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Bringing plausibility to far-fetched TV shows
March 8, 2005
Three new primetime dramas rely on a blind man, a math professor and a psychic to inject their seemingly outlandish premises with the kind of precise details no Hollywood writer could dream up on his own.
Instead of seeing half-baked hokum, TV viewers paying close attention will learn about "touch and go" navigation on ABC's "Blind Justice" while a string of bank robberies in CBS's "NUMB3RS" leads to an arcane reference to the Heisenberg uncertainty principle.
And those visions of dead crime victims that crop up in "Medium" on NBC are, believe it or not, based on experiences described by the show's real-life psychic consultant.
Lynn Manning, an actor who lost his sight 23 years ago, serves as the technical adviser for "Blind Justice," which debuts at 9 tonight on KMGH-Channel 7.

"Someone picked a fight with me in a bar in Hollywood," Manning said. "I reluctantly overpowered the guy and threw him out. He came back a half hour later with a gun and shot me through the eyes. The bullet entered my left eye, went through my sinuses and severed the optic nerve behind my right eye, but didn't cause any brain damage."

A violent attack also launches the story arc for Detective Jim Dunbar (Ron Eldard), who in "Blind Justice" returns to the job with his guide dog after being blinded in a shootout. Co-executive producer Steven Bochco said, "I don't know anything about being blind, so the kind of specific knowledge that Lynn Manning can bring anecdotally you just couldn't figure out yourself."

Manning reviews e-mailed scripts using a software program that translates text into synthesized speech. "I send the producers my notes about what's not realistic or a little over the top. I try to give them that sense of authenticity that a sighted person might not know about."

Offering observations culled from his own experience, Manning said he has helped the writers understand how a blind man uses a restroom and what it's like to translate sound into mental images.

"There are little touches I help out with, like when the detective's wife takes his face to give him a kiss, as opposed to just lips flying in from outer space. For a blind person, that can be very disconcerting: You don't just throw your lips out there at somebody and expect to hit the mark."

In "NUMB3RS" (9 p.m. Fridays on KCNC-Channel 4), the reality check for protagonist Charlie Eppes (David Krumholtz), the math genius who helps solve crimes with his FBI agent brother (Rob Morrow), comes mainly from California Institute Technology math professor Gary Lorden and his colleagues. Cheryl Heuton and Nick Falacci, the husband-and-

wife team behind the series, live just down the street from the university's Pasadena campus.

"When we started doing our research, we decided, why not use reality instead of just making it up?" said Heuton. "And since we were going to use reality, we wanted to get it right by talking to mathematicians about the initial ideas and then adjusting them to make it more real."

Technical adviser Lorden, chairman of the school's math department, is proud that every equation scribbled on screen is textbook perfect. "For one episode," he said, "my colleague Dinakar Ramakrishnan, who's a leading expert in number theory, drew pages and pages of equations that he faxed to the producers, which they then put up on the board. If by chance Caltech mathematicians are watching the show and look at the board, they'll say, oh yeah, that looks real."

Where "NUMB3RS" counts on rigorously logical academic experts, "Medium" (9 p.m. Mondays on KUSA-Channel 9) calls on the impossible-to-quantify skill set possessed by psychic Allison DuBois. Officially listed as the show's consultant she also serves as role model for star Patricia Arquette. Mirroring DuBois' life, Arquette plays 30-something medium "Allison DuBois," married to a rocket scientist who is trying to balance her caseload as a ESP-endowed law student with the demands of raising three similarly gifted daughters.

"Medium" creator and co-executive producer Glenn Gordon Caron admits he was skeptical when Paramount Television's then-president, Garry Hart, suggested DuBois as inspiration for a show about a woman who solves crimes by communicating with the dead.

"Garry called me up and said, 'Do you believe any of this stuff? I told him, I'm probably more a cynic than anything else. But I know a good story when I hear one."

But after meeting DuBois over lunch, Caron was intrigued. Using her autobiographical manuscript ("Don't Kiss Them Goodbye," out next month on Simon & Schuster) to create the slightly fictionalized "Medium" premise, he has continued to pepper his prescient muse with follow-up questions.

Said DuBois, "Glen will call me, and I'll be grocery shopping, and he'll say, 'What does it look like when you look through the eyes of a killer?' So I have to pull my cart over and tell him what that looks like."

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