Adam Arkin, dressed persuasively in doctor's scrubs, offers a prognosis: "Chicago Hope" has more dramatic and ratings life ahead than critical sniping would have it.

The CBS medical drama premiered this fall on Thursday nights against NBC's new doctor series "ER" and quickly found itself a distant runner-up with audiences.In the rush to compare the programs and to explain "ER's" smash-hit success, Arkin says, "Chicago Hope" fell victim to journalistic hatchet jobs.

"As much as critics are going into analysis as to why 'ER' has worked, they have to analyze why we have not donw those kinds of (rating) numbers," the actor said.

"And because there's a discrepancy in the numbers, and because it was set up as a war between the two series, we're deemed the failure-- which is inaccurate because of what we're doing now against 'Seinfeld,'" the popular NBC sitcom, he said.

"Chicago Hope" is pulling respectable ratings and its viewership has increased since CBS moved it away from powerhouse "ER." The CBS drama first moved an hour earlier, to 8 p.m. Thursdays.

This week, CBS will air four episodes of "Hope" --tonight, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. (Locally, however, KSL-Ch. 5 will pre-empt two of those airings: Tuesday's, for the Freedom Bowl; and Friday's, for BYU basketball.)

Beginning next week, "Chicago Hope" moves to Mondays at 9 p.m. on a weekly basis.

Arkin argues that while "ER" has garnered-- and deserves-- praise for its fresh, high-energy style, "Chicago Hope" has solid virtues that shouldn't be overlooked. And he suggests they may prove sturdier.

"Our show is working within certain kinds of traditional format elements, but presenting a group of highly original characters, complicated, messy people. I like that," he said.

His analysis, offered during a filming break, was no angry diatribe. When a publicist stopped by to check on the interview, Arkin excused her with a smile, and said, "I'm enjoying hearing my opinions."

Arkin, son of veteran actor Alan Arkin, has confidence enough in the series to put his mortgage where is mouth is.

The New Yorker is moving his wife and 7-year-old daughter to a new home in Washington state, an area he became enamored of while working on several TV projects, including "Northern Exposure."

He figures he'll be able to manage a weekly commute between Los Angeles, where "Chicago Hope" films, and Seattle.

Los Angeles is a fine place to work, but "it just never felt like home." Of Seattle he says: "I just feel like this is it. It's like Brigham Young."

Life is less certain and less comfortable for Dr. Aaron Shutt, his character on "Chicago Hope."

Shutt's wife, hospital nurse Camille (Roxanne Hart), wants a divorce; a budding affair with a fellow surgeon (Margaret Colin) was quickly dashed by her fatal brain tumor.

But playing Shutt is not a bleak experience, Arkin maintains.

"I think that this is not a happy time for him, but it's a real rich time," he said. "I always feel-- and maybe I'm misreading the impression I give with the character-- but when I'm in his head I feel he's a guy with a lot of potentials that are just beginning to be realized."

Arkin is excercising his dramatic potential on TV after concentrating on comedy. He played scruffy gourmet Adam on "Northern Exposure" (no new appearances are planned as of now, Arkin says) and starred in the six-episode sitcom "Big Wave Dave's."

"It was a wonderful group of people and I had a lot of fun doing it. I also felt it deserved more of a life than it had," he says.

Shifting to drama, however, gives him a chance to reveal "the more serious, centered adult parts of myself."

"Comedy, at least the comedic roles I've done, have really relied upon insecurities and stunted growth in certain ways," he says. "It's just a pleasure to play a character that lives in a deeper realm and struggles with issues of a more advanced nature."

The actor has also made his mark in theater, winning a Tony nomination for his Broadway debut in "I Hate Hamlet." While he doesn't regret being away from the stage, he acknowledges the differences.

"There really has to be a series of instant solutions when you're working on television," Arkin says. "Because you don't have the luxury of letting a question about something sit for a week or two of rehearsal and let this sort of deeper solution occur.

"That can be a benefit, too. At times, doing things on the fly, having to be spontaneous and not overanalyze stuff can sometimes have sort of wonderful, magical results on film."