Why Shemar Moore Left Criminal Minds During Season 11

The popular character Morgan left Criminal Minds during season 11 and fans weren’t pleased. Alongside NCIS, Criminal Minds was one of the most popular procedural shows on the air during its run, which came to an end in 2020, and a large part of that was characters like Shemar Moore as Derek Morgan. Morgan was one of the key members of the BAU and even served as the acting unit chief for a short time which made the season that he left the show such a shock for fans.

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The first two seasons of Criminal Minds were fronted by cast member Mandy Patinkin as Jason Gideon, but Patinkin abruptly quit as production was gearing up for season 3. The series survived Gideon’s surprise exit, but the man who replaced him as the lead, Thomas Gibson, was fired during season 12. The show survived that as well, but the loss of Shemar Moore’s Derek Morgan might be the hardest to hit the show, as he had become the heart and soul of the hit series. The reason Derek Morgan left Criminal Minds was because the actor felt it was time to move on.

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Why Derek Morgan Actor Shemar Moore Left Criminal Minds

Derek looking concerned in Criminal Minds

Why Morgan left Criminal Minds was the actor’s doing. Derek Morgan had been part of the long-successful Criminal Minds formula from the show’s first episode (and is also the subject of Criminal Minds’ darkest fan theory). The character evolved from being relatively lighthearted in the early seasons to becoming more weathered as the years rolled by. He also overcame a traumatic childhood that included seeing his police officer father shot dead, and he went through some particularly hard times in season 11.

In “Derek,” the Shemar Moore-portrayed Criminal Minds character is captured and horrifically tortured, though he does manage to escape and kill his tormenters. Only two episodes later in Criminal Minds’ “A Beautiful Disaster,” Morgan’s pregnant wife Savannah is shot. After Morgan helped capture the culprit and Savannah gave birth to their son Hank — named after Morgan’s late father — the special agent says goodbye to the team and quits the BAU. Unlike some other shocking Criminal Minds character exits, there was no behind-the-scenes drama involved with why Morgan left Criminal Minds.

The actor simply decided that after eleven seasons it was time to leave. He felt he’d explored every facet of Morgan as a character, and he wanted to pursue other projects. Filming a network show like Criminal Minds is a ten-month commitment every season, which doesn’t leave much time for other movies or shows, and Shemar Moore says he wanted to free up time to focus on his personal life too. Derek Morgan did, however, return for a few episodes in later seasons.

What Shemar Moore Has Done Since Criminal Minds

Shemar Moore on the phone as Derek Morgan in Criminal Minds.

Staying in the vein of law enforcement acting roles since playing Derek Morgan, Shemar Moore currently fronts the CBS action series S.W.A.T. as Sergeant Daniel “Hondo” Harrelson. This almost came to an end when CBS canceled the show. However, Moore fought for it and CBS agreed to bring the series back for one more season. This was exciting for Moore, who plays a character very similar to that from Criminal Minds. He is an exciting cop who will do anything to help save people and stop criminals, making the move from one show to the next less of a switch than some fans expected when Derek Morgan left Criminal Minds because he wanted a change.

Since his departure from his well-known Criminal Minds TV role in season 11 (which was much less controversial than once co-star Thomas Gibson‘s exit), Moore has also done some voice acting as Victor Stone (AKA Cyborg) in several animated direct-to-video movies from DC (such as The Death of Superman and Justice League Dark: Apokolips War). He’s also landed a few movie roles, most notably in Sonic the Hedgehog 2 as FBI agent Randall Handel.

In addition, he’s played the character Malcolm Winters in multiple episodes of the CBS soap opera The Young and the Restless. This was a big deal because he played Malcolm on that soap opera for more than a decade, taking on the role in 1994 and remaining with the show until 2005. This made his return to the series for its 50th anniversary an exciting moment for both his fans and Criminal Minds faithful. If Moore was willing to go back to the daytime soap opera for a special appearance, surely he would consider the same for Criminal Minds.

Every Time Shemar Moore’s Derek Returned After Criminal Minds Season 11

Image of Derek Morgan talking on the phone on Criminal Minds, wearing sunglasses and smiling.

Derek Morgan leaves the BAU in Criminal Minds season 11, but the character wasn’t killed off, which always left the door for either fleeting reappearances or a full return to the show – and, sure enough, Shemar Moore has appeared multiple times in cameos since leaving the regular cast. In season 12, he visits the team in the episode “Red Light.” He provides emotional support to Reid during the latter’s incarceration and also helps Garcia find some common ground with Alvez (his replacement, with whom Garcia later starts to form a romantic connection).

Morgan’s Criminal Minds season 13 appearance is in the episode “Lucky Strikes,” when he again gives Garcia emotional support, although this time on a particularly traumatic case. It’s also established in the season 13 episode “The Dance of Love” that Morgan has settled down and is now married with kids. Derek Morgan has a few brief appearances in flashbacks and dream sequences in seasons 14 and 15, but he doesn’t visit the BAU in person again. Whether he’ll return again in Criminal Minds season 16 hasn’t been addressed, but since Morgan is still alive, there’s no canon reason Shemar Moore can’t come back for one more cameo.

Will Shemar Moore Cameo In Criminal Minds: Evolution?

Derek Morgan aiming a gun in Criminal Minds.

Many were up in arms over the fact that Matthew Gray Gubler’s Spencer Reid didn’t appear on Criminal Minds: Evolution, but what about Shemar Moore’s Derek Morgan? Right now, Shemar Moore is in the series S.W.A.T., which sees him in the lead role of Daniel “Hondo” Harrelson, a S.W.A.T. Sargeant, who, with the help of his team, solve crimes in Los Angeles. EW sat down for a video interview with Moore, and while discussing his show, they also asked about if he’ll appear on Criminal Minds: Evolution. Unfortunately, Moore’s answers weren’t all that hopeful.

“Would I go back to ‘Criminal Minds’ and flirt with my baby girl, and chase down UnSubs? Sure, alright. But Hondo kinda busy, is all I’m saying.”

Showrunners have left the door open for Gubler and Moore to return, but it doesn’t mean they will. Moore’s response is particularly disheartening, but S.W.A.T. was in its sixth season at the time. It seemed unlikely that Shemar Moore’s Derek Morgan would be seen in Criminal Minds again, but at least it was due to scheduling issues rather than the actor refusing to come back.

Shemar Moore’s Other Show Ending Could Make A Derek Morgan Criminal Minds Return More Likely

Shemar Moore in uniform in SWAT season 6

The huge news broke early in 2023 that CBS had revealed which shows would return in the 2023-24 season. S.W.A.T. was not on that list. It turned out that the show was getting axed, but then Shemar Moore raced into battle and asked fans to speak up and fight for his show. Thanks to Moore’s leap into battle, CBS chose to un-cancel S.W.A.T. and it will return for season 7, which will be the last season for the series. The final season will only be 13 episodes long and it will mark the end of the series. What this means for Criminal Minds is that there is still hope for Derek Morgan’s return.

When Moore returned to The Young and the Restless, it proved that fans should never say never to a surprising return. In 2023, Paramount+ renewed Criminal Minds: Evolution for another season. While that will likely shoot around the same time as S.W.A.T., it is unlikely Derek will be back for this upcoming season. However, if the revived Criminal Minds remains popular, there is now theoretically a good chance that, while Derek Morgan left Criminal Minds because Moore wanted a change, he could return because the actor is willing to give fans what they wanted one last time.

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