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FOX LOOKS TO DR. HOUSE TO CURE ITS RATINGS PROBLEM

Can a brilliant New Jersey doctor who believes "humanity is overrated" save Fox's fall season?

It's probably as big a long-shot as most of the diagnostic hunches that acerbic Dr. Gregory House (Hugh Laurie) plays in the high-tech, new medical drama, "House" (9 tonight, WUTV).

A British actor whose credits include "Sense and Sensibility" and "Blackadder," Laurie masks his accent as well as diseases often mask their symptoms and his character masks his feelings.

Dr. House is about as patient friendly as Ted Danson's "Becker" and as unorthodox as Mandy Patinkin's doctor in "Chicago Hope." He has zero bedside manner and wouldn't make a house call if his life depended on it. He tries to avoid patients as much as possible on the theory the lies they tell doctors will only cloud the diagnosis.

His own medical problems have resulted in his walking with a cane and popping pain pills when he isn't distributing his heartless philosophy. In tonight's premiere, we learn his favorite patients are ones who can't talk.

"Treating illnesses is why we become doctors, treating patients is what makes most doctors miserable," says Dr. House.

It's a great line. Dr. House has so many of them you wonder why he didn't become a writer instead of a doctor. His favorite philosopher is Jagger, as in Mick Jagger.

"You can't always get what you want," he tells his boss, Dr. Lisa Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein), who is less than amused by his attitude but can't deny his brilliance.

Eventually, she comes back with a Jaggerish response: "If you try sometimes, you get what you need."

If his patients or staff need touchy-feely moments from Dr. House, they're going to be very disappointed. "When you are all better," he tells one patient, "I'll show you my diploma."

Dr. House is just as strange when it comes to reasons for hiring his staff. Dr. Eric Foreman (Omar Epps) was hired for his street smarts, immunologist Dr. Allison Cameron (Jennifer Morrison) for overcoming her beautiful looks and Dr. Robert Chase (Jesse Spencer) because he comes from old money. Dr. James Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard) is an oncologist who bats around theories with Dr. House.

The first two episodes revolve around unusual infectious diseases that take some time and some trial and error to uncover. Dr. House, meanwhile, dispenses sarcasm and dark and politically incorrect humor in heavy doses. In the end, there are happy endings, though Dr. House's disposition doesn't change.

"House" clearly isn't for viewers who want a medical show with heroic doctors like those on "ER" who really, really care about their patients. TV viewers don't need Jagger to remind them you can't always get what you want. But let's hope that this Fox show works to stop the epidemic of unneeded reality shows.

Even if "House" dies quickly, Fox deserves credit for trying to give viewers what a good show needs -- a well-written script with a compelling character and a refreshingly different point of view and attitude. I wouldn't want Dr. House to treat me, but he's a treat to watch.

Rating: 3 stars out of 4

Dr. House will have to compete with professional wrestlers, Mormon sisters, dating actors, dating models and a former member of the CIA, all of whom are part of the latest edition of the Emmy Award winning reality series, "The Amazing Race" (9 tonight, WIVB-TV).

Tonight's two-hour premiere also includes an unlikable Los Angeles entrepreneur, Jonathan Baker, whose attitude makes Dr. House look like Marcus Welby. The competitors also include a self-deprecating high school science teacher, Avi Schneier of Brooklyn, whose sense of humor enlivens tonight's scenic tour of waterfalls, glaciers and snow in Iceland. As Avi and a high school buddy prepare to sleep in a tent on a glacier, Avi says, "40 years our people spent wandering the desert so we could wander out on a glacier."

Here's hoping Avi and the equally entertaining wrestling team, Lori and Bolo, get to wander around the world for a good while on this 40,000-mile adventure series.

There are a few too many models among the 11 teams, but the usual mix of humor, beautiful photography, frightening stunts and intense competition explain why this great-looking series gives the reality genre a good name. Rating: 3 stars

Leave it to former Bills player Paul Maguire to best summarize the team's embarrassing performance on ESPN Sunday in New England. "They laid an egg," said Maguire near game's end. So did ESPN play-by-play man Mike Patrick. At various times, he had Bledsoe quarterbacking the Patriots, Tom Brady quarterbacking the Bills and the Patriots running back a punt for a touchdown instead of the Bills.

e-mail: apergament@buffnews.com

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