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Simon Baker

It doesn't take a mind reader to know that television psychics probably aren't going to like "The Mentalist" (9 p.m., Ch. 2). The new CBS series is about a former phony TV psychic who's now using his powers for good.

Patrick Jane (Simon Baker, "The Guardian") was a successful fraud, hosting his own TV show and pretending to speak to people's dead loved ones. But when his family is murdered by a serial killer, he signs on as a police investigator, using the same amazing powers of observation that he once used to deceive people to solve crimes.

It's sort of like the cable series "Psych," in which a guy pretends to be a psychic and uses his amazing powers of observation to solve crimes. But "The Mentalist" isn't pretending to be a psychic (any more); he's just using his amazing powers to solve crimes.

Executive producer Bruce Heller insists "the show doesn't take sides" on whether any TV psychics are actually, well, psychic.

"We're playing with that fine line in the middle," he said. "What's fascinating to me about that world is that the skills that fake psychics use to pretend to be psychics are in many ways more extraordinary and more fascinating than the skills they're faking, if you see what I mean.

"The human mind is an amazing thing. And what Patrick Jane does with natural abilities is more extraordinary than talking to ghosts."

The premiere of "The Mentalist" is sort of an old-fashioned whodunit. And, the producers promise, if you're really paying attention, the clues are all there for you to figure it out for yourself.

"A lot of crime shows that are on television these days, the truth is found under a microscope with some scientific fact. 'Oh, it's in the DNA,"' Baker said. "On this show, we're trying to focus on finding the truth in the fabric of human nature."

"We're making the audience active in the process of unfolding the mystery rather than allowing the microscope to do it, I guess," Heller said.

"The Mentalist" is not, however, "Murder, She Wrote." The storyline in tonight's episode is a tale of adultery and violence, with more than a bit of blood. And that serial-killer aspect — which apparently will continue beyond the end of the first season (assuming the show lasts that long) — has been, um, done to death.

Plus, while Baker is charming, the jury it out on the rest of the cast.

But "The Mentalist" gets off to a surprisingly strong start.

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Now you don't have to go to a game show — the game show will come to you.

On ABC's "Opportunity Knocks" (7 p.m., Ch. 4), lucky families get an early morning knock on their door and, that night, they're playing for big bucks and great prizes on a huge set assembled in their front yards.

Families on the show are pre-screened. They know they might be chosen as contestants, but they don't know if they will be chosen, so the surprise is more-or-less genuine.

"And you could call it whatever you want," said host JD Roth. "If you knock on someone's door and tell them they're going (have a chance) to win $250,000, they're going to be excited."

The producers have interviewed family members' bosses, teachers — even the mailman — to formulate questions specific to that family. Questions about things in their house and questions about each other.

Yes, it's embarrassing, but in a kinder, gentler sort of way.

"If you can succeed without hurting people, I think that's always better," said executive producer Ashton Kutcher, whose company also produced the surprisingly sweet "Beauty and the Geek." "I believe that you always have to have compassion before you have judgment, and any time you have judgment without compassion, it will fall apart. You might get a big pop really quick, but I feel like eventually that energy will dissolve, and so we always try to instill some universal compassion into the shows that we do."

He admits the first TV reality show he produced, "Punk'd," was out of a different mold and "really went for all the bang, all the bang, all the bang."

"In this show and 'Beauty and the Geek,' I think that the heart of the show to us is just as important," Kutcher said. "I think you can make entertainment without being destructive, and that's what this show is about."

And, by the way, "Opportunity Knocks" is kind of fun, too.


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