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Suggestions for ''Chicago Hope''

Dropping actors and creating a villain are 2 of our ideas for improving life in the TV hospital

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First, it was the anti-ER. Then it became Picket Fences in a hospital (thanks, no doubt, to both shows having the same creator, David E. Kelley). As its third season gets under way, Chicago Hope is reinventing itself yet again after another cast overhaul. So, as the face-lift begins, a message to its makers: Take these tips and call us in the morning.

Institute a hiring freeze. Chicago Hope has lost six actors and added seven — quite a mortality rate. The current ensemble is one of TV’s finest. Stick with them.

Think about downsizing. Hope‘s two new regulars — Rocky Carroll’s edgy trauma chief and Mark Harmon’s burnt-out orthopod — look promising. What we don’t need are three Noah Wyle wannabes overcrowding every episode. Lose those residents (except maybe Vanessa Williams).

Get Christine Lahti back in scrubs… Remember when her character, Kate Austin, took command in the operating room no matter how completely tumultuous her life was? We liked that.

…and give her some good news. Lahti is, no question, the best dramatic actress in prime time. But that doesn’t mean you have to prove it by fire hosing her character with one tragedy after another. Austin has already lost her father and custody of her daughter. How about a couple of episodes in which she doesn’t have to cry?

But keep Ron Silver around. In just a few episodes, he’s become a superb foil for Lahti, Adam Arkin, and Hector Elizondo — and the show’s first good lawyer since Peter MacNicol left.

Make Thomas Gibson the resident villain. As St. Elsewhere proved, nothing energizes a medical melodrama like a monster on the premises. So far, Gibson’s Dr. Nyland has been a weak-willed heel. Take him into realms of serious misbehavior and he’d be more compelling.

Schedule a spine transplant for Adam Arkin, stat! For two years, Dr. Shutt has been the Chicago Mope, enduring the high-energy breakdowns of Geiger and the low-energy whining of his ex-wife, Camille. Now that they’re gone, let him assert his rightful role as the staff’s steadiest doctor rather than its doormat.

Strip Mandy Patinkin of his medical credentials. During Hope‘s first season, he was thrilling to watch — Dr. Demento with a minor in musical comedy. Last year, though, his guest spots were showstopping in all the worst ways. It’s time to bid him a final farewell — and focus on characters with a future. Which also means…

No Very Special visits by ”Picket Fences” alumni. Don’t even think about it.

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