SAN FRANCISCO -- One would think that a chiseled hunk who regularly pops up on those lists of "TV's Sexiest Men" would have earned camera-hog status by now. But on this drizzly day in San Francisco's Russian Hill neighborhood, Shemar Moore emerged from an SUV on the set of "Criminal Minds" to utter just one scripted line.

Or three words, to be exact.

"How's the mom?" he says to co-star (and Charleston native) Thomas Gibson, referring to a character at wit's end following the abduction of her teen daughter.

Yes, just three measly words. Nice work if you can get it.

"And the Emmy goes to ..." Moore joked as he ducked into a garage, where he hoisted his T-shirt to allow a technician to remove a hidden mike, and in the process, provided a quick flash of his oft-photographed abs. Were those prolonged sighs we heard from the women in the crew?

"Criminal Minds," the CBS drama about a team of profilers from the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU), recently came to the Bay Area for a two-day location shoot. And while the trip hardly seemed worth the trouble for Moore, considering his brief scene, he was not complaining. It, after all, was a homecoming for the 39-year-old actor who was born in Oakland, Calif., attended high school in Palo Alto and played baseball for the University of Santa Clara.

He used the trip to catch up with old friends and his mother, Marilyn, a San Francisco resident who accompanied her son to the set. It was also a chance to spend more quality time with fellow actor Forest Whitaker, making a highly anticipated "Criminal Minds" guest appearance.

"I'm a huge fan with much respect. I love watching him work," Moore said, after snapping off a couple of iPhone photos of Whitaker mugging with Mom. "He has the most unique and powerful presence."

If things go as planned, Moore and Whitaker will become "Criminal Minds" brethren of sorts. CBS has chosen this episode to introduce Oscar-winning Whitaker and a new set of BAU characters before potentially spinning them off into their own show next fall. It's the same strategy used by the network to create successful crime-show franchises out of "CSI" and "NCIS." The Bay Area-set episode aired last month.

It also speaks volumes about the enduring popularity of "Criminal Minds." Now in its fifth season, the dark drama remains a fixture in Nielsen's Top 20, attracting 14.5 million viewers a week and routinely ranking as Wednesday night's No. 1 drama.

"Criminal Minds" has differentiated itself from the typical TV procedural with an approach that lavishes more attention on characters than cases. Every member of the talented ensemble brings a distinct flavor to the mix, including Moore, who plays Derek Morgan, an assertive and occasionally hot-tempered BAU agent.

Earlier this season, Moore's character earned additional prominence among the ensemble when unit Chief Aaron Hotchner (Gibson) put Morgan temporarily in charge of the team. Moore saw it as a "great challenge" and "audition" of sorts.

Executive producer Chris Mundy saw it as another example of Moore's evolvement as an actor.

"There's so much depth to the guy," Mundy says. "Shemar has grown as the show has progressed. He owned that responsibility and that role."

Progression is all part of the plan, for Moore, a former print model who launched his television career in 1994 on the daytime soap "The Young and the Restless." He admits that, for him, acting used to be more about the "fame and the parties." Now, it's about the work.

"I've had a lot of success in 16 years, but in some ways it still feels brand-new because there's still so much I haven't done," he says. "I treat my career like school. The soap opera days were like high school. I got my diploma and graduated. Now I'm in college and hopefully I'll go to grad school (feature films) and catch the bus with Denzel Washington, Jamie Foxx, Will Smith and the others."

Mundy has no doubts that Moore is ready to make the step up.

"I think Shemar can do anything he wants," he says. "He plays an incredibly intelligent man on this show. He's leading-man handsome. He can do action and all the physical stuff. His comic timing is really good. Honestly, I don't see anything he can't do."