New York Times
February 27, 2005
By HUGH HART
WHAT do a blind man, a math professor and a psychic have in common?
They are all consultants to new prime-time series, responsible for
injecting seemingly outlandish plots with the kind of details no
Hollywood writer could dream of.
A string of bank robberies in "Numbers" (Fridays at 10 p.m. on CBS)
leads to an arcane reference to the Heisenberg uncertainty principle.
Those visions of dead crime victims that crop up in "Medium" (Mondays
at 10 on NBC) are, believe it or not, based on experiences described
by the show's real-life psychic. And in "Blind Justice," a new ABC
series that has its premiere at
10 p.m. on March 8, attentive viewers will learn about "touch and go"
Lynn Manning, a playwright, actor, Paralympic silver medalist and
former blind judo champion of the world, serves as the technical
adviser for "Blind Justice." Mr. Manning, who appeared off Broadway
last January in "Weights," an autobiographical one-man show, lost his
sight when he was 23. "Someone picked a fight with me in a bar in
Hollywood," Mr. Manning recalled. "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. So that's where my story as a blind man
A violent attack also begins the story arc for Detective Jim Dunbar
(Ron Eldard), who, in "Blind Justice," returns to the job with his
Seeing Eye dog after being blinded in a shootout.
"I don't know anything about being blind," said Steven Bochco,
co-executive producer of the series, "so the kind of specific
knowledge that Lynn Manning can bring anecdotally, you just couldn't
figure out yourself."
Mr. 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," he said.
"I try to give them that sense of authenticity that a sighted
person might not know about."
Offering observations culled from his own experience, Mr. Manning
said, he has helped the writers understand how, exactly, 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 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."
Unless, of course you are psychic, like Allison DuBois, in which case
the space-time continuum is a little warped anyway. Ms. DuBois is the
consultant for "Medium," a series that mirrors her life as an
ESP-endowed law student, the mother of three daughters whom she
believes are similarly gifted and the wife of a rocket scientist. She
also serves as role model for Patricia Arquette, who plays the
"Patricia hung out at my house and took notes the whole time to learn
about the process," Ms. DuBois said. When Ms. Arquette asked for a
reading, the actress got more than she bargained for: her father, who
died four years ago, appeared to Ms. DuBois in a vision. "I brought
her dad through - he had a clown nose on," Ms. DuBois said
matter-of-factly. "I told Patricia, he keeps talking about this clown
nose. She laughed and said her dad used to put a clown nose on to
cheer her up. At his funeral, she ordered 150 clown noses, and
everyone wore them. That was an obscure piece of information that
meant nothing to me but meant everything to her."
Glenn Gordon Caron, co-executive producer of the series, admits he
was skeptical when Garry Hart, president of Paramount Network
Television until last September, suggested Ms. 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.'"
After meeting Ms. DuBois over lunch, Mr. Caron was intrigued. Using
her autobiographical manuscript, "Don't Kiss Them Goodbye" (to be
published next month by Simon & Schuster), he created the slightly
fictionalized "Medium" premise. And Mr. Caron continues to pepper his
prescient muse with follow-up questions.
"Glenn 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?'"
Ms. DuBois said, "So I have to pull my cart over and tell him what
that looks like."
The reality-check for Charlie Eppes, the "Numbers" protagonist played
by David Krumholtz, comes mainly from Gary Lorden, chairman of the
math department at the California Institute of Technology, and his
colleagues. Cheryl Heuton and Nick Falacci, the husband-and-wife team
who are co-creators and co-executive producers of the series, live
just down the street from Caltech's Pasadena campus. "When we started
doing our research, we decided, why not use reality instead of just
making it up?" Ms. Heuton said. "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."
Mr. Krumholtz's character is a math genius who helps solve crimes
with his F.B.I.-agent brother (Rob Morrow). As the series's official
math consultant, Dr. Lorden takes pride in the fact 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 writers, 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.'"
Mathematicians from across the country also contribute ideas. Ed
Witten, a scholar at Princeton University's Institute for Advanced
Study, pitched a story idea after he received a "Numbers" script from
his brother Matt, a TV writer.
"Ed sent our script back along with an episode idea, which we used,
telling us we should do something about a rogue mathematician who
tries to crack Internet security by solving the Riemann hypothesis,"
Ms. Heuton recalled.
Dr. Lorden scrutinizes the dialogue, he said, to make sure the
characters in "Numbers" talk like real mathematicians. "You don't
call it 'Riemann's hypothesis' - it's 'the Riemann hypothesis.' One
of the things you do as a technical adviser is to give it the ring of
the true sound."