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The Boston Globe

Television

Critic’s Notebook

Why serial killers draw a following on TV

Last fall, Mandy Patinkin explained why he abruptly left the CBS series “Criminal Minds” in 2007. “It was very destructive to my soul and my personality,” he said about working on a weekly procedural obsessed with the warped thinking of serial killers. “Audiences all over the world use this programming as their bedtime story,” he added as a bit of social commentary. “This isn’t what you need to be dreaming about.”

Looks like many American TV viewers don’t agree with Patinkin, despite the fact that he’s the mensch of the century as Saul on “Homeland.” We kind of, sort of, love serial killers, who surface all over the “dial,” most recently on Fox’s nascent hit, “The Following” and the CW’s “Cult.” Patinkin or no Patinkin, “Criminal Minds” has remained in Nielsen’s weekly Top 15 for five of its eight seasons. Twenty-two years after its release, “The Silence of the Lambs” has become a defining influence on programming, as these series probe the magnetic dynamic between detectives and serial killers. NBC, aware of that trend, is returning to the source on April 4 with “Hannibal,” in which Hugh Dancy’s FBI agent turns to Mads Mikkelsen’s Lecter every week for assistance.

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