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Marvin Kitman

graphic
Andre Braugher stars in "Gideon's Crossing," ABC's new medical drama that avoids the medical cliches  

A great debut for 'Gideon's Crossing'

(Los Angeles Times) -- I want to compliment Johnson & Johnson for their decency and humanity in sponsoring the premiere of the new medical drama "Gideon's Crossing" without commercial interruption on ABC Tuesday night at 10. It is the first time in history, ABC says, that a broadcast network series has aired without interruption.

Seeing any drama free of commercials is an awesome event, especially after the "NBC Commercials (With the Olympics in Between)," as one reader described the great drama series from Sydney in the last few weeks. It is an especially happy event not hearing drug commercials, the most recent pox to descend on our screens.

I can never figure out why the drug manufacturers spend zillions telling us about drugs listing side effects longer than the benefits. Are American TV viewers in such an advance state of lobotomization that they don't seem to care about the downside? Or are they not listening to commercials anymore? "Hey, this can be poisonous" hasn't hurt cigarettes for some of us. And, of course, the marketing adds to the high cost of the drugs.

  SCHEDULE
'Gideon's Crossing airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. (EST) on ABC
 

The experiment by Johnson & Johnson reminds me again of what a drag artistically commercials also are on dramas.

Commercials in general diminish the stories they are interrupting. Every commercial is written by the best minds Madison Avenue money can buy. The best composers compose the music, which is played often by first violinists and others from symphony orchestras. Each commercial has a story about a human problem with a beginning, middle and end with a powerful message (buy this product and you will be happy) -- all done in 15 seconds. To put eight or ten of these mini-spectaculars in one pause for a word from the sponsors is enough to give the audience attention deficit disorder symptoms.

If ever there was a show that required full attention it is "Gideon's Crossing." It is an hourlong hospital series exploring the exciting new world of cutting-edge experimental medicine with complex, passionate, intense characters in a rich environment of human and scientific experience. It is a leading candidate for a "Marvy" as the season's best new drama.

That it is such a wonderful series is no surprise.

First, it is created and co-produced by Paul Attanasio who created "Homicide: Life on the Streets," based on a book by David Simon. "Gideon's Crossing" is based on the book "The Measure of Our Days" by Dr. Jerome Groopman, a professor at Harvard Medical School. If it ain't on the page, as they say, it ain't on the stage.

And, even more important for me, it stars Andre Braugher. I'm a major Braugher fan.

The only bad thought I've ever had about him was over his leaving "Homicide," which some of us Homicidal Maniacs still think was wrong. Det. Frank Pembleton's departure left the show in a lurch, precipitating a decline in its last years that it only occasionally overcame.

I know he was frustrated as an actor being the tortured intellect. He has a bigger room with many more corners in a medical show. And he certainly knows a lot about hospitals, having suffered a stroke and undergone risky surgery in "Homicide."

Braugher this time plays Dr. Ben Gideon, an unorthodox surgeon and chief of experimental medicine at the prestigious Boston teaching hospital Metropolitan General, the last hope for the critically ill.

He is a doctor with rules carved in stone like the commandments: a good doctor should never get into patients' personal lives; should never get emotional about his work.

He breaks all the rules in the premiere, a story about a rich, powerful patient with incurable kidney cancer who demands that Dr. Gideon use him as a guinea pig. It is a stunning, gripping hour.

"Gideon's Crossing" is not like "ER," where it sometimes seems every eight minutes, before or after a commercial break, a gurney goes smashing through the door. It doesn't have what movie producer Joel Silver calls a good "whammo count" (the number of times a script calls for car crashes, explosions, gun shots ) that an involving piece of work needs today.

It's not about the cliches of medical drama. It's more thoughtful, if you'll pardon the expression. It's more of a show about the mind, the thought processes behind the doctor's actions, the scientific principles and the ethics of drug testing, for example.

Gideon's crossing itself refers to the place where a doctor's ideals confront modern-day reality, as it is described, "where the technology of tomorrow meets the healer's touch, where the experience of illness transforms the lives of both doctor and patient."

Dr. Gideon crosses the line in the premiere with the kidney cancer patient. The fact that he saves this guy -- for a while -- with what seems to be a miracle cure is questioned by a research colleague. "To save one life has no meaning," he explains. "We don't know why it worked. Doesn't it bother you?" It does.

Dr. Gideon is a deep multilayered character. At home, he is weighed down by the demands of being a single father of three (his wife died of cancer). At work, he rules over a group of young doctors instilling in them the art of medicine as he sees it, as complex as untangling the code inside a tumor cell. It's fascinating to listen to Dr. Gideon's lectures in the amphitheater, as if sitting with the interns.

I must say that some of the young doctors seem to have come from another hospital in Boston -- St. Elsewhere. There is one resident who has put a dog in a private room and is treating him as a patient. Will they charge Medicare? They are doctors who smoke and have kooky theories which they explain in monologues.

But the chief resident, Dr. Aaron Boies (Russell Hornsby), makes up for all their goofiness. "Do you know what's killed more people than breast cancer, car wrecks or handguns?" he asks one of his younger charges. "Doctors."

A critic on NPR the other morning was delivering a monologue on "Gideon's Crossing," saying it's nothing but a long series of monologues, especially by Braugher. "Oh, shut up," I say. How often do you get to hear monologues on TV by a great actor like Andre Braugher? I could listen to him read "The Merck Manual."

You like Braugher or you don't. I love him, especially without being interrupted by commercials.

Alas, when the show returns for its regular season debut Wednesday at 10, there will be the usual clutter. Hopefully, not twice as many commercials to make up for a sponsor's munificence. Commercials are a cancer that are ruining TV drama. See "Gideon's Crossing" and see if you don't agree on how magnificent pure TV drama can be.

Kitman is the television critic for New York Newsday. His column appears regularly on CNN Interactive's Entertainment section. E-mail Kitman at MarvinKitmanShow@worldnet.att.net

(c) 2000, Newsday Inc. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate.



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