'Criminal Minds' Paget Brewster exit: Joe Mantegna says, 'Different than the last time'

paget-brewster-mantegna-criminal-minds-gallery-325.jpgJoe Mantegna confirms it's a week of mixed emotions on the set of "Criminal Minds."

The cast and crew of the CBS crime drama are wrapping up work on the seventh-season finale, a rare two-hour episode set to air Wednesday, May 16. While the extended length is a nod to the show's continued strength, it also marks the departure of Paget Brewster -- alias Agent Emily Prentiss of the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit -- as a cast regular.

"It's going to be different than the last time," Mantegna tells Zap2it about the actress' second exit from the series. "First of all, this is her choice. Second of all, it's not being done in a cataclysmic kind of way. There will always exist a window for her to reappear in some capacity. I think she just wants to move on, but she's open to coming in and having the Prentiss character still be involved.

"If she does a few episodes a season, it opens up a whole other window, because of the way her character has been established with these international capabilities and skills. She can be recurring and still contribute something, and still give the fans that thing of, 'Oh! Prentiss is back.'"

Adding that he hopes Brewster "is happy with that situation," Mantegna isn't sure "Criminal Minds" -- also seen in frequent repeats on A&E and ION -- will hurry to fill the slot she's vacating. "We'll see whether it affords an opportunity for another character to appear or not. As far as I know, there's no specific plan for that.

"It's called 'Criminal Minds,' not 'Magnum, p.i,'" Mantegna notes. "It's a true ensemble show, as it should be. It has the kind of fan base that absorbs all the different characters, and people have their favorites ... but at the end of the day, it's the ensemble that carries the show. You look back at 'The Honeymooners,' and you didn't watch it just for Ralph Kramden. And 'The Mary Tyler Moore Show' and 'M*A*S*H' are other examples."

Shortly after the "Criminal Minds" season-ender airs, "Glengarry Glen Ross" Tony Award winner Mantegna will appear in another familiar TV spot for him: PBS' National Memorial Day Concert telecast Sunday, May 27. It'll be Mantegna's 11th time participating in the event -- and his seventh co-hosting with friend and "CSI: NY" star Gary Sinise, expected to have recovered from a recent car accident by then.

"If something else comes up, I'll do it as long as I'm free that week in May, because the concert really is the priority," Mantegna stresses. "I hope that nothing would cause me to bring a halt to that, but I work everything else around it. For [past participants] Ossie Davis and Charlie Durning to do it as long as they did, it was of such importance to them, it's the least I can do. I want that continuity."

Photo/Video credit: CBS
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