The television series ‘Lie to Me’, based on the work of Paul Ekman, aired on the FOX network from 2009 to 2011. It ran for three seasons (a total of forty-eight episodes), and has aired in over 60 countries worldwide. Ekman served as Scientific Consultant for the show, analyzing and critiquing each episode’s script.
‘Lie to Me’ featured Dr. Cal Lightman (the actor Tim Roth), a deception detection expert. Dr. Lightman was based loosely on Paul Ekman; analyzing facial expressions, speech, and involuntary body language, he could read a spectrum of feelings – hidden resentment, sexual attraction, jealousy were easily spotted. Lightman knew his ability was both a blessing and a curse, especially in his personal life where family and friends deceived each other as readily as criminals and strangers do. He and his colleagues in The Lightman Group provided a professional service to government agencies, corporations, and individuals. The team displayed extensive knowledge of micro expressions and the Facial Action Coding System while solving cases. They set out to discover not only if someone was lying, but also to lay bare the motivation for those lies.
Making of 'Lie To Me'
Writer/Director Sam Baum spent a year in research and development studying Ekman’s work, meeting with him on numerous occasions before creating the show. He invited Dr. Ekman to be a Scientific Consultant during production. The first episode aired on January 21, 2009. The series ran for three years, and won a People’s Choice Award for Favorite TV Crime Drama in 2011.
The Truth About 'Lie to Me': Separating Fact from Fiction
To help you understand how The Ekman Group and the fictional Lightman Group line up, we’ve outlined significant similarities and differences below. During the production of ‘Lie to Me’ Dr. Ekman also posted a blog detailing which aspects of the show were factually correct, and which were purely for entertainment’s sake.
Fact and Fiction: The Ekman Group vs. The Lightman Group
1. In ‘Lie to Me’, Cal Lightman and the Lightman Group take on individual cases, call out public figures, and eat with their mouths open.
Not so, at the Paul Ekman Group.
The Ekman Group develops online emotional skills-building programs such as the Micro Expressions tool, offers workshops, supports researchers and builds online community around relevant topics. We do not routinely take on individual cases; it happens only under special circumstances.
2. The Lightman Group works closely with the FBI, the police, and other government agencies. Agents are often visiting the office (if not working there), and giving Cal a hard time.
The Paul Ekman Group also works closely with law enforcement and national security agencies, including clients such as the C.I.A. , the F.B.I. and Scotland Yard. And we consult to other kinds of organizations, from Pixar and Proctor & Gamble to Kaiser and Google. But our work is all about training, not individual casework. Paul Ekman International (PEI) offers in-person workshops, Paul Ekman offers consultations, and PEG offers online training at various competency levels. The Paul Ekman Group does provide in person workshops in law enforcement and national security in the US and other english speaking countries, while PEI provides such workshops in the corporate world.
3. Cal Lightman had some dark secrets, and a mercurial temper.
Just about everyone has some secrets and has gone through difficult life experiences. Dr. Ekman too. But unlike Cal Lightman, Paul Ekman has developed a relationship with the Dalai Lama which has deeply affected his thinking and his aspirations. You can read more about this in his ebook “Moving Toward Global Compassion”. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for details on release dates.
4. The Lightman Group was not in the business of authoring books or creating products. Paul Ekman is an author and/or co-author of 14 books and over 170 journal articles and book chapters.
5. Cal Lightman had a close and trusted relationship with his daughter, Emily. She was familiar with micro expressions and knew that her dad could read her every emotion.
Paul Ekman has a close and trusted relationship with his daughter, Eve, who herself has gone on to study empathy and compassion. Like Lightman, Ekman rarely challenges his daughter when he knows she is lying. He thinks Foster is right; everyone is entitled to privacy, to keep some secrets.
6. Cal Lightman was an expert at ferreting out the truth. He often provoked micro expressions by stating an untruth to see how the suspect would react. He understood peoples’ frailties and how to exploit them. He knew how hard it is to conceal strong emotions, much as we might like to. And he also knew that his skill could be used to forge intimacy.
Although ‘Lie to Me’ tended, over time, to exaggerate Cal’s skill at catching liars, the show did a great job at showing viewers how much is revealed without words, how hard people try to cover up the truth and how complicated motivation for doing so can be.
At PEG, we assert that, with training, just about anyone can become more adept at spotting another’s effort to conceal the truth. While some people are “naturals” (like Torres) we think it behooves everyone to learn how to better understand and connect with those around them, and we offer resources to help you do that.
Dr. Ekman's Critique
Read Ekman’s critique of each episode of ‘Lie To Me’ as he separates fact from fiction.
Season 1 Critique
Dr. Ekman’s critique of Season One, ‘Lie to Me’. Join him as he differentiates hard science from pure entertainment.
Season 2 Critique
Dr. Ekman’s critique of Season Two, ‘Lie to Me’. Join him as he differentiates hard science from pure entertainment.
Season 3 Critique
Dr. Ekman’s critique of Season Three, ‘Lie to Me’. Join him as he differentiates hard science from pure entertainment.