the pulse

Star's exit more drama than CBS bargained for

You know these must be challenging times at CBS when we're reduced to paraphrasing sappy Barry Manilow tunes to describe the network's current predicament, but here goes: "Oh Mandy, you came and you left without giving (notice) … and we need ya today … oh Mandy!"

In one of the more perplexing stories of the summer (or any summer), the mystery of Mandy Patinkin's decision to ditch "Criminal Minds" — the successful CBS drama in which he starred — last week after two seasons remains, as of this writing, unsolved. Patinkin, ABC Studios and CBS Paramount Network Television explained in a statement that the abrupt departure stemmed from "creative differences."

Then on Wednesday, CBS Entertainment president Nina Tassler explained to a roomful of TV critics at the Beverly Hilton that, well, "'creative differences' is a euphemism for 'personal issues'" — condescendingly punctuating her answer by giving the questioner a wink. When the critic wondered what the wink was about, Tassler replied cheekily, "I think you get it."

Oh sure, as clearly as it's possible to get a euphemism describing another euphemism in explaining why a star might turn his back on millions of dollars and a couple of hundred crew members who depend on this series for their livelihood.

Deepening the weirdness further, "Criminal Minds" exec producer and showrunner Ed Bernero opened up on Patinkin with both barrels in a New York Times piece, admitting to a reporter that he's as stumped as everyone else. "The fact is that 16 million people watch this show, and he walked away from all of them and from us without explanation."

Has Patinkin lost his marbles? We might uncover a clue in the actor's somewhat less-bizarre but equally premature departure from the 1990s CBS medical drama "Chicago Hope."

I had occasion to interview Patinkin during the first season of "Chicago Hope" (1994-95). He seemed oddly at peace with the fact that "ER" was then cleaning "Hope's" clock and he'd surely soon be back on a plane to New York and the loving embrace of his wife and kids, where he knew he belonged. The series would survive to enjoy a long run; Patinkin, however, would leave partway into the second season.

This latest of the actor's defections from a CBS series underscores the point that in the world of Mandy Patinkin, there is only one thing worse than being part of a TV series that fails miserably: starring on one that's successful.

Being tied down isn't in the Patinkin DNA. He likes to get out there and sing, dance and cavort onstage and do lots of things he can't do if he's tethered to a soundstage Monday thru Friday from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. It probably wreaks serious havoc with his family life.

But hey, them's the breaks, you know? I'm guessing that somewhere north of 99% of the SAG membership would take that deal in a heartbeat. If Patinkin has a problem with the grind, perhaps he should never accept a job on a weekly TV hour in the first place. Of course, this current situation could be about something else entirely. Nobody seems to know squat. So think of this as an educated guess.

The real tragedy here has nothing to do with how it might impact the future of Mandy Patinkin, Erratic TV Star. It's the possible implosion of a series and loss of so many steady jobs due to the impulsiveness and bloated self-interest of one man who evidently views contracts as mere suggestions.