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'The Mentalist': Crime pays for CBS

What makes the network’s lineup of crime dramas — now joined by Simon Baker’s new hit — so unstoppable? You don’t have to be a phony psychic to know the answer

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Simon Baker
PHOTOGRAPH BY MICHAEL MULLER

The temple of harmony is a sham. It’s just the shell of a house on a studio lot, with a sign promising ”wellness through clairvoyance” (whatever that means). The Mentalist‘s Patrick Jane (Simon Baker) knows it’s bunk, as he’s about to insinuate to the woman who runs the joint (Leslie Hope). But first, Baker has to stop yammering. The director has called for sound, the cameras are rolling, but there Baker goes, chatting away with Hope in his Australian cadence, right up until ”Action!” Instantly, the American accent kicks in, lines roll off his tongue perfectly, and he nails his take.

The star’s comfort on set is understandable — this is his third CBS series, after all. The difference between The Mentalist and Baker’s other two shows (Smith and The Guardian), however, is a big one. CBS’ freshman drama about a man with extraordinary powers of perception who consults for the California Bureau of Investigation has done something no other new entry this season has been able to do: become a bona fide top 10 hit. Averaging 15.6 million viewers, The Mentalist not only holds its own against the Tuesday-night Dancing With the Stars results show on ABC, it also easily trounces Fox’s much more heavily hyped Fringe in total viewers. What the program may lack in buzz it makes up for in mainstream appeal — it’s the latest in CBS’ seemingly never-ending line of successful procedural crime dramas. In fact, the only surprise about The Mentalist is the man in the lead. ”Five years ago, there was no way in the world I would’ve ever done a [crime] procedural,” says Baker in his trailer, relaxing in gray suit pants, a matching vest, and a sky blue shirt that, it must be said, brings out the color of his eyes. But, like the many viewers who watch his drama, the actor simply could not resist the inherent satisfaction that comes with open-and-shut cases. ”I’m the newfound Simon Baker who doesn’t take himself as seriously. My main focus at the moment is that I want to do stuff that’s entertaining.”

NEXT PAGE: ”When you’re watching the news these days, you want your mommy — it’s that scary. TV can provide some small consolation for those things.”