Empty10-11 p.m., Monday, June 18
Treat Williams lost his general medical practice last year when the CW network dropped "Everwood" from the combined WB-UPN schedule. He used the enforced sabbatical to learn a specialty. Now Williams is back as Nathaniel Grant, a cocky, occasionally insensitive workaholic doctor who performs organ transplants in a Pittsburgh hospital.
Oh, wait. Something else. He also sees dead people. More about that in a minute.
Hospitals are attractive settings for TV shows. In reality, most of what goes on inside them are mundane procedures. On TV, though, every admission is a life-or-death drama. But once you've decided on a medical setting, there are two options: an ensemble series (such as "ER" or "Grey's Anatomy") or a doctor-centered show. For the latter, you start with a Marcus Welby-style god and then humanize him or her with character defects, as in "House."
The doctor-as-god solution is simpler and cheaper, but it's harder to pull off because so much of the success depends on the creation of a compelling central character. CBS was the last to try it with "3 Lbs." in November, a series about an arrogant brain specialist (Stanley Tucci), and it lasted about an episode a pound.
"Heartland" follows the same general design and -- despite Williams' proven charisma and the presence of Kari Matchett (Kate Armstrong) as Grant's ex-wife and, conveniently, the organ donor coordinator -- the show remains mostly in stable condition. The characters connect mostly on a clinical level, rarely deeper.
To start with, Grant isn't particularly well developed. In the pilot, he collects baseball cards, but that doesn't come up in the second episode. He smokes, or at least he tries to. Most of the time, someone is around to shame him into stopping. If you're going to have a vice, then have one. Imagine someone trying to come between House and his Vicodin.
Then there are the dead people. From time to time, Grant looks at an organ recipient and sees the donor. Sometimes, the donor even speaks, usually some drippy sentiment. As a result, the dramatic device is mostly corn.
The pilot is all about Grant. The supporting cast, except for Armstrong, might as well be extras. At one point, Thea (Gage Golightly), Grant's daughter, is caught stealing condoms, suggesting a potentially engaging story. Instead, exec producer/director/writer/creator David Hollander drops the ball, and nothing much comes of it. Instead, the focus is on a teenage girl patient's urgent need for a donated heart and, well, you can guess how that ends.
The second episode is better, but it's still a fairly generic medical drama. The supporting cast has more to do. A new character, Thomas Jonas (Rockmond Dunbar), is introduced. He might clash with Grant in future episodes, but that might be wishful thinking.
What "Heartland" needs most is a referral to a script doctor.
David Hollander Prods. in association with Warner Horizon Television
Executive producer/creator/director/writer: David Hollander
Producer: Bob Rolsky
Directors of photography: Nancy Schreiber, Johnny E. Jensen
Production designer: Jim Pohl
Editor: Lori Jane Coleman
Composer: W.G. Snuffy Walden
Set decorator: Roya Parivar
Casting: Jeanie Bacharach
Nathaniel Grant: Treat Williams
Kate Armstrong: Kari Matchett
Simon Griffith: Chris William Martin
Thea Grant: Gage Golightly
Jessica Kivala: Morena Baccarin
Mary Singletary: Danielle Nicolet
Bart Jacobs: Dabney Coleman
Thomas Jonas: Rockmond Dunbar