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Friday, March 10, 1995 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Seattle, Watch Your `Medicine' -- A Quirky New Medical Drama Puts The City In The TV Spotlight Again

Following in the footsteps of "Singles," "Sleepless in Seattle" and "Frasier," Fox television is cashing in on Seattle's cachet with "Medicine Ball," a quirky drama about a group of first-year residents at fictional Bayview Medical Center. The series premieres Monday at 9 p.m.

An amalgam of hospital crises, humor and great hair (this is Fox, remember), "Medicine Ball" looks at health care through a decidedly "Northern Exposure"-esque lens. Helping the ensemble cast capture that type of offbeat sensibility is Bellevue native Timothy Omundson, who plays Dr. Patrick Yeats.

Omundson, who sports a look that's caf rat crossed with leading man, studied at the Seattle Children's Theatre, graduated from Interlake High School in 1987 and received his BFA in theater from the University of Southern California. He cut his television teeth as a guest on "Seinfeld," and met the co-creators of "Medicine Ball" during his subsequent work on the series "seaQuest."

"John (Sakmar) and Kerry (Lenhart) said they were working on a project for Fox and had a character in mind for me," relates the soft-spoken, congenial actor, in town recently for his sister's wedding. "Patrick was described as having long hair, a goatee and looking like he escaped from a coffee house convention, so it was pretty dead on." Despite the perfect fit, Omundson still had to audition.

His character, Patrick Yeats, is an idealist with a passion for homeopathy. The product of an off-shore medical school, he lives in a beat-up van and bides his time as an orderly while angling for acceptance into Bayview's residency program.

"He's the kind of doctor I'd want to have," Omundson says. "He's very against the grain - not that he sets out to buck the system, it's just that the system's wrong, and he's got to make it right."

Are Omundson and Yeats really alike?

"He's much, much cooler than I am, that's for sure," responds Omundson with a chuckle. "He's relaxed, he's mellow. I can be very uptight. But he's good-hearted, and I think I'm good-hearted. And I think we're both not afraid to go after what we want.

"I was constantly told growing up - not by my family, but by others - that I shouldn't go into acting, that it's crazy."

The "Medicine Ball" pilot was filmed in Portland early last year. After a successful pitch to Fox, cast and crew relocated to Seattle to shoot the remaining episodes. Pacific Medical Center on Beacon Hill stands in for the exterior shots of Bayview, while interior scenes were filmed at a sound stage constructed in a hangar at Sand Point naval station.

It remains to be seen whether "Medicine Ball" will retain the preceding "Melrose Place" audience and draw additional viewers; the producers should know within three episodes whether the series will continue. Omundson feels confident that "Medicine Ball" will distinguish itself from the two medical dramas already on television: Michael Crichton's "ER" and David Kelley's "Chicago Hope."

" `Medicine Ball' is more a coming-of-age thing," he says. "Yesterday these people were med students, today they're doctors. They're supposed to know what to do, but they have no idea what to do. Our show deals with these babes in the woods."

Meanwhile, Omundson is set to begin work on his first film role, in an independent production called "The Disappearance of Kevin Johnson." Beyond that, he's hoping "Medicine Ball" will continue and is trying to find another job in case it doesn't.

"It's a nightmare spot to be in," he says ruefully. "Trying to get another job, hoping you don't get another job, hoping you do get another job, trying not to go crazy. Everything could change: This could be the biggest hit this side of `Seinfeld' or it could go two episodes and be dead. It's a very strange time."

Whatever happens, it seems unlikely this young actor will have to resort to that old standby, bartending, anytime soon.

Copyright (c) 1995 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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