‘ER’: Today, It Is a Hit … Still


What do you get a a hit hospital series for its Bar Mitzvah? A fountain pen? Hell, who could read a doctor's handwriting anyway?

A check?

Something tells me that after 12 seasons, with 13 now under way, the producers of "ER" have cashed their share of checks already.

Check this out, then: How about a hot new McSexy doctor guaranteed to be a Band-Aid for what ails just about anyone, whose smoldering molten-lava looks would cure a case of hot flashes from a corridor away?

One-time bad boy to the bimah: Not exactly chopped liver, John Stamos now dons hospital whites on Thursday nights as the ultimate HMO: "Hunk of Medicine on Order." His new character, Tony Gates, swings open the door, and enters the house full of swagger and sweat.

As paramedic/med student, Gates hinges — as does the veteran actor — on the kindness of the old hands at "ER."

One of those — though young hand may be a better way to describe the late-30ish David Zabel — has been on call since season eight as executive storywriter. Now exec producer of one of TV's ratings titans, Zabel oversees the stat and status of "ER," which has found some new life and breathing space during this — its Bar Mitzvah year.

Today, it is a mensch? Always has been, claims Zabel, a Princeton grad with a new tiger to grab by the tale.

"The show has always been good," he notes. "Over 13 years, it has risen and fallen in popularity" — sometimes robust, other times nursed along — but that's no reflection on what has been its consistent quality.

"Now there's a combination of a brand-new cast — John is the most immediate example — and a huge tune-in on Thursday nights on the network."

Tune-in … turn-ons: Is there romance in store for Gates?

In store? Check the shelves now; the series is fully loaded with a bar code that scans sexy. "They're two people drawn to each other," says the producer of Gates and Neela Rasgotra — played by Parminder Nagra — "but they try to put the brakes on, which becomes harder and harder."

Sounds like the Bar Mitzvah boy has got some real adult concerns this season. And why not, asks Zabel, who also answers to the title of screenwriter (the upcoming film "Keith"): "I'm trying to treat it like a new show, a reinvention of what the show was."

Stamos to the rescue?

No, this isn't "Rescue 9/11," but … "Yeah," says Stamos with sweet sarcasm. "Me and Saget," he says of Bob Saget, his former "Full House" co-star, current host of the hot "1 vs. 100" and still-close buds, "we're single-handedly saving the network. The two idiots from 'Full House.' "

Someone, please, pinch his cheeks. Or, better yet, buy him that pen; ratings indicate that he'll have a lot of signing to do.


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