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‘Becker’s’ miracle revival

Times Staff Writer

“Becker” lives.

Those two words could be cause for celebration or dismay, depending on one’s tastes. More likely, they might elicit a shrug, along with a “ ‘Becker’ who? Is that still on?”

Yet this sitcom, starring Ted Danson as gruff Dr. John Becker, will begin its sixth season tonight at 9:30 on CBS. A minor miracle, because the network almost axed it over the summer. The question now is, will anyone notice, given that it’s running opposite NBC’s “The West Wing” and ABC’s “The Bachelor”?

Although it won’t qualify for the Trio network’s “Brilliant but Canceled” showcase -- so far, it’s been neither -- “Becker” is a solid if fairly standard comedy.

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Danson leads the ensemble cast and exudes suitable grouchiness, in contrast to Sam on “Cheers,” the role that made him famous. When Becker tries to quit smoking by chewing on candy cigarettes, he says, “It’s a fast race to death. Emphysema was in the lead; I’m just giving diabetes a chance to catch up.”

Becker’s crotchety demeanor is thrown into question tonight, however, as he wrestles with strong feelings for his upstairs neighbor, cafe owner Chris (Nancy Travis). As Chris heads into the operating room for an appendectomy, Becker says those three little words that many men have such a difficult time saying with sincerity.

His friends -- newsstand operator Jake (Alex Desert), head nurse Margaret (Hattie Winston) and nurse’s aide Linda (Shawnee Smith) -- tease him relentlessly over his moment of weakness. When Chris recovers, she seems as repulsed as Becker does over the admission. Which might just summon four more words in your mind: Paging Sam and Diane.


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