Heller brings showrunning skill to ‘Mentalist’
He might not have the super-cerebral skills of Patrick Jane, the title character in “The Mentalist,” but showrunner Bruno Heller will definitely use his head to make his new show worthy of an international TV audience.
Part of a drama-heavy Warner slate at the L.A. Screenings, “The Mentalist” revolves around Jane (Aussie native Simon Baker), who segues from a lucrative career as a phony psychic to more legitimate work solving crimes — as opposed to USA’s comedy “Psych,” centered on a private eye who continues faking psychic abilities. Launching this police procedural with a twist on CBS means Heller, who entertained a select aud on HBO with “Rome,” could broaden his reach exponentially.
“With HBO, certainly there’s a kind of license because it’s cable,” says Heller, who begins breaking stories today for his new series’ 12-episode order. “One of the reasons I very much wanted to work on CBS is in many ways they’re the antithesis of HBO. You’ve got to deliver just the same level of entertainment and interest, but you’ve got to do it to the world at large, and CBS’ audience is the world.”
While Heller isn’t specifically setting out to cater his show to global viewers, his approach is inherently open-minded.
“Something I always try to do is not be exclusionary. I try not to make it about in-jokes or cultural references that people outside of a particular culture won’t understand. That’s partly from being a foreigner here myself — I’m a citizen but an immigrant,” the British-bred bizzer says. “I know what’s specifically American and what is universal, I think, and I do try to address that wider audience.”
Fans of “Rome” can expect to find that series’ sense of humor continuing in “The Mentalist,” Heller adds. However, “The Mentalist” won’t be serialized. Episodes can be watched in any order, which could facilitate global sales.
Of course, another contrast with “Rome” is the threat of quick cancellation if “Mentalist” doesn’t grab eyeballs right away.
“Fear is a good thing in this business,” Heller says. “There’s a lot of money involved; you’ve got to deliver. I think a lot of people would agree it may have gone too far that way, but that’s a factor of economics, not anyone’s choice.
“It’s not about making the cleverest show or the wittiest show. … It’s about telling a story that people want to listen to. So if it’s not working, I would much rather be taken off the air than limp along with a show that no one is enthusiastic about.”
Heller himself is plenty enthusiastic about his new program, which he developed as the first project of his overall deal with Warners.
“I became interested in the notion of mentalism watching the shows that my wife watches on TV: ‘Ghost Whisperer,’ ‘Medium,’ all of those shows,” he says. “It’s one of those divides that doesn’t get talked over a lot. Maybe half the people in the country believe in psychics and half don’t.
“I thought it would be interesting to have a character who had been one of those guys but turned the corner, that had (those) skills but was using them for good rather than evil … because the thing is, the people who are good at it are genuinely amazing.”