Prime Time in Austin
A cunning killer has moved to Austin. No need to panic, though. He’s a fictional murderer from a prime-time TV show.
On the CBS crime drama The Mentalist, the main character — Patrick Jane (Simon Baker), who possesses psychic-like mental abilities — recently took up residence in Austin to work for the FBI. Jane previously lived in Sacramento, California, but the show’s producers wanted to give Jane a fresh start after he tracked down and murdered “Red John,” who killed his wife and daughter.
Two of Jane’s crime-fighting colleagues from Sacramento, Teresa Lisbon (Robin Tunney) and Kimball Cho (Tim Kang), also are stationed at the FBI office in Austin.
"We wanted it to be a city with a distinctive character, a city with some funk to it.” — The Mentalist executive producer Tom Szentgyorgy
Jane agreed to accept the Austin gig with the FBI in exchange for not being charged in the “Red John” case. In the wake of the “Red John” slaying, the show fast-forwarded about two years, with Jane landing in Austin after hiding away on a Spanish-speaking island.
Tom Szentgyorgy, an executive producer for The Mentalist, said he and other producers mulled several cities for Jane’s new locale before settling on Austin.
“We were looking for a city outside California where Patrick Jane could start over. We wanted it to be a city with a distinctive character, a city with some funk to it,” Szentgyorgy said. “At the same time, we wanted it to be a city whose architecture and look weren’t too familiar to television audiences — because, frankly, we continue to shoot our exterior scenes here in Southern California.”
In addition, he said, Jane’s new home base needed to be a city where it made sense for the FBI to maintain a significant presence. (Note: The fictional FBI office in Austin looks much fancier and bigger than the real one.)
Now, Austin will play at least a small part in every episode of The Mentalist. However, it remains to be seen whether any stars of The Mentalist will pop up in Austin.
“Our camera crew will be filming background and establishing shots in Austin, but at the moment there are no plans to film actual scenes there,” Szentgyorgy said. “If a story is good enough and demands it, we’ll make the trip.”
Szentgyorgy said Michael Novotny, the show’s production designer, and Julie Walker, the show’s art director, spent several days in Austin taking photos and getting a feel for the city’s “visual style.”
“That trip informed their design of the FBI office,” he said, “and will guide our choice of new locations to film here in Southern California that are supposed to stand in for Austin.”
The Mentalist, now in its sixth season, airs at 9 pm Sundays on CBS.