Screensavors: Anatomy of a hit series

Throw together a bunch of good-looking people, some sterile gauze, a few hospital gurneys, and voila.

Scalpel! Sutures! Suction! Hunk! Hunkette! Yes, the prescription for your average hospital drama isn't exactly rocket science; throw together a bunch of good-looking people, some sterile gauze, a few hospital gurneys, and voila. Well, not exactly. For every St. Elsewhere or ER there are an equal number of shows that don't make it out of ratings surgery. But it's nice to know that the formula is being tweaked a bit to good effect in Grey's Anatomy (YES Stars, Wednesdays, 9:30; Fridays 9:45), whose title is the name of the medical tome so well known to all medical students. While our late father was a ship's doctor's assistant in WWII, we never made it past trying to get our tongue around those long pharmacological names. When they started doing infusions, we were outta there. Still, we're somehow drawn to at least sneak a peek at hospital shows, as long as we don't have to put on one of those hospital gowns that are open in the back. As for Grey's Anatomy's new spin, here it is: mix in a little MTV. Indeed, all the episodes, with the exception of the very first, were given the names of popular songs. Combined with a fresh-faced, talented cast, some smooth writing and an overall team effort, Grey's Anatomy grows on you. The season opener had a different spin, leading off with Meredith Grey, the daughter of a renowned surgeon mother (to whom she refers throughout the opening episode) celebrating her last night before starting an internship in a Seattle hospital by having a one-night stand with a stranger. It's the morning after, and she can barely remember the dude's name, but it's time to check in for the first 48-hour shift introducing Meredith and her fellow interns to what the medical profession - at least in this show - calls "the game." The interns are a pleasantly mixed group: there's Christina, the driven Asian; Isabel, the former model; and George, the clumsy but lovable man. And there's that soundtrack, featuring a variety of popular tunes. Some of us may even watch just to see what music's going to be on. While the music helps keep things moving, the characters and script are at the heart of this medical drama. As Meredith, Ellen Pomeo (Moonlight Mile, Catch Me If You Can) lights up the screen, going gracefully from comedy - a double-take for the ages when she realizes her supervising physician is, naturally, her one-night stand - to tragedy when she almost loses her first patient, a bratty 15-year-old beauty pageant competitor. Equally excellent is the great Sandra Oh (Sideways) as Christina, who thinks merit should determine success and is disappointed to find that even Meredith will bend the rules a little to get ahead. T.R. Knight is fine as the bumbling George who, when given a chance to be the first one to participate in actual surgery, beats the odds his classmates give him and finds the appendix, but almost loses the patient. However, our personal favorite was Chandra Wilson (Bob Patterson) as Dr. Miranda Bailey, who knows the value of a good nap. "Rule No. five," she explains on the first day, "If I'm sleeping, don't wake me up unless your patient is actually dying." With reminders of the never-ending shift periodically blazoned across the screen ("HOUR 36," etc.), it's exhausting just keeping up with the interns, whose moods go from triumphant to tragic. Fortunately, the cast is up to the challenge, and so is the script. When Meredith's cranky teenage wannabe beauty queen complains: "I can't sleep - my head is full," Meredith snaps back: "That's called thinking - go with it!" And when someone makes the mistake of actually waking Dr. Bailey just to remove an infusion, she mutters: "Next time you wake me, he better be so close to dead there's a tag on his toe." Well-crafted is the surprise ending, in which it's revealed that Meredith's mom - whose outstanding career is constantly mentioned by the senior doctors - actually barely remembers she was a doctor at all, even when Meredith reminds the Alzheimer's-stricken woman during a visit. Oh, and Wilson would be reason enough to tune in to this show, but the presence of Patrick Dempsey (Once and Again, Sweet Home Alabama) as Dr. Derek Shepherd even offers eye candy for the ladies. All in all, it's a hospital series worth checking yourself in to.