at first, saying via Twitter (now X), “’Creative Reasons’ has been an Executive Bullshit excuse for DECADES. “It IS financial. AJ is a dreamboat. And yes, I am hurt, too.”

Later on, however, CBS stressed the decision was not financially related, and Brewster discovered that the new female agent on the show was being paid more than both her and Cook.

JJ and Spencer Reid in Criminal Minds season 15

According to Brewster in an interview with AV Club, “[Someone from] CBS had just called Ed Bernaro [executive producer for Criminal Minds]  and said, ‘I want new women.’”

She also said, “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.”

Cast And Fan Reactions To A.J. Cook Leaving Criminal Minds

Fans were so upset at A.J. Cook leaving Criminal Minds that they rallied to convince CBS to bring her back. Cook’s cast members were also open about their disappointment with the network’s decision to fire her.

After CBS announced Cook’s firing, fans created an online petition to bring her back that quickly gained over 42,000 signatures. Cook herself responded to the petition, tweeting, “Your kind words and support have made me feel wanted and loved!

Thomas Gibson, who played Aaron Hotchner for 12 seasons, tweeted, “To say we’re all mystified and disappointed is an understatement…”

And Kirsten Vangsness, the actor for fan-favorite character Penelope Garcia, spoke out against Cook’s firing in an interview with Screen Rant.

“It sucks when they fire your friend. I don’t know who made that decision, but I know that us as a family – the family that Ed Bernero made of us – are crushed and it’s awful.”

It makes you very aware that it’s a job and if they need you, they keep you, and if they don’t, they fire you. Not that [Cook’s] not necessary! But, someone made a decision that she was not necessary and that’s a bad decision – in my opinion.”

See Vangsness’s full interview below:

A.J. Cook later described being let go as “like a breakup with a guy. It happened out of nowhere. And it was an “It’s not you, it’s me” sort of thing. You think, “What did I do?” It’s been a rollercoaster ride, but I just had to put one foot forward and keep moving.”

When Did JJ Come Back To Criminal Minds?

Luckily for Criminal Minds fans, A.J. Cook’s JJ returned to show full-time in 2011.

In a 2011 interview with TV Guide, after the news broke about her return, Cook said, “I’d be lying if I said it didn’t hurt my feelings, but I chose to be me through the whole thing. And that’s lead me back to where I started, but in a completely different way.”

Cook negotiated a return for the season 6 finale, which then established her full return in season 7. She remained on the show until its temporary cancellation in 2020 after fifteen seasons.

JJ in the Crinimal Minds TV series

She also returned for the “revival” series Criminal Minds: Evolution (also billed as season 16) in 2022.

What Is A.J. Cook Doing Now?

After returning to the Criminal Minds universe for another nine seasons, A.J. Cook took a short break from acting.

Between Criminal Minds cancellation in 2020 and its revival in 2022, A.J. Cook only appeared as a guest star on 9-1-1. That single episode is her only credit in those intervening years.

When Criminal Minds: Evolution began in 2022, Cook returned as her character Jennifer “JJ” Jareau. Otherwise, Cook has no upcoming projects.