‘The Mentalist’ Paley Center Panel

The Mentalist (Tuesday nights on CBS) is definitely the big Top Ten hit of the TV season. That was one of the reasons the show was chosen for a coveted slot at the William S. Paley Television Festival in Hollywood. This is the ultimate chance for a fan to get up close and personal with their favorite actors from their favorite shows and a writer to get some good quotes, even if I never got to ask any of my questions.

The Mentalist panel featured writer/producer/creator Bruno Heller, co-executive producer/director Chris Long with actors Simon Baker, Robin Tunney, Amanda Righetti and Owain Yeoman. The dour Tim Kang did not attend.

This is the 9th year the Paley Center has scheduled these events and the crowds only get bigger. Okay, so most of the audience was female, of various ages, but that’s to be expected with Simon Baker on hand. He’s cute. He’s blond. And he’s a good actor. What more could we want?

Baker plays Patrick Jane, who was once a popular entertainment psychic. But five years ago his wife and daughter were killed by Red John, a serial killer he had psychically profiled and ticked off. Now he works as an independent observer/adviser for the California Bureau of Investigation and he’s obsessed with finding Red John. Jane now also admits he was a fake, merely a “good observer of human nature”.

Jane still wears his wedding ring and prefers to sleep on the office couch instead of going home to an empty house. Patrick Jane is a complex character wandering through a “procedural” cop show populated with some very clever people. The Mentalist is delightfully different and no wonder it’s this season’s only major big hit.

The following are some of the questions asked at the Paley Festival. The Mentalist’s last show of the season, “Red John’s Footsteps”, airs May 19. And don’t worry, no spoilers allowed here.

QUESTION: To Bruno Heller. How did you pitch The Mentalist to the network?

BRUNO HELLER: If I could have sold CBS and Warner Bros. on doing a show about Sherlock Holmes that’s what we would have done. But we had to add something to it. Essentially it was our attempt to get back to, not an old fashioned detective, but an old school detective in which we tried to create a framework for a real performance by a great actor. And this is the result.

QUESTION: To Bruno Heller. What was the inspiration for the character of Patrick Jane?

HELLER: If you go to any city in America, any part of town, you’ll find a psychic on the block who is essentially applying the same trade as mentalists. They’re trying to create the illusion that they can read your mind, that they can see beyond the veil. And what they’re doing is essentially using genuine nature skills of empathy…to create the illusion of supernatural powers. That seemed to be a very interesting moral position to be in because they’re essentially performing the function of a psychoanalyst or a priest. But at the same time they’re lying about their powers. And least that’s my opinion. I think the interesting thing about the psychics is that half the country will say they’re not real; they’re charlatans, the other half will say, no, they are truthful and say profound things about them. It’s precisely that line that mentalists walk along.

QUESTION: To Heller again. What about the origins of the serial killer Red John?

HELLER: What I was trying to do is create a show that was positive and light and could be optimistic about the world, but is anchored in the reality of everyone’s life, which is you die in the end. And that’s what crime shows do on some level is deal with death, but deal with it in a functional way. You get redemption out of it, you get revenge, and you find the killer. This was important, if you’re going to deal with crime and murder in the positive way we do. And Red John is essentially the reality [of death] in everyone’s life. So naturally he’s mysterious and enigmatic. He’s not like the one-armed man in The Fugitive. He’s much more. He is a real person, but he’s much more symbolic.

QUESTION: Have any of you ever gone to a psychic?

SIMON BAKER: Whenever I was away on a film on location, I would go to a psychic or a clairvoyant, wherever I was. It was kind of something I did when I was lonely… in lieu of prostitutes (everyone laughing). I could give someone money and they could tell me myself. Unfortunately, there’s nothing physical. Most of the time they were in a foreign language so I couldn’t understand what they were saying anyway. It was a way to get rid of per diem, really.

OWAIN YEOMAN: I had a terrible experience with a psychic. Some one had made the really bad decision to have a psychic as a form of entertainment at a party. And people were going, ‘You’ve got to try this psychic. She’s brilliant. She’s so bang on.’ I went over and had a chat and she said, ‘Oh, I can see terrible things for you.’ Literally it was that deep into the conversation… And she went, ‘You’ll be dead within the year.’ Oh, it was a bad night, and who ordered her. What a rubbish form of entertainment.

Jane’s car is a Citroën DS 21 and it was Baker’s idea to have an older “unique” car.

Fans want Patrick Jane and Teresa Lisbon together and are already referring to them as “Jisbon” on blogs and fan sites. Oh dear.

The California Bureau of Investigation used to be a real organization, but no longer exists.

Yeoman and Kang pass the time on set digging up quotes and facts about Chuck Norris and Mr. T. Well, everyone needs a hobby.