The success story of the season, in the U.S. at least, has been The Mentalist. The CBS cop drama has drawn close to 20 million viewers some weeks this season and is the strongest rookie series performer in the U.S. since Lost and Desperate Housewives were instant hits in 2004.
Warner Bros., the studio that produces The Mentalist for CBS, hosted critics on the set last month in Burbank, Calif. My full story on that set visit can be read here at TV Guide.ca.
It would seem pretty obvious as to who the draw is here: Simon Baker (above, with Robin Tunney). Yet the Australian actor has starred in two other CBS shows that failed to catch on: The Guardian, which limped along for three seasons, and Smith, which lasted three episodes.
He was pretty good in both those shows, too, but The Mentalist, as executive producer Bruno Heller notes, takes full advantage of Baker's Cary Grant-ish charms. You get to see this guy smile and be a little playful, and that warmth works for CBS.
The Mentalist is shot on Stage 14 on the fabled Warner Bros. Burbank lot. The Gilmore Girls was the most recent hit to use that sound stage, but plenty of classic Warners films, including Casablanca, also worked their magic within those walls. Enlarge the picture of the plaque above for a full list.
Had a chance to sneak off tour and hoof it around the lot with a fellow TCA member, David Walstad. Walstad is a walking studio encyclopeadia. (Read a 2003 piece he wrote about the tearing down of Warners old western locale Larame Street here.) He not only knows what shoots where but for what film or TV show a certain area of each back lot was built.
Just beyond Stage 14 are several back lot streets still used for film and TV production. I've seen some of these streetscapes on The Mentalist, especially a courthouse facade with plenty of steps. One street away is the exterior set of ER's Chicago County Hospital (above and below), complete with several parked ambulances. A giant walled exterior sits across the way and is on wheels so it can be swung in and out of shots.
One street over, according to Walstad, who knows, is a street or two that was used on the old Dukes of Hazzard series and which was originally built in the '40s for the Ronald Reagan movie King's Row. Ghost Whisperer shoots there now, says Walstad, ever since the fire at Universal Studios destroyed that show's exteriors, as well as a film vault and the King Kong Universal Tours attraction (I can still smell the banana breath).
Besides visiting The Mentalist, the TCA trip also took critics on a tour of the Big Bang Theory set, also on the Warners lot. More on that in another post.