French auds can’t get enough of “Mentalist” star Simon Baker and neither can leading commercial network TF1. The Australian thesp has been TF1’s secret weapon to stay ahead of the ratings race since “Mentalist” bowed on the Gallic network in 2010.

Seven years after starring as Christian Thompson, the seductive and stylish writer who knows his way around Paris in the 2006 hit comedy “The Devil Wears Prada,” the actor is being celebrated in France with his performance in “Mentalist” as Patrick Jane, a TV psychic-turned-detective. A global TV hit, “Mentalist” draws its best international ratings from France with an average of 8 million to 10 million viewers — approximately 35% share — on primetime TF1.

“The French public have a big appetite for U.S. procedurals in general but ‘The Mentalist’ stands out because it appeals to wide-ranging audiences — including children,” says Sophie Leveaux, TF1’s artistic director of acquisitions and international co-productions. “While ‘Mentalist’ follows the narrative codes of traditional procedurals, Baker’s character brings a modern edge, an elegance and sense of humour (at times subversive) that’s very refreshing — he radiates optimism in all circumstances.”

• “The Mentalist” ranks as the No. 1 scripted series in all of France (U.S. and French series combined). Approximately 13% of all the people in France watch the show weekly.
• In Germany it is the No. 1 U.S. scripted series on SAT1 and the No. 2 overall U.S. scripted series.
• In French-speaking Belgium show is LA1’s No. 1 U.S. scripted series.
• In the U.K. “The Mentalist” is Channel 5’s No. 1 U.S. scripted series.
• La Sexta in Spain claims it’s the No. 2 U.S. scripted series.
• In Canada show ranks No. 1 in its time period.
• It’s No. 2 in its time period in Australia
• In Sao Paulo Brazil show’s SBT’s No. 3 U.S. drama.

Show’s season four marked a milestone. Indeed, its 22 episodes topped the chart of the 100th best ratings of 2012.Auds fell under Baker’s spell after seeing him in “The Guardian,” which aired on TF1 starting in 2004 and was brought back in 2010, Leveaux says.

Eager to follow the thesp’s bigscreen endeavors and leverage his popularity, the Gallic net came on board early on to co-produce the Baker starrer “I Give It a Year,” Dan Mazer’s romantic laffer produced by Working Title and Studiocanal. A good omen, the pic has just won the top prize at the Alpe d’Huez Intl. Comedy Film Festival.

Baker has also become part of Gaul’s popular culture: he was voted the year’s sexiest man, beating Justin Timberlake, Jude Law and Daniel Craig, according to poll conducted by Harris Interactive for TF1 in December. Baker is also following the footsteps of Brad Pitt and Law, becoming the face of a French haute-couture brand’s perfume. In spring he will star in both print and TV ads for Givenchy’s new fragrance. In 2012, Baker was named ambassador of elegance for luxury watch brand Longines and starred in its “Elegance Is an Attitude” advertising campaign.

“He’s like the Beatles in France,” says “Mentalist” co-star Robin Tunney. “I think it’s because he drives a Citroen. But he’s popular all over the world, which is really strange. From Saudi Arabia to Pakistan, I just had no idea something like this would translate this well.”

And the love goes both ways. Baker never misses an opportunity to visit France, whether it’s to promote “Mentalist” or take a vacation.

“I think the French identify with his personality, his unashamed honesty, which I think is a French trait,” Baker says of his “Mentalist” character. “I don’t know, just theorizing. But it blows my mind when traveling to realize how popular the show is around the world.”

Susan Young contributed to this report.

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