Nellie Andreeva

The Golden HammerWith The Mentalist‘s future at CBS in serious doubt, I hear the studio behind the veteran drama, Warner Bros TV, has been quietly shopping the series to other networks, garnering some preliminary interest from broadcast and cable. Taking in a 6-year-old high-end drama is not an easy proposition, but WBTV is ready to explore every possible avenue — that’s how important a property The Mentalist is to the studio with its $2 million-plus-per-episode off-network deal at TNT and big international sales including France, where it is the No. 1 scripted series.

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In a situation like that, having a sibling network comes in handy. CBS stepped in when NBC cancelled CBS Studios-produced drama Medium after five seasons, keeping the series and its lucrative off-network deal alive for two more years. When NBC was exploring ending Law & Order: Criminal Intent after six seasons, the series, produced by NBCUniversal, instead moved to sibling USA, which already was carrying CI reruns. The Law & Order spinoff ended up going for four more seasons. The Mentalist wouldn’t be a fit for the only WBTV-affiliated broadcast network, the young skewing CW, making cable sibling TNT the best possible option. Like with L&O: CI and USA, TNT already is the off-network home of The Mentalist and has a slate of crime procedurals. However, the net has been pulling away from the genre lately, putting an emphasis on action-adventure fare in the vein of Falling Skies with such shows as the upcoming The Last Ship and Legends, and I hear it might not be interested in picking up The Mentalist originals (though parent Time Warner could conceivably intervene if the larger company’s financial interest is at stake). Among the major broadcast networks, ABC is said to be open to considering a pickup though it is expected to evaluate its own development first. The network has had success with a similar comedic procedural, Castle, and it also has struggled launching dramas at 10 PM for the past couple of seasons.

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When The Mentalist premiered in 2008, it drew comparisons to USA‘s Psych, also a light crime procedural about a fake psychic helping the police. Psych just ended its eight-season run, so there is a vacancy there. But, like TNT, USA too has been moving away from character-based procedurals as it has been showing affinity for edgier dramas, and I hear it likely would not be pursuing The Mentalist. WGN America recently picked up off-network rights to three CBS crime dramas, Elementary, Blue Bloods and WBTV-produced Person of Interest, though the up-and-coming cable network also doesn’t appear to be in the running for The Mentalist. Broadcaster ION — which will share Blue Bloods with WGN and also is the off-network home to such series as Criminal Minds and Psych – could be a possibility, probably in a second-window situation.

Mentalist-season6-newsloganWhat a network would be acquiring in The Mentalist is a show toplined by a TV star in Simon Baker that comes with a built-in average of more than 11 million viewers and a relatively fresh setup as the series just underwent a successful creative reboot after wrapping the 5 1/2-season-long Red John mystery. However, I hear Baker, who commands a big paycheck, only has a deal for one more season after this, meaning that the studio would have to renegotiate a new contract with him so the show can run on another network for multiple seasons. According to insiders, that is doable.

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The Mentalist started off as a CBS darling, landing the post-NCIS Tuesday PM slot for its launch before moving to Thursdays 10 PM. But after four seasons on Thursday, the series was moved to the Sunday 10 PM slot. Despite often airing outside of primetime because of sports overruns, The Mentalist averages a 2.1 rating among adults 18-49 season to date, outrating its Sunday night lead-in The Good Wife in the demo. The Good Wife, which is critically praised and owned by CBS, already has been renewed for next season, along with 19 other programs for next season, including 8 drama series. It is that very crowded shelf space that has put The Mentalist in jeopardy. I hear the show has released its writers, allowing them to pursue alternative employment. But WBTV would keep pushing for a pickup, at CBS or elsewhere. The Mentalist creator/showrunner Bruno Heller is expected to segue to the Fox Batman prequel series Gotham, but there is a transition plan in place, with one of his lieutenants positioned to take over if The Mentalist continues.

TV Editor Nellie Andreeva - tip her here.