Let's make one thing perfectly clear, my fellow Americans -- "D.C." is not a show about Washington interns and everything that term has come to imply over the past couple of years.

Instead, this new show from über-producer Dick Wolf (the man behind shows like the "Law & Order" series and "Miami Vice") is sort of a much smarter "Beverly Hills, 90210" with a few ounces of "The West Wing" and a dash of MTV's "The Real World" thrown into the mix. It may sound like a strange recipe, but it comes out of the oven tasting delicious -- a fun, intriguing prime-time soap opera populated by attractive young actors who have the benefit of some snappy writing.Wolf admits that the show's "gestation" had a lot to do with the focus that the Clinton scandals put on Washington -- but added that "D.C." (which premieres Sunday at 7 p.m. on WB/Ch. 30) is a reaction to and not a reflection of them.

"One of the things that was semi-disturbing about it was it seemed to be playing into the cliché of there is nothing good coming out of the nation's capital," Wolf said. "And the reality is that every year the best and the brightest are still going down there in a variety of guises and getting into government, getting into public service, getting into -- hopefully -- molding the future. And it is also one of the few venues in the United States where people in their early 20s actually have an opportunity to do something substantive."

Indeed, these characters are not Generation X slackers. The five main characters all have ambition. (Not to mention the requisite personal lives away from work.)

Pete Komisky (Mark-Paul Gosselaar of "Saved by the Bell" and "Hyperion Bay") is a smooth-operating lobbyist. He shares a rundown apartment with his best friend, Mason Scott (Gabriel Burns), who has a low-level job in a U.S. senator's office.

They're quickly joined by Mason's twin sister, Finley (Jacinda Barrett of "The Real World"), who quickly finagles a "Real World"-esque coup -- she finds them a fabulous Georgetown townhouse in which to live rent-free. (And it actually seems plausible in the context of the show.)

"There is a scene where we are discussing ownership of groceries out of the fridge. And it was like a house meeting from 'The Real World,' " Barrett said. "And the fact that there's five diverse individuals living in very opulent surroundings that we could no way afford is the same."

But the characters in "D.C." actually have something to do with their time.

"My character (and) everyone else has amazing jobs and they're really driven," Barrett said. "And they're more concerned with that than just partying and living life."

Pete, Mason and Finley are soon joined by an old acquaintance of Pete's, Sarah (Kristinna Loken), a news producer at a CNN-like cable channel, and her boyfriend, Lewis (Daniel Sunjata), a clerk at the Supreme Court. (Theirs is an interracial relationship, but -- much to the show's credit -- that isn't even an issue in the first couple of episodes.)

"This is about aggressive, excited and focused people," Olds said. And, after spending two weeks doing research for his role by working in U.S. Senator John Breaux's (D-Louisiana) office, he's convinced that "D.C." captures the energy of D.C.

"It's infectious," Olds said. "It's just, everybody has passion. Because if they don't, they die. So there's an immense amount of energy there that was really easy to infuse into the really well-written scripts."

And the scripts aren't exactly "Law & Order," which has always prided itself on emphasizing story over character. The characters in "D.C." are of primary importance.

"I would say that the show is a story-driven show with relationships, as opposed to a story-driven show," Wolf said. "And I would say it's pretty close to 50-50. If you look at the episodes, the relationship between the characters is part and parcel of what the show is trying to do.

"The canvas is Washington. And in each episode, there is an A-story and usually two B-stories that are going on simultaneously. There's an ensemble drama as opposed to the single-minded storytelling of the two NBC shows."

And just because the show is set in the nation's most political city -- and the characters are involved to a greater or lesser extent in politics -- doesn't mean that "D.C." is a political show. At least not partisan political.

"The conventional wisdom is that political shows are problematic," Wolf said. "And I think this is a show that is set in the epicenter of politics, but it's not political. I mean, in the initial meeting, I said to (WB CEO) Jamie (Kellner) that, hopefully, we'll do 110 episodes and never use the words 'Democrat' or 'Republican.' I think once you get into partisan politics, it can become tricky.

The fact is that you're never quite sure of the political affiliation of the senator Mason works for. Nor does it matter.

What matters about a show like "D.C." is whether you like the characters and whether you're interested in their stories. And this show is off to a very promising start in both respects.