When Dr. Cal Lightman, Tim Roth’s character on the new Fox show “Lie to Me,” questions a suspect, he doesn’t use psychic powers or mentalism or even dramatically excessive force to get his answers. In fact, the suspect doesn’t even need to speak. “I don’t have much faith in words, myself,” Lightman says in the opening scene.
Concealed microexpressions, a one-sided shrug, maintaining eye contact — these are the clues used by Lightman and his team of behavioral psychologists on “Lie to Me,” premiering at 8 tonight on WFLD-Channel 32.
Roth plays yet another inappropriately witty, overly intelligent rogue who uses unorthodox techniques to solve mysteries — much in the vein of “Medium,” “Psych,” “The Mentalist” and, to some extent, “House.”
“Lie to Me” executive producer Steven Maeda said the show’s creator, playwright Samuel Baum, “had previously been doing a story about lies and came across the research of Dr. Paul Ekman, who he went on to contact. He became fascinated with Paul’s studies of non-verbal communication over the past 40 years.”
The similarities to CBS’ hit “The Mentalist” took a competitive turn last week when “Lie” actor Brendan Hines told reporters that compared to his show, the approach of “The Mentalist’s” super-observant crime solver Patrick Jane is “more of a scam.”
Maeda takes a more diplomatic approach. “ ‘The Mentalist’ is a great show, and we’d love to have their audience,” he said. “I feel like both shows can exist. The way I think viewers will see the shows as different is that our show is firmly grounded in science. Our main characters are scientists. It’s not so much about intuition as it is about applying Dr. Ekman’s science.”
The “Lie to Me” crew seems to have taken a note from the book of Al Gore: Scientists equal legitimacy. But, in all fairness, the techniques used on “Lie to Me” are based on real-life methods developed by Ekman at the University of California, San Francisco. A scientific consultant on “Lie to Me” and the author of Telling Lies: Clues to Deceit in the Marketplace, Politics and Marriage, Ekman is considered by many to be the father of the study of deception detection.
“The thing I love about this show is that you are not locked into being a law show or being a cop show or having to do a homicide or a certain type of crime every week. The Lightman Group could be hired by absolutely anybody,” Maeda said. “The show’s topics range from assassination attempts to terrorist attacks to a billionaire who wants to know if his girlfriend loves him or his money.”
Viewers may even learn a useful — possibly dangerously useful — talent if they do their homework. “Dr. Ekman’s science,” Maeda said, “is all about being able to read emotions from people and trying to figure out why the person is lying or why the person is showing a type of emotion that doesn’t seem right for the situation.”