Wednesday, January 10, 2007


Posted on Wed, Jan. 10, 2007
A ‘Criminal Mind’ and a family kind
Thomas Gibson, the intense Agent Hotchner of "Criminal Minds," will pass on CBS's Super Bowl hoopla - he's happy at home, cast as family man.
By David Hiltbrand
Inquirer Staff Writer

If you keep your eyes peeled during the Super Bowl, you might spot cast members from Criminal Minds in the stands.

But you won't see Thomas Gibson.

CBS has awarded the plum postgame spot on Feb. 4 to its series about an elite FBI behavioral analysis unit that hunts serial killers.

So, many of the cast will be in Miami for the big game to glad-hand sponsors and be photographed in the seats.

But not Gibson, who plays Agent Hotchner, the unit's intense supervisor.

"If the game were in California, I'd be there in a heartbeat," says Gibson, 46. "But I have to work Monday morning. I've taken that flight from Miami on a Sunday night to work on a Monday morning. I remember refueling in Phoenix at 4 in the morning."

"Besides," he says, "I already do so much traveling."

That's no exaggeration. Gibson commutes to work on Criminal Minds from San Antonio, Texas, where he lives with his wife, Cristine, and children, T.J., 7, Travis, 4, and Agatha, 2.

He's at home this morning, taking advantage of a midweek break in his shooting schedule. He's already gotten the brood up and off to school and is happy to talk about the show.

Even without the expected Super Bowl bounce, Criminal Minds has been on a roll. In its second season, the series has averaged nearly 17 million viewers, up 25 percent from last year. Recently, it's beaten its time-slot rival Lost so consistently that ABC is moving the island intrigue to a later hour.

How did CBS's procedural overtake ABC's cult fave?

"I don't know that people want to make a five-year commitment to a show," says Ed Bernero, Criminal Minds' executive producer. "Our show's episodes have a beginning, a middle and an end." (Well, except for the Super Bowl installment, which will be a two-parter.)

Gibson believes the answer is simpler. "I think the audience likes the characters and they like the stories," he says. "I've thought since the beginning that the show was like Sherlock Holmes broken into seven characters."

Going up against Lost was an advantage, to his way of thinking. "We had the luxury of low expectations," he says.

If anyone knows about time- slot competition, it's Gibson. In 1994, along with his Criminal Minds costar Mandy Patinkin, he debuted in Chicago Hope, a series everyone expected to be a major hit. Except it was on against another Windy City hospital show, ER, that became a ratings monster.

Unhappy with how marginalized his character, Dr. Daniel Nyland, became in this big-ensemble drama, Gibson left after three years.

He began auditioning for pilots, stopping by the Chicago Hope set to run lines with his former castmate Peter Berg (now the executive producer of Friday Night Lights).

"One day he came to my trailer really depressed," Berg says. "He was dressed in drag [for a sitcom pilot called Ask Harriet]. The next week he landed Dharma & Greg and the week after that he came by in a turbo-charged Porsche."

"I was a little bummed that I didn't look good in a dress," Gibson jokes. But the yuppie-marries-hippie sitcom Dharma & Greg had a solid five-year run.

After that Gibson became a vagabond, traveling to Winnipeg, Amsterdam, Australia, New Mexico, New Zealand and Florida to shoot TV movies and feature films.

In 2004, he made the move to San Antonio. "It's my wife's hometown. We didn't have any family in California," he explains. "We felt it was important that the children see their cousins more than once a year. The other issue was not wanting the children to spend all day in the automobile."

The move had an immediate impact on his career. "I knew as soon as we committed to moving out of Los Angeles," he says, "I'd probably get a series in Los Angeles, which is exactly what happened."

But Gibson doesn't mind all the time he spends in airports for Criminal Minds. This is a guy with greasepaint in his veins.

As the youngest of four, growing up in Charleston, S.C., he couldn't go to the local pizza parlor, which had a Dixieland band, without performing.

"I would get up and do Louis Armstrong," he says. "I don't understand where it came from but my mom said, 'I have to get that boy on the stage.' "

Extensive local theater led to study at Juilliard and movie work, including two films, Far and Away and Eyes Wide Shut, with Tom Cruise, with whom Gibson shares a birthday.

During the shooting of Far and Away, "Tom threw a great birthday party for the two of us in a bowling alley in Montana," Gibson recalls.

Combine that with his TV resume, and you have an actor who knows his craft.

"Thomas is the consummate professional," Bernero says. "Always on time, always knows his dialogue, always has a point of view for the scene. He's flexible. Just a consummate actor and a hell of a golfer."

Yes, Gibson is something of a ringer on the links, and a regular at the Pebble Beach National Pro Am tourney.

Now we're getting to the real reason he's passing on the Super Bowl next month.

"I think Pebble Beach is that next weekend," he says disingenuously. He knows exactly when it is. "I want to be rested."

Break a putter, Thomas.