But ABC did the right thing moving Andre Braugher's medical drama to Mondays, says Bruce Fretts

By Bruce Fretts
January 25, 2001 at 05:00 AM EST
Braugher: Frank Ockenfels
  • TV Show

”Gideon’s Crossing” is in trouble

For Andre Braugher, hard times are nothing new. For six seasons, the actor gave one of the greatest TV performances of all time as the volatile Det. Frank Pembleton on NBC’s ”Homicide: Life on the Street,” a top caliber drama that seemed constantly on the verge of death (reruns air on Court TV, Mon. through Fri., 11 p.m.). Now he stars as a deeply humane doctor on ABC’s ”Gideon’s Crossing,” the season’s best new drama — and the show is on life support. The net foolishly slated ”Gideon” opposite NBC’s steamroller ”Law & Order” on Wednesdays and watched its numbers dwindle. Now they’ve moved it to Mondays at 9 p.m., and it’s still sinking. Is it too late to save this show?

Maybe not. The competition on Mondays isn’t as strong: NBC’s ”Third Watch” (a vastly improved show in its second season, but still not a Nielsen powerhouse) and CBS’ ”Family Law” (a series so lame, even Tony Danza can’t save it). ”Gideon” also plans a crossover with ABC’s legal smash ”The Practice” — both shows take place in Boston — and those stunts almost always boost ratings, at least temporarily.

Then again, ABC tried another attention grabbing gimmick with the debut of ”Gideon’s Crossing,” and in hindsight, it seems to have backfired. The first episode was aired uninterrupted, with only brief messages before and after from its sole sponsor, Johnson & Johnson. I’m all in favor of commercial free broadcasts, but this one seemed to send out a medicinal message: Watch this show: It’s good for you. That’s the kiss of death in a TV landscape dominated by the empty calorie pleasures of CBS’ ”Survivor” and Fox’s ”Temptation Island.”

The pilot added to this highbrow air with its smotheringly arty tone, yet in subsequent episodes, ”Gideon” has loosened up considerably. The melancholy scenes of Braugher’s widower Ben Gideon at home with his kids have been limited, as have the windy lectures to his medical students that used to punctuate each episode.

The overcrowded ensemble (there are 12 names in the opening credits) has been reined in, and Gideon now interacts more naturally with a solid core of young docs: endearingly arrogant chief resident Aaron Boies (Russell Hornsby); hangdog wiseacre Bruce Cherry (Hamish Linklater); displaced Westerner Wyatt Cooper (Eric Dane); mordantly self deprecating Sid Shandar (Ravi Kapoor); and impossibly gorgeous Alejandra Klein (Rhona Mitra). Plus, Braugher has developed a wonderfully relaxed chemistry with Ruben Blades, who plays his boss. Diversity watchers, take note: This is the most multicultural cast on TV, yet unlike CBS’ recently canceled hospital drama ”City of Angels,” the characters aren’t defined by their ethnicities.

The storylines on ”Gideon” have also become more sensational, without crossing over into soap opera. Recent episodes have found Cherry falsely accused of sexual misconduct in a depressed woman’s suicide note, Cooper struggling to reconcile with his estranged wife, and the staff facing a lawsuit over a patient’s death. Call me crazy, but all of this seems much more interesting to me than, say, seeing yet another scene of Alex Kingston giving stiff upper lip support to brain tumor patient Anthony Edwards on ”ER.”

Do you agree? And what other shows are worth saving?