TV's timely new superheroes detect lies, deceit

Thu Jan 15, 2009 2:42pm EST
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By Jill Serjeant

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A new army of heroes is emerging on U.S. television -- not with superhuman strength or the power to fly but the ability to detect lies and deceit in an era of public distrust of civic leaders and institutions.

For years, actor Hugh Laurie's cantankerous but brilliant TV doctor Gregory House has lived by the mantra "Everybody lies."

Now a crop of dramas is showcasing mind-readers, investigators with acute observational powers, psychics and even game show contestants hooked up to lie detectors.

"It is a perennial trend on television where you have the fantasy that someone with eccentric talent will be able to fix a system that is horribly wrong," said Johanna Blakley, a popular culture expert at the University of Southern California's Norman Lear Center.

Declining faith in U.S. institutions stretches back to the Watergate scandal of the 1970s and beyond.

But public trust has been heavily shaken in recent months by the crash of venerable banks, allegations of corruption in the Illinois governor's office and the arrest of accused swindler Bernard Madoff in one of the biggest financial frauds in U.S. history.

American television has responded with "The Mentalist," which boasts the tag line "master manipulator of thought and behavior." The CBS show, starring Australian actor Simon Baker, is now the nation's most-watched new drama and one of the top-10 prime-time shows.

Coming up is "Lie to Me," a series featuring a body-language expert who detects deception involving a wealthy billionaire, a military cover-up and the safety of a collapsed building.   Continued...