Telling the truth about 'Lie to Me'
No lie, FOX has a good feeling about the new drama Lie to Me. How good? The network has given the series a prime Wednesday night berth in January after a little show called American Idol. Series creator Samuel Baum recently chatted with reporters to whet some appetites.
"It's incredibly exciting," Baum says of the post-Idol time slot. "I feel like this is a show that has interest for a wide, wide audience because it's about something that affects our every day life, which is lying. The average person statistically tells three lies per ten minutes of conversation is what the research shows. And so it's such an integral part of every day life for everyone, but the issue of lying and the science of emotion of learning to recognize how do people in your life really feel and really think that it's very exciting to have the possibility of reaching a broad audience."
Lie to Me stars Tim Roth as Dr. Cal Lightman, an expert in deception analysis, which is to say that he knows when you're telling the truth an he knows when you're lying (a bit like Santa Claus, only with crime-fighting, instead of presents). The character is based on real-life specialist Dr. Paul Ekman.
"I've spent close to a year with Paul now," Baum says of Ekman, who will serve as a consultant on the drama. "The amazing thing about Paul's work, it focuses on four areas, which you'll learn about in the show, which is the study of the human face, the body, the voice and speech. And just focusing on the face for a moment, the remarkable thing about this work is that we all show emotion the same way. There are seven basic emotions of anger, fear, surprise, disgust, contempt, we show them all identically, whether you're a suburban housewife in the OC or you're a Saudi sheik in Saudi Arabia. So it's a universal phenomenon, the science, and that's why I feel it can really reach a broad audience."
Again with the conviction that Lie to Me can reach a broad audience! I'd offer some sort of corroborating evidence, but Lie to Me won't premiere until Jan. 21 and FOX hasn't sent out screeners. That left Baum spending a lot of time explaining what, exactly, the series is.
On Lie to Me, The Lightman Group assist federal law enforcement, government agencies and local police in solving crime. But the show won't be strictly a week-to-week whodunit procedural.
"The mysteries that we tell are psychological mysteries, where we ask the question: Why is that person showing this emotion? Why does someone who is told they're about to be rescued from the edge of calamity suddenly show more fear than before they were told they were going to be saved?" Baum promises. "So the mysteries are psychological and emotional. I'd say this is not a show where the reason why someone is lying is because they robbed the bank. This is not a show about the search for a criminal, it's about the search for human truth. So they'll definitely be emotional and dramatic, but there's also a huge amount of comedy."
To clarify the role of the investigation team (which also includes Kelli Williams, Brendan Hines and Monica Raymund), Baum adds, "Frequently they work with the police, but they will tend to focus on cases where there isn't physical evidence that can tell you what happened. So they're really the most difficult cases to crack because there are only people to talk to as opposed to physical evidence and DNA and those sort of things that you would see on a traditional crime show."
Lightman's powers are helpful, but they can also be a bit inconvenient in different situations, which might explain the distinctly House-esque vibe from the show's early promotional campaign.
"[I]magine what it would be like to go through your life knowing when anyone was being dishonest with you, from your wife or your husband to your children to your colleagues at work. It is a terrible curse and a great blessing. Dr. Lightman is continuously in this situation of TMI, of just too much information, because he can read what you are feeling and often what you are thinking at any time. So obviously, yes, he's a very unwelcome dinner guest in many circles."
Last spring, FOX had a wave of success with a different show about lying, an unscripted show that also capitalized on the powerful American Idol halo effect. Baum is able to clarify the difference between the science of Moment of Truth and the science of Lie to Me.
"[T]he thing about the polygraph is that it's very reliable at telling you if someone is anxious, but what it's not telling you is why that person is anxious," he says. "And the real reason why, there's a strong psychological mystery at the heart of every episode is that determining if someone is lying is just the beginning of our story. The real question is why is someone lying? Is someone lying because they committed the crime they're being accused of? Is someone lying to protect someone else? Is there a secret that's unrelated to the crime that they're so ashamed of that will come out if they tell the truth that they're forced to lie? So the human element of our team of deception experts creates a whole other level from just simply a machine that tells you if someone is feeling an increase in emotion, which is what the polygraph does."
Other highlights from Baum's chat with the press:
On what attracted him to the concept of the series: "I'd been doing a lot of writing about lying, lies in family life, lies in political life, and I started to do some research into the science of lying and I very quickly came across Paul's work. I was just completely fascinated about all aspects of it, from lying in gender and learning about the differences between what men lie about versus what women lie about, you know, which is that men, the most common lies are lies of self-aggrandizement, trying to make themselves seem better than we are as opposed to women who the most common lie is a lie of social lubrication, of trying to make others feel okay. Starting there and then getting really into the deception work, I was just completely fascinated by the idea that you could tell if someone was lying just by looking at them without their saying a word."
On the show's at-home applications: "One of the exciting things about the show is that people who watch Lie To Me will actually learn not only to recognize when people are lying to them, but will recognize when people in their lives are hiding emotion in some way. So you can imagine what it would be like to have a heightened sense of when someone is secretly sexually attracted to you or secretly jealous, and literally the truth is written on all our faces. It's there to see if you're quick enough and perceptive enough to catch these microexpressions, which one can be trained in as little as two hours to recognize."
On how the show has impacted his own prevarications: "I think I'm much more aware, I'm much more aware if I am lying or not revealing the full truth and that's another important piece of the show, which is the stories we're going to tell are going to frequently create situations where there's a big cost not only to lying, but where there's a real cost to telling the truth. We don't live in a world where honesty is always the best policy. As grownups, we've all come to realize that there are times when lying is the right thing to do when there isn't another option. That's the territory that the show is going to explore is really asking the question: when is lying the right thing to do?"
On Roth signing on for his first American TV series: "Well, he had initially passed on the project, because he had said he would not, I don't know whether he had read the script or not, but he was not interested in television. Then we went to lunch over a year ago, the two of us, and he laid out all the reasons why he was not going to do television and then I told him all about Paul's work and about the show, and I think together with Brian Grazer and the team at Imagine he suddenly got bitten by the bug of this science and started to do some research and see both the extraordinary power of this science and what it does when you learn to recognize what other people are feeling and often what they're thinking all around you. And then I think he became interested in playing a character who would have to deal with this highly unusual condition of knowing what other people are feeling and often thinking all around him."