‘Mentalist’ at head of rookie class

CBS drama continues to psych up audiences

Maybe Simon Baker saw this coming, but the success of “The Mentalist” caught a lot of people by surprise.

The CBS series about a former celeb psychic who helps the cops solve crimes is the standout rookie in an about-to-conclude season in which few new shows made much noise.

The “Mentalist’s” success gives CBS the most impressive newcomer for two straight seasons, following last year’s launch of comedy “The Big Bang Theory.” These two young series, as well as vets like “NCIS” and “Two and a Half Men” helped the Eye become the only major net to improve its ratings this season vs. last.

According to Nielsen, “The Mentalist” has averaged a 3.9 rating/9 share in adults 18-49 and 17.5 million viewers overall, making it the most popular new series since ABC’s “Desperate Housewives” five years ago.

Among all series, it ranks 25th in adults 18-49, 11th in adults 25-54 and sixth in total viewers, typically ranking among the top two or three scripted series on television in overall audience.

Its success is a nod to the notion that scheduling still matters in a DVR world: CBS smartly paired the Baker-fronted “Mentalist” with “NCIS” on Tuesday, and the crime shows have delivered remarkably similar audiences pretty much from the start.

“The Mentalist” is retaining 98% of the “NCIS” overall audience while actually building slightly on the 8 p.m. series in both 18-49 and 25-54.

Show helped turn Baker into the breakout actor that CBS execs had always envisioned. After starring for three seasons earlier this decade on CBS in “The Guardian,” a popular but older-skewing legal skein that didn’t generate much buzz, Baker also co-starred in the Eye’s short-lived heist drama “Smith” in 2006.

In “The Mentalist,” though, Baker is front and center on a show with some real heat. And as CBS preps to announce its lineup for next fall, buzz was building that the Eye was looking to shift the series to a 10 o’clock slot, perhaps Tuesday or Thursday.

Here’s a look at how each network has fared with its new skeins this season:

CBS

In addition to “The Mentalist,” laffer “Gary Unmarried” fared decently and has probably earned a return in the fall. Another OK performer, sci-fi-ish crime drama “Eleventh Hour,” isn’t expected back.

Among flat-out busts, romantic hour “The Ex-List” quickly flamed out on Friday, and late-season murder mystery “Harper’s Island” sputtered on Thursday before being demoted to Saturday.

And then there was Monday comedy “Worst Week,” the funniest new show of the season even though it didn’t mesh well with the net’s traditional lineup of laffers. It’s the only CBS comedy from this season not expected back.

ABC

The net most in need of a new hit, the Alphabet spun its wheels at midseason with a series of poorly performing newbies.

Dramas “The Unusuals,” “Life on Mars,” “Cupid” and “Castle” all underwhelmed in the Nielsens, though the latter — a light-hearted murder mystery with likable lead Nathan Fillion — is probably the skein with the best shot at growing some in a second season.

Among comedies, ABC struck out with two more single-camera entries, “Better Off Ted” and “In the Motherhood,” and didn’t fare much better with the more traditional “Surviving Suburbia” with Bob Saget.

Of the three, “Ted” is the strongest and could return in the fall since it does make for a good fit with “Scrubs.”

The only reality entry on ABC this season, “Opportunity Knocks,” failed early in the season and won’t be back. Net could use something new, as “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” is fading.

NBC

The Peacock, like ABC, squandered numerous chances at finding a new hit before being saved at season’s end by decent performers “Southland” and “Parks and Recreation.”

Though it didn’t put up great numbers, the Amy Poehler-fronted “Parks” looks to be a good fit with the net’s single-camera lineup of comedies on Thursdays and could return in its current 8:30 p.m. slot in the fall.

Cop drama “Southland” slipped after a solid start but is worthy of a second season. Net would like to see how it fares with a compatible lead-in, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see it paired with one of the “Law and Order” skeins next season.

There were plenty of embarrassing misfires for NBC this season, however, led by the unwatchable duo of “Kath and Kim” and “Knight Rider.” Also, “Crusoe,” “My Own Worst Enemy” and “Kings” quickly flamed out, and reality entry “Momma’s Boys” was as bad as it sounds.

Fox

Next to CBS, Fox had the best news when it came to new shows, although it’s hard to gauge its top rookies because of their protected timeslots.

“Fringe,” buoyed by airing at different times behind the net’s two biggest hits (“American Idol” and “House”) emerged as the season’s top new show in adults 18-49 (4.1/10) and could be asked to stand more on its own in season two.

Ditto “Lie to Me,” the Tim Roth drama that averaged a 3.7/9 in 18-49, airing both before and after “Idol” this spring. Fox has high hopes for the series, installing Shawn Ryan of “The Shield” and “The Unit” as its soph-season showrunner.

Joss Whedon’s “Dollhouse” performed meekly on Friday but could yet earn a short-order reprieve next season. No such luck though for comedy “Sit Down, Shut Up,” which was quickly silenced after several poor showings on Sunday and — like most of the season’s freshman class — won’t be heard from again.

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