Credit: Cliff Lipson/CBS; Inset: Craig Sjodin

Editor’s note: The 300th episode of Criminal Minds — which also serves as the season 14 premiere — airs tonight at 10 p.m. ET on CBS. Below, showrunner Erica Messer reflects on reaching the milestone.

When people ask how in the world we’ve told 300 episodes about serial killers, my first instinct is to say (in a slightly defensive way), ‘It’s really more about the heroes who catch those UnSubs,’ but then I get what they’re really asking — 300 episodes of television. How did we do that? Three hundred would be a lot of pages to read. A lot of cookies to bake. Holes of golf. Sit-ups. Push-ups. And they’re right. It’s a lot of TV.

Criminal Minds is currently the 18th-most-watched series in American broadcast television. The list puts us in impressive company. “Rare air,” as one of our transpo captains says. But when asked if I was worried we wouldn’t make it to 300, the answer was a resounding yes, very worried. Then again, I was worried about making it to 100 and 200 as well. Truth is, none of us ever thought we’d make it this far. One producer (who shall remain nameless) thought he’d be back in New York for Thanksgiving after the initial 13 order.

Maybe our uncertainty was born out of being from a broken home — the studio that produces us [ABC Studios] is not the same as the network that airs us — which causes some insecurity. Or that the critics hated us when we premiered. Or that we had some major shakeups in the early days. Or that we’ve always had to weather big storms. But now, 13 calendar years and 14 broadcast seasons later, our devoted fans have proven otherwise. They’ve been tuning in every Wednesday night since 2005, before delayed viewers were ever measured. And if they can’t watch at 10 p.m., they’ll make sure to tune in before the following episode.

It’s why we wanted 300 to be extra-special. To give our fans a proper thank you for watching and cheering us on. The story itself had to be a bullet train to wrap up everything that was set up in 299, so there was no time to do major cameos or dive too deeply into anything that wasn’t about getting our abducted heroes back in 42 minutes. The flashbacks we used were specifically chosen to show just how far we’ve come… all who have been on this journey with us will be able to appreciate these moments as much as we do.

We celebrated our milestone with the cast, crew, their families, and our studio and network execs at the California Science Center. We experienced King Tut to the Space Shuttle Endeavour. That’s when it really hit me. I know how we got to 300 episodes. All I had to do was look around at the amazing cast and crew. It’s not just their incredible talent, it’s their families who share them with the rest of us. It’s more than our cast of onscreen heroes, it’s everyone behind the behind-the-scenes players.

Everyone who works on Criminal Minds takes pride in being part of this little engine that could. We wouldn’t be here without the love and support of friends, family and fans. So, thank you. We’re all humbled to keep making television history in our forgotten, magical corner of LA.

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