A trauma unit in San Francisco. "ER" comparisons are welcomed by NBC, but as one of the show's producers, Dario Scardapane, explained at the summer TV critics press tour, "We're the 20 minutes before you hit the double doors. It is a pre-hospital show, and we resolve our stories in the hospital, but this is the stuff you didn't see on 'ER.' "

Fair enough, but if the pilot is any indication, expect ER stories, too. There's a spectacular helicopter mid-air collision right before the main title, which sets up the rest of the episode. Hot-shot flight medic Reuben "Rabbit" Palchuck (Curtis) is nearly killed in the horrific accident, but other members of the team escape serious injury; they include Carnahan (Griffith) and Cameron Boone (Derek Luke).

Tonight's episode picks up with their return from medical leave, and they face one hell of a day - including a pile-up on a freeway caused by a yuppie in his Beamer texting his girlfriend. The medic team not only has to deal with crises around town but in their own lives as well. Meanwhile, Dr. Joe Saviano (Jamey Sheridan) is the wise, old man who holds down the ER unit back at the hospital.


Cliff Curtis, the almost-famous New Zealand-born big screen star ("Whale Rider"), makes a rare and memorable TV outing here, while "Damages" fans should be happy to see Anastasia Griffith (who plays Nancy Carnahan).


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If any of you out there can tear yourself away from "Dancing With the Stars" or "Two and a Half Men," then "Trauma" is well worth the short hike over to Ch. 4 - at the very least for the elaborate and expensive opening sequence.

"Trauma" is by far NBC's best new drama. Yes, there are only two, so let's go one step further and say it's one of network TV's better new dramas. The cast is loose, jaunty and appealing. The action scenes will jolt you. "Trauma" feels like a first cousin to the late, lamented "Third Watch." Now comes the tough part - getting people to watch.