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NBC's new doctor show 'Heartbeat' has a pulse but not much else going for it

NBC's new doctor show 'Heartbeat' has a pulse but not much else going for it
Melissa George and Dave Annable in "Heartbeat." (Michelle Faye)

Premiering Tuesday before it moves to its official time slot on Wednesday, "Heartbeat," a doctor show from NBC, comes on like a longing look at ABC's indomitable "Grey's Anatomy" — a semi-comical medical drama where the sexual tension counts for as much as the medical challenges and ethical conundrums.

Indeed, Melissa George, who plays central character Alex Panttierre, a spiky, spunky, saucy cardiothoracic surgeon and "chief innovations officer" at a Southern California hospital, spent time on "Grey's" in 2009 and almost became a series regular. As a bonus, if that's the word, she's also a little reminiscent of Katherine Heigl.

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Alex is based on real-world surgeon Dr. Kathy Magliato, who has been interviewed by Oprah, Martha and Barbara and, according to the biography posted on her website, "has worked on character development with actresses Brooke Smith, Mary McDonnell and Kim Raver, all of whom have played cardiac surgeons on 'Grey's Anatomy.'" Jill Gordon, a veteran of "The Wonder Years" and "My So-Called Life," is the party responsible for transforming Magliato's life into television.

As made for sexy prime-time shenanigans, Alex is a real wild child, driving her Porsche fast on Highway 1, beating her boyfriend in basketball, running through the halls barefoot because it's too slow in heels, sharing a "group hug" with Siamese twins. "I like long walks on the beach, hot bubble baths and the sound of cracking a patient's chest open like a lobster first thing in the morning," she tells a flirty hedge-fund dude whose money she wants to fund the hospital's cutting-edge research. In the opening scene, engineered basically to get her into a tight, short stewardess uniform, she saves the life of a choking airplane passenger with only a credit card and a pair of chopsticks.

It's a cakewalk compared to her personal life, which finds her caught between boyfriend and fellow surgeon Pierce Harrison (Dave Annable) and old flame and mentor Dr. Jessie Shane (Don Hany), an Australian McDreamy — a McAussie — who has materialized out of the past and on to the hospital staff. Still, of all of Alex's relationships, the most believable is that with her ex-husband, Max Elliot (Joshua Leonard), a former rock singer. (That she asks him for clothing advice is the first subtle clue that he is gay.) She has kids too, little seen or heard.

Some of it might have been written by a computer, sure, but a better class of computer than sometimes is hired to write for TV. The cast, which also includes D.L. Hughley as a psychologist, Maya Erskine as a nurse and Jamie Kennedy as an unkempt, somewhat obnoxious doctor (softened in later episodes), is pleasant company. The flashback titles are rendered in a handsome lower-case typeface, as in some lifestyle magazine layout; and there is indeed something decorous, even conservative, about the show's particular brand of edginess, underscored by music that at times sounds like nothing so much as 1980s Peter Gabriel. It's easy enough to drift into the current of its sometimes risible melodrama.

McAussie to Alex, concerned: "What are you doing?"

Alex: "I'm going to do a heterotopic transplant."

"Alex, there are four doctors in the world that know how to do this operation."

"Now there'll be five."

And so on, like that.

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'Heartbeat'

Where: NBC

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When: 9 p.m. Tuesday, then moves to 8 p.m. Wednesdays

Rating: TV-14-LV (may be unsuitable for children under age 14 with advisories for coarse language and violence)

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