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'Proof' showcases strong women

TV shows, especially comedies, sometimes have a signature phrase that may be slightly amusing until it's repeated so often it's annoying.

Rarely, though, do dramas come out with a line that's memorable. ABC's "Body of Proof," premiering at 10:01 p.m. Tuesday, has one that reverberates, even months after the initial viewing. The pilot was originally shown to critics last summer, then the network held the series in reserve.

Still that line haunts.

It happens when Dr. Megan Hunt (Dana Delany) talks about one of the two seismic events in her life -- losing custody of her daughter.

Hunt explains to her work partner, Peter Dunlop (Nicholas Bishop), that her ex-husband was awarded full custody "because a man who works for 18 hours a day is a good provider, and a woman who does the same is an absentee mother."

"A lot of women are reacting to it," Delany says of that line. "We all know someone [in this scenario]. Men say why does she have to be a know-it-all? No, she's smart; I don't feel she's a bitch."

Hunt's other seismic event was, literally, a train wreck of an accident. The pilot does a great job of showing how she came to be where she is.

Highly educated, successful and doing the intricate work of a neurosurgeon, Hunt was arguing with her ex-husband on the phone while driving. It was a typical argument of dividing responsibilities between parents.

After the accident, Hunt thought she was recovered. Yet when she returned to the operating room, her hands went numb. Hunt killed a patient on the operating table. Her career as a neurosurgeon was over.

Still, she could apply her experience and education, so she became a medical examiner.

"I lost my child to my career, then I lost my career to that damned accident," Hunt says.

To help inform the character, Delany met with two female physicians at the top of their fields, a neurosurgeon and a medical examiner. She even attended an autopsy.

This sort of research helps Delany as Dr. Hunt look believable while examining corpses. She picks up many clues, though, from the living.

Of course she figures out who did it long before the cops. Yes, we have seen smart female medical examiners miles ahead of everyone else. It wasn't all that long ago that Jill Hennessy starred in "Crossing Jordan."

Megan, though, is a different character, more elegant, better educated, richer and more seasoned. With that maturation comes a fraying of the reserves of patience. Just how much nonsense does she need to hear from people who think they have a clue when she's already solved the murder?

Impressed by her abilities, her partner, former cop Dunlop, also deals with those she's infuriating.

"I'm kind of like her conscience," Bishop says of his character. "I'm the only person besides her daughter who can look her in the eye and say, 'You are out of line.' "

Bishop says people will invariably compare Megan to a female Dr. House "because she has such a bold personality and is such a strong figure and so smart. She is not afraid to annoy people."

Among those she annoys is her boss, Dr. Kate Murphey (Jeri Ryan, "Boston Public"). But Murphey is hardly the type to be cowed.

"I consciously make the decision" to play smart women," Ryan says. "I was a National Merit Scholar. Playing dumb blondes is not interesting to me."

The characters feel real to both Delany and Ryan.

"Working around death, she very much lives her life to the fullest," Ryan says of Dr. Murphey. "She is obviously very intelligent. She is the first woman chief of medical examiners in Philadelphia. She didn't get to where she is without ruffling some feathers."

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