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Tuned In: 'Gideon's Crossing' seeks Monday night audience

Monday, January 15, 2001

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

HOLLYWOOD, Calif. -- The lavish look of American television series is generally achieved through a combination of camera tricky and flimsy flats that look more solid than they are.

That hardwood floor on the set of "Bette"? It's not wood -- it's painted concrete that's made to look like wood planks.

But the "Gideon's Crossing" set is surprisingly durable, with real wood floors, a decent-size hospital cafeteria and Dr. Gideon's theater-style classroom. But a solid set hardly guarantees an enduring series.

ABC's low-rated "Gideon's Crossing" moves to 10 p.m. Mondays tonight in an effort to draw a larger audience, and in the future it may get a boost from a cross-over episode with "The Practice." Producers said they're discussing the possibility of Camryn Manheim appearing on "Gideon's Crossing" as her "Practice" character, Ellenor Frutt.

More immediately, "Gideon's Crossing" will concentrate on weaving together the stories of Dr. Gideon (Andre Braugher) and his students. Early in the season, Gideon had stories with guest stars that were generally separate from the stories of the supporting cast. That will change.

"The relationships among the students and their teacher, the interns and the administration, is what's holding the world together," said Braugher. "We would be foolish to keep our stories entirely separate for the run of the show, so it's part of the evolution. Necessarily Gideon must develop relationships with Dr. Boies and Dr. Klein. Otherwise the show would fragment and spiral away."

One character Gideon won't develop a relationship with is Dr. Maya Stiles (Sophie Keller), who was killed off late last year. Creator/executive producer Paul Attanasio said the actress wanted to pursue other opportunities. Those changes are all part of the process of getting a show on its feet in the first season.

"A truism of television is that you make the pilot, but then you really discover the show in series," Attanasio said. "But I didn't realize until I had actually done it what a struggle that is -- how hard it is to fail in public and chase what your show is. We're really in a good place with the show. There are going to be more muscular narratives. We'll learn more about the personal lives of these doctors."

Attanasio said he's also fine-tuning the characters. He was surprised viewers thought Gideon was preachy.

"What were to me beautiful speeches he was giving in the theater weren't communicating the same thing about his character I thought they were," Attanasio said. "He's not supposed to be a holier-than-thou, preachy guy. He's supposed to be a guy who's in the process of discovering himself."

"Gideon's Crossing" is also the story of how "illness changes people's lives, that we're in a specific moment in history now that science is rewriting the rules as to what's a curable illness and what's not," Attanasio said.

Executive producer Katie Jacobs acknowledged that some viewers might find it hard to embrace the realism of "Gideon's Crossing."

"We're a pretty tough show. We are real, we are current," Jacobs said. "Most of us don't walk around a corner, get shot and go into an ER. Most of us deal with illness ongoing in our lives. It is a very tough place to take an audience every week. We're mixing up the show with more of the interpersonal stories of the doctors because people want to know more about them, and as a way to sort of offset not only long-term illnesses but to tell more personal stories."

Producers and cast members hope a better balance will draw more viewers to the show and that its audience will build. Braugher said, "ER" aside, few shows are hits right out of the gate.

"We have to remember the natural evolution of a show is to discover itself, to discover how the audience responds to it, and it's a slow, incremental growth," Braugher said.

Perhaps as a sort of good luck charm, a "Chicago Hope Hospital Procedure Manual" could be found last week on the "Gideon's Crossing" set. It sat atop a stack of three-ring binders in Dr. Gideon's classroom, holding out hope that "Gideon's Crossing" might last as long as its medical drama forefather.

ANOTHER CROSSOVER: In addition to "The Practice"/"Gideon's Crossing" crossover, which is still being written and won't air until March at the earliest, two David E. Kelley series on different networks will feature a crossover during February sweeps.

On Feb. 11 a story will begin on ABC's "The Practice" and conclude the next night on Fox's "Boston Public." Thomas McCarthy, who plays a gym teacher on "Boston Public," will appear on "The Practice" with fellow "BP" cast members Chi McBride and Anthony Heald. "Practice" stars Camryn Manheim and Michael Badalucco will visit "Boston Public" on Feb. 12.

Although unusual, the cross-network crossover isn't unprecedented. A few years ago a crossover from Fox's "Ally McBeal" to "The Practice" (then airing at 10 p.m. Monday) benefited ABC and enraged Fox affiliates because it drew viewers away from 10 p.m. newscasts. This time, Fox comes out a winner as Kelley drives viewers from the popular "Practice" to the less popular "BP."

OH, SO THAT WAS THE STRATEGY: ABC Entertainment Group co-chairman Lloyd Braun explained why ABC's fall series were so poor: The network was saving its good stuff for midseason.

"We chose to take what we knew were going to be very, very strong comedies and launch them midseason, when they were somewhat out of the clutter of the fall launch," Braun said.

And though it could just be hype, Braun is right. ABC's midseason sitcoms are far superior to the shows launched last fall.

"WELCOME" TO MONDAY: CBS's low-rated winning comedy "Welcome to New York" gets a tryout tonight at 8:30. The series, which stars Jim Gaffigan and Christine Baranski, hasn't drawn many viewers to its regular Wednesday time slot, but CBS Entertainment president Nancy Tellem said the network is pleased with the show.

"Like any other first-year show, it's finding its way," Tellem said. "Wednesday is a tough night, and ["Bette" and "Welcome to New York'] fared quite well. Based on last year's performance, it improved the time period. Our expectations are not as high [on Wednesday] as they would be on Monday."

NEW "BLUE": Charlotte Ross, most recently seen as scheming network executive Lori Volpone on Showtime's canceled "Beggars & Choosers," will join the cast of "NYPD Blue" as a new partner to Kim Delaney's character.

Post-Gazette TV Editor Rob Owen is attending the Television Critics Association winter press tour.

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