Clarissa Cruz
January 31, 2005 AT 05:00 AM EST

When Patricia Arquette first read the script for NBC’s new hit drama Medium (Mondays, 10 p.m.), she wasn’t sure the show’s Sixth Sense-meets-CSI premise would fly. ”I thought, ‘Oh, yeah, haven’t they done that before?”’ she says.

Arquette’s real-life clairvoyant abilities failed her, but viewers were able to sense a hit: The Jan. 3 premiere drew more than 16 million people, almost besting CSI: Miami and giving the network its strongest Monday-night debut in more than a decade. Most promising, the ratings have held up, making NBC competitive in the time slot for the first time in three years.

So in light of her initial doubt, what drew the actress to the role of law student-turned-psychic for the prosecution Allison DuBois? ”The concept of playing a medium attracted me first,” says the 36-year-old Arquette, who prepared for the part by meeting with the real-life DuBois. ”It would be a complicated experience, and then when I read the script there was this great relationship built in there.”

That would be the one between Allison and her husband, Joe, played by Jake Weber, formerly of HBO’s Mind of the Married Man (he played skirt-chasing cad Jake). In an age where desperate housewives get most of the action, Allison and Joe are still hot for each other. ”[Creator Glenn Gordon Caron (Moon-lighting)] was always interested in a sort of sneaky romance between a husband and a wife,” says Weber. ”Because [their relationship] is so real, you can believe the more fantastical elements of the show.” As for Weber, he says the research for his role was easy: ”I’ve always had a little Jones for Miss Arquette,” he quips.

For the past two decades, Miss Arquette has been best known for roles in cultish movies like 1993’s True Romance and 1996’s Flirting With Disaster. But after more than two dozen films, she was ready to channel her energies into the small screen. ”[The movie scripts] I was reading were just stupid,” she says. ”Scripts with not much of a role at all. It was just boring for a woman.”

Medium is anything but boring — due to Arquette’s chilling performance and the vivacity of real-life inspiration DuBois, who is apparently better at predicting hits. ”I went on record before the show even came out saying it was going to be bigger than people were expecting it to be,” says DuBois, an advisor to the series and a jury consultant for prosecutors of capital cases in Arizona. ”I’m sure Patricia will be doing it for a long time, and through the show she’ll reach a whole swath of people who hadn’t gotten to know her as an actress.” We trust her instincts.

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