|Solving crime by the Numb3rs
Will new show sustain viewers after premiere?
by M. McDaniel, Houston Chronicle, Jan. 20, 2005
|LOS ANGELES - With a sterling cast, a fortuitous time slot and the name Ridley Scott behind it, the
procedural drama series Numb3rs is certain to rack up big numbers when it premieres Sunday on CBS. But
whether viewers will tune in to subsequent episodes beyond its confusing debut -- well, that's a
head-scratcher requiring further number-crunching and analysis.
In the series opener, which debuts after the conclusion of the AFC Championship game between New
England and Pittsburgh, the sweeping motion of a lawn sprinkler figures into the capture of a serial killer.
FBI agent Don Eppes (Rob Morrow) and his crime-fighting team are having no luck in finding the villain.
Eppes turns to his brother Charlie (David Krumholtz), a math genius, who believes he can devise a
mathematical formula that will pinpoint the killer's home or work address. He is inspired by the motion of a
sprinkler in coming up with that formula.
If tha sounds like a high-concept premise, Numb3rs creators Nick Falacci and Cheryl Heuton insist that it's
not unusual for math to be used in solving crimes.
"This is now at the cutting edge of criminal investigation," said Falacci.
"Profiling is all math," said Heuton. "Predictive analysis is all math."
But will ordinary viewers find that concept alluring? Enough so that they return to the show when it
launches in its regular time slot, 9 p.m. Fridays? In future episodes, mathematics will figure in cases
involving disease outbreak, counterfeiting, sports gambling, witness identification, train sabotage and the
accuracy of fingerprints.
If the mathematical portion of the series is confounding, the show's producers, including Ridley and Tony
Scott, can always fall back on personal relationships.
Charlie, for example, will frequently consult his physicist friend, Dr. Larry Fleinhardt (Peter MacNicol). Don
will have the professional relationship with colleagues Terry Lake (Sabrina Lloyd) and David Sinclair (Alimi
Ballard). And both brothers will be seen at home; father Alan Eppes (Judd Hirsch) is happy to see his sons
working together even though he doesn't understand what Charlie does for a living.
Servicing all these characters adds to the confusion in Sunday's hourlong opener, in my opinion.
But what do I know? Viewers are enthralled with crime procedurals, as evidenced by the numb3rs of people
who tune in CSI, Law & Order and their clones. And it apparently doesn't matter if those shows are
high-concept, as the success of Medium is proving.
"I don't think anybody has to understand all the mathematics in this in order to be interested in it," said
Hirsch. In fact, one of the reasons he signed on was because he felt Numb3rs wasn't formulaic.
"This one is not a talking-heads crime drama," he said. "It's not about people who simply interview people.
The only formulas in this are the things they write on blackboards.
For Hirsch, best known to TV viewers for his role in the long-running comedy Taxi, the show sort of brings
his job full circle. Not only did his television career begin with detective drama (1975's The Law), but, also,
he majored in physics in college.
"I've always wanted to be in something intelligently based," he said. "If it was about astronomy, I would
have joined it in five seconds. If it was about space, I would have been there. I just loved that this was
going to be based not only on mathematics but also on something you didn't truly have to understand."
MacNicol (Ally McBeal) was intrigued by the character he was asked to portray.
"This character is very mysterious," he said. "He's a little bit Yoda, a little bit (physicist) Richard Feynman, a
little bit Dr. Watson. It was probably the third in a series of people (I've portrayed) who I would call a wise
fool. It's appealing in that I don't know what is going on with this character. I don't understand his precise
function in the story."
All of the actors -- Krumholtz and Morrow included -- were thrilled with the idea of working with Ridley Scott.
Though he's best known for his films (Gladiator, Alien, Thelma and Louise), the director got his start in
television, working for the BBC during the days of live drama productions.
"We're familiar with television ground," he said. "We just haven't touched yet on a television series., which
I find the most fascinating because there you have real character and story development, something you
cannot do in feature films."