THE SHOW "Hostages"

WHEN | WHERE Monday night at 10 on CBS/2

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WHAT IT'S ABOUT U.S. President Paul Kincaid (James Naughton) is about to undergo a fairly routine operation -- no huge deal, something on his lung -- by top surgeon Dr. Ellen Sanders (Toni Collette). Before the surgery, she and her family are taken hostage by tough guy FBI hostage negotiator Duncan Carlisle (Dylan McDermott). She has to kill the prez on the operating table, or her husband (Tate Donovan) and kids will be killed. But why does he want the president dead? This 15-episode novel-like series is produced by Jerry Bruckheimer.

MY SAY Network television has yet to flat-out copy "Homeland," but that doesn't mean network television hasn't (or shouldn't) cut and paste some of its DNA into the genetic code of other thrillers. Enter "Hostages," about a family in extreme peril, a president in grave danger, and everyone (or almost everyone) bound by deep, dark secrets that metaphorically hold each of them "hostage," too.

Meanwhile, their world is ruled by "Murphy's law" "We have thought of everything," McDermott's heavy tells the terrified family, almost as if he's trying to convince himself. In fact, they haven't thought of everything, which adds to the intrigue and story as well. There are moments here when viewers will say, "Hold on a minute, cowboy -- that could never ever happen" -- and there certainly are reality- challenged moments in "Homeland," too. But that's hardly the point or pleasure of shows like this. The roller- coaster ride is what counts, and "Hostages" promises a decent one. Bruckheimer does succumb to his most basic instincts -- which, for viewers, is (as usual) good and bad. The tension never sags. The synth soundtrack never stops thumping. But you'll also wish the show would slow down to take stock of the details, and especially the characters, who only briefly emerge from the headlong rush. Naughton, Collette and McDermott are superb -- and "character," after all, is what they do best.

BOTTOM LINE Smart, intriguing thriller, but the opener is slightly overheated.

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GRADE B+