LOS ANGELES—Ever since Thomas Harris, author of "Red Dragon" and "The Silence of the Lambs," created the charming, erudite and thoroughly vicious serial killer Dr. Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter, movies and television have become enamored of crawling into the twisted minds of criminals.
More than once, an intrepid detective has run into trouble when his imaginative forays into the thought patterns of psychopaths began to bleed over into his own thoughts and actions.
Often overlooked in all of this is the crime victim, who is frequently reduced to a brutalized corpse (in a state of undress, if it's an attractive female) whose death serves only to illuminate the fascinating motives and methods of the murderer.
The new NBC drama "Raines," premiering Thursday, March 15 (it also airs Thursday, March 22, before moving to its regular Friday slot), turns that idea on its head by going into the head of its title character. It's the creation of Canadian-born Graham Yost, a newly minted American citizen, whose movie credits include "Speed" and whose TV credits include "Band of Brothers" and NBC's critically acclaimed but short-lived crime drama "Boomtown."
"That was a real consideration for me," he says, "with the notion of this being a victim-centric show. There's something about that that I find very appealing."
Jeff Goldblum -- in his first TV starring role since the short-lived ABC mystery series "Tenspeed and Brown Shoe" in 1980 -- stars as LAPD Detective Michael Raines, whose unique imaginative faculties are starting to border on mental illness.
He has always imagined conversations with murder victims as a way to solve crimes, but now these figments are turning into full-blown auditory and visual hallucinations, which change and evolve as Raines learns more about their lives and deaths. And when the crime is solved, the hallucinations fade away.
"I'm always happy when they go," Goldblum says, "because I wish this whole thing would leave me, because I don't want to get on medication. I don't think you can be a cop and be on medication. It's a big thing. So I would like them to all leave, even though it's a helpful thing.
"But I've always done that anyway. They called me a creative and intuitive and a kind of unusual cop where this was a big part of my crime-solving thing where I would imagine the victim and kind of break myself in two and `talk' to them.
"But now this thing is tough."
Also starring in "Raines" are Matt Craven as Raines' boss, Capt. Daniel Lewis; Dov Davidoff as gruff Officer Remi Boyer; Linda Park as Officer Michelle Lance, Boyer's long-suffering partner; Nicole Sullivan as sharp-tongued civilian employee Carolyn Crumley; Malik Yoba as Charlie Lincoln, Raines' former partner; and, introduced in a future episode, Madeleine Stowe as Raines' therapist, Samantha Kohl.
The idea for "Raines" didn't begin with something Yost heard that real cops did, but instead with something he did.
"For me, it came partly out of my experiences as a writer," Yost says. "I imagine characters. I have conversations with them as I'm sitting at the computer, imagining, how is this scene going to go, what sounds right. I didn't realize, but that's something homicide detectives do as well. So it seemed to have resonance.
"When our technical adviser said, 'Yeah, this is something we do; you try and have a conversation with the victim,' I thought, 'Wow, I was just making that up.'
"Of course, if they're actually seeing the person, then they're in deep trouble."
Also, the device of the internal conversation allows Yost and his fellow writers to not only reveal things about the victim but about Raines as well.
"The whole notion," Yost says, "is that, with Raines, it's a gift and a curse. All he sees is curse initially, but like any truly cynical person, he's also a true romantic at heart.
"He's a guy who says he doesn't care, and he cares more than anyone. That's the secret to him being a great detective, and that's also why he sees victims in his head."
There's also one crime victim from Raines' past who keeps coming back, even though the case is apparently resolved.
"It's very provocative," Goldblum says, "because I have this deal with the other victims whereby if I solve their crimes, they'll go. And there's always something else. There's always some other unresolved personal thing, and it turns out that I care very deeply that they've been killed.
"It's always a tragic, awful kind of thing. I care deeply about it, even though I pretend to be cynical, to help them and bring at least their last unfortunate circumstances to justice and to resolution.
"But he keeps coming back, and I don't know why. ... There's something mysterious about him and what else needs to be resolved and why he is still in my imagination life."
One other hurdle "Raines" must overcome is the necessity of becoming a hit in only seven episodes, instead of the usual initial order of 13. Yost reveals that was a practical, not creative, decision.
"What NBC really wants me to do now is talk about the fact that it is the poor network," Yost quips. "And it's true. This is a way to save money, frankly. And we've got seven great episodes. This is a show that is different. This is not just part of an ongoing franchise. It's not 'Law & Order,' 'CSI.'
"This is a very distinct show, and either people are going to like it or they're not."