With three successful dramas featuring psychics on the air -- USA Network's "The Dead Zone," NBC's "Medium" and CBS' "Ghost Whisperer" -- it's no surprise that somebody has decided to put a twist on the concept.
So, take these shows, toss in a bit of Court TV's "Psychic Detectives," stir in a little Sherlock Holmes, turn the whole thing around 180 degrees, and you've got "Psych," premiering with its 90-minute pilot Friday, July 7, on USA.
Created by Steve Franks ("Big Daddy," "I Dream of Jeannie"), the lighthearted mystery drama stars James Roday ("The Dukes of Hazzard") as Shawn Spencer, whose father, a Santa Barbara, Calif., police officer (Corbin Bernsen), has drilled him in the fine art of observation -- for example, knowing how many people are wearing hats in a room and what kind -- in hopes that his son will grow up to go into the family business.
Shawn drifts away into a series of random jobs, but all the while he's employing his father's lessons by studying crimes and calling in tips to police. When one of his tips strikes too close to the truth, Shawn is arrested as an accomplice. Using his charm and talent -- and with some help from his childhood best friend, Gus (Dule Hill), a pharmaceutical sales rep -- Shawn convinces the cops that his information came from psychic abilities.
After this success, Shawn decides to exploit his allegedly supernatural skills and recruits Gus for a new detective agency called Psych.
"My dad and his three brothers are all police officers," Franks says. "The only job in the world was to be a police officer, so I chose a different path. I thought about taking that a little further. When I was a kid, [my dad and I] would be in a restaurant. He would actually ask me how many people were wearing hats in the restaurant. He was training me in his own way to follow his footsteps. Then, of course, I chose the one profession he has no concept of in the world.
"So I brought that idea forward. I always wanted to do something with a guy who is pretending to be psychic and had no psychic abilities, but just had a great grasp of details and has basically been trained to see and read people in such a way that he can just pass that off as psychic ability."
Coming off the critically acclaimed drama "The West Wing," Hill faced the challenge of finding a new show that lived up to that.
"Being educated as to what good writing was," he says, "I've gotten to a place where I'm able to recognize it. This was like, 'This is good. It's different, but it's good.' I didn't feel like I was taking a step down ... as an actor. I'm definitely excited about it."
Just don't call Gus a "sidekick."
"He gets offended by anything that alludes to him being a sidekick," Hill says.
"I don't think Gus is a sidekick at all," Roday says. "Without him, Shawn can't do what he does."
For example, in the pilot, Gus provides a crucial bit of pharmaceutical knowledge.
"In each case," Hill says, "he somehow has a piece of it."
"He's like an encyclopedia of useless knowledge," Roday says, "that oddly becomes useful every week."
"Because Gus is a big undercover nerd," Hill says. "He's like a walking oxymoron. He's cool, but when you start talking to him, you're like, 'That doesn't really add up.' He's like, 'Everybody knows about that.' 'No, no, nobody knows that.'"
"It's that Gus thing," Roday says. "With each episode, we're learning about another kind of subculture that Gus is into."
For all the usual financial reasons, "Psych" shoots in Vancouver, British Columbia, even though it's set in Santa Barbara, Calif. This sort of reverses a common problem of shooting in Los Angeles, which is avoiding palm trees if you don't want them. In this case, you're adding palm trees where there aren't any.
"We have eight [palm trees]," Franks says, "and they go to every set. And when I say that, I mean that literally."
"They just got worse," Roday says. "They were literally becoming more and more dilapidated as we went along. Everywhere we went, they flew in the palm trees."
Despite its reputation for being rain-soaked, Vancouver is actually fairly sunny in the spring and summer, which is when "Psych" is filming its regular episodes. This didn't help in the pilot, which was shot last fall.
"On the pilot," Roday says, "I think they spent as much money digitally correcting the pilot because of all the rain we were fighting, that it probably ended up costing just about the same as if we were shooting in Los Angeles."
USA hopes that "Psych" will be a good companion for its other lighthearted Friday mystery show "Monk," about an obsessive-compulsive detective. While the star of that show, Tony Shalhoub, shares a much milder form of his character's persnickety habits, Roday regrets that the same can't be said of him. He recalls going on a recent shopping trip for his new Vancouver apartment with his girlfriend.
"We were at the store, and she's like, 'There's a lot of great frozen stuff that you can heat up in 10 minutes.' I'm like, 'You know what, I don't have a microwave, so it's kind of pointless.'
"So we got home -- and I've been in this place for a week already -- it's not just a microwave, it's right above the stove, in the middle of the kitchen. It's almost as big as the stove itself."
"Wow," Hill says, "you don't take a character home, do you? That's going to be the joke when the show does well. People are going to be like, 'Hey, what kind of shoes does that lady have on?'"
"I'm behind the eight ball on that," Roday says, "so I'll have to kick it into gear."
USA Plans to 'Psych' You Out
James Roday on 'Psych'
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