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'Big Apple' faces big battle

CBS, emboldened by its success with "Survivor" and "CSI" on Thursday nights, aims what could be another big gun at TV's incumbent champ. Beginning tonight at 9 on Ch. 2, the network launches the promising new crime drama "Big Apple" directly opposite NBC's "ER."

The show certainly comes with a strong pedigree. Co-created by David Milch (who won four Emmys for "NYPD Blue," another show he created) and Anthony Yerkovich (who won three Emmys for his work on "Hillstreet Blues" before he created "Miami Vice"), "Big Apple" is a smart, engrossing police drama that weaves familiar elements so well that it takes a step above its cop-show format.

"Big Apple" tells the same story from several different perspectives. Tonight's premiere opens with a pair of NYPD detectives — seasoned, cynical Mike Mooney (Ed O'Neill) and his young partner, Vince Trout (Jeffrey Pierce) investigating a young woman's grisly murder. But their investigation overlaps with an undercover FBI operation target, a Russian mafia-owned strip club.

Over at the FBI, William Preecher (David Straithairn) and Jimmy Flynn (Titus Welliver) are trying to manage things, and newcomer Sarah Day (Kim Dickens) is there to shake things up — particularly for Teddy Olsen (Glynn Turman), an older agent who isn't happy with the methods of some of his younger counterparts.

Then there's FBI informant Terry Maddock (Michael Madsen), whose Hell's Kitchen bar has been wired to spy on the mob. But Terry doesn't want his young protg, Chris Scott (Donnie Wahlberg) to get sucked into any of the investigations.

Before long, the FBI is "deputizing" the NYPD detectives, ostensibly to help them but also to keep them in line.

"One of the aspects of our show is about the disjunction between the agendas of various law-enforcement agencies, compounded by the more usual disjunction that we all recognize between the criminals, whom we also follow, and law enforcement," Milch said.

The writer/producer promised that episodes will include "collateral" storylines that will be resolved in a single episode but relate to the ongoing storylines.

It's an intriguing idea that's reminiscent of "NYPD Blue" and "Hill Street Blues" but with a twist.

(The pilot isn't as "Blue" as ABC's series, although there's a scene in a strip club that features barely clothed dancers. There's violence, but viewers see more of the aftermath. The on-camera violence — including a murder — is handled with discretion.)

This show isn't going to be a monster hit out of the gate, but over time it could certainly make a dent in "ER's" ratings.

NBC VS. CBS: It would seem that the folks at NBC are at least a bit worried about the momentum that CBS is building on Thursday nights. The Peacock, which had originally scheduled a rerun of "ER" tonight, has substituted an original episode to try to stop "Big Apple" before it gets started.

It will be interesting to see what happens, however. CBS has been beating NBC from 7-9 p.m. for the past four weeks with "Survivor" and "CSI" — and Thursday night's original episodes of those two series go up against repeats on NBC. Whether that momentum can carry over at 9 p.m., well, we'll see.

The fact is that "Big Apple" doesn't have to beat "ER" to succeed. If it draws half of "ER's" numbers it will still be twice what "48 Hours" was doing for CBS, and the network will be pleased.


E-mail: pierce@desnews.com