Braugher returns as 'Gideon'

TV: 'Gideon's Crossing' shares a creator and producer - and star - with the series 'Homicide.'

July 18, 2000|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

LOS ANGELES - One is a cop drama, and the other a medical story. But, if you loved "Homicide: Life on the Street," there's a lot you'll like in the new ABC series, "Gideon's Crossing." The medical drama, which debuts this fall, was created by Paul Attanasio, who also adapted David Simon's non-fiction book, "Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets" to television by writing the pilot. One of the new show's co- executive producers is Eric Overmyer, a key writer and producer for "Homicide."

And just as "Homicide" was based on a non-fiction book, so is "Gideon's Crossing." It was inspired by "The Measure of Our Days" by Dr. Jerome Groopman, who is a consultant on the series.

Best of all, the series stars Andre Braugher, who won an Emmy in 1998 as television's best dramatic actor for his portrayal of "Homicide's" Detective Frank Pembleton. In the new show, he plays Dr. Benjamin Gideon, an unorthodox surgeon at a prestigious Boston hospital.

Not surprisingly, "Homicide" was almost as much discussed as "Gideon's Crossing" when the cast and producers met with critics here to promote the ABC series.

Braugher was asked why he decided to return to weekly television after leaving "Homicide" at the end of its penultimate season. "Several elements attracted me," he said.

"First, Paul was fondly known as the 'creator' on the set of 'Homicide,' and his original script for that show was very interesting and dynamic. He's a brilliant writer. I read the script in 40 minutes, and I knew I wanted to be involved."

While the series has a large ensemble cast that features such talent as Ruben Blades, Braugher's Dr. Gideon is the heart and soul of the series. Braugher is in virtually every frame of the one-hour pilot previewed for critics here. If you like Braugher, you'll like "Gideon's Crossing," which clearly is the cream of a ragged crop of four new ABC series for the fall.

Attanasio said that Braugher's character is tough and commanding - but also has warmth, depth and humanity. "Those two things are very hard to find in the same human being," he said. "Andre captures both dimensions and is a joy to write for because he can basically do anything."

Gideon is a compelling character because he's willing to get involved in his patients' lives, Attanasio said, and he constantly pushes the boundaries of accepted medical practice. "The series really becomes the classic journey of the hero, which is to go to the frontiers of human experience and come back with lessons for everyone who remained behind," he said.

Braugher was asked what his first and most famous character - Pembleton - would think of Gideon. "Well, he's not the finest of patients," Braugher said, referring to Pembleton's stubborn behavior up to and after his stroke. "He doesn't listen, and he wants to do things his way. So, it's good that they haven't met."

One questioner said she found "Gideon's Crossing" to have many of the same sensibilities as "Homicide" and asked whether the producer feared that "Gideon" might be dogged by the earlier show's ratings woes.

"I'm very proud of 'Homicide,'" Attanasio said.

"It didn't have as broad an audience as some other shows, but it had an intensely loyal audience. I met a guy in Utah whose wife had gotten him a big screen TV and a chair and a satellite dish just so he could watch 'Homicide.' The passion and audience commitment which that show generated is more rewarding than a large audience - not that we're not seeking a large audience."

Attanasio thinks his new series is "more open-hearted and emotional and accessible" than "Homicide," which emphasized "the tragic urban reality" of murder.

"The subject matter of this show isn't death every week," he said. "It's not failure. It's really about how often in the experience of illness the human spirit triumphs."

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