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Today, I put it to you that a central problem in the attempt by President Barack Obama to sell his health-care reform plan to Americans is the proliferation of medical dramas on U.S. network TV. All those medical shows are reassuring fantasies about the brilliance of the U.S. system.

Man, oh man, but American viewers love their hospital shows. Every year, it seems, ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox venture back into the hospital/doctor/nurse genre because, well, these medical shows are darn popular. There is always room for a new hit about hospital high jinks.

I also put it to you that most American TV viewers believe that these glossy medical shows serve as advertisements for their medical system. They don't see them as soap operas or as absurd confections designed to titillate. They actually believe them. They need to believe them. In facing possible change, many Americans are, metaphorically speaking, terrified that their medical system will change from the glossy sexiness of ER and Grey's Anatomy to the drab reality of such British shows as Casualty and Doc Martin .

At this point, after years of them, it's clear there's a rough template for these shows. Handsome, square-jawed doctors, gorgeous nurses and a certain amount of shagging in the supply cupboard. There are two doctor-types: One is a ladies' man; the other is willing to break the rules and put patients first, even the ones who don't have insurance coverage. The latter is very rare. The nurses are generally under-appreciated but carry on regardless, having conversations about babies and boyfriend trouble. The hospital administrator or head nurse is an older person, cranky and never involved in high jinks.

There are variations, of course. On Nurse Jackie viewers got a more stark picture of hospitals and the medical racket. But that was a serious cable show and startling because it was a deviation from the norm. In general, U.S. network medical dramas glorify the medical system to an extraordinary degree. So many doctors are geniuses, even if they are troubled. The technology is state-of-the-artand problems are solved lickety-split. Reality is simplified. Everything is solved in an hour, with breaks for commercials. It's quite possible that many Americans are afraid that health-care reform will mean they don't get treatment at hospitals like they've seen on ER , Grey's Anatomy or House or Scrubs .

Mercy (NBC, CITY-TV, 8 p.m.) is another new entry. We meet Veronica (Taylor Schilling), an angry and very smart nurse who returns to toil at Mercy Hospital after a tour of service in Iraq. As NBC describes her, "She's not afraid to bend the rules to save her patients, but her outspoken attitude might wind up costing her her job." Just what viewers want to see - no matter what happens in the current medical system, a heroic figure or super-technology will save them.

And then there's the soap-opera stuff. See, Veronica is reluctant to pick up the shattered pieces of her marriage to her high-school sweetheart Mike (Diego Klattenhoff), because she had a fling in Iraq with a handsome doctor fella. And then - wait for it - she's astonished when the hospital hires that same fella, just back from Iraq. He's Dr. Chris Sands (James Tupper) and boy is he handsome.

Meanwhile, as nasty patients get poor treatment and nice patients get extra loving care, Veronica's best friend and fellow-nurse Sonia (Jaime Lee Kirchner) dates a really, really rich guy. Also, that obligatory character, the naive rookie nurse, Chloe (Michelle Trachtenberg, from Buffy ) is obliged, as NBC says, "to learn the hard way what it means to be a nurse." Actually what it means to be a nurse seems to mainly involve dating dilemmas.

Mercy is slight, silly and entertaining. It is also a crock. And has nothing remotely to do with health care. But many viewers will believe it does. There's your problem in the USA. (Also coming soon are yet two more medical shows: NBC's Trauma , about an emergency trauma unit, and CBS's Three River s, about hot-shot transplant surgeons.)

Modern Family (ABC, CITY-TV, 9 p.m.) is one of the new season's very best shows. A spoof faux-documentary, it's a comedy about three seemingly disparate families. There's Jay (Ed O'Neill), an older guy with a much younger Colombian wife Gloria (Sofia Vergara who is an absolute comedy firecracker here), and who struggles with her 11-year-old son, Manny (Rico Rodriguez), a kid who is more poet than athlete. There's Claire (Julie Bowen) and husband Phil (Ty Burrell), a conventional suburban couple with three too-perky kids. The Claire character is a hilarious send-up of the uptight mom. One of her signatures is that she seems to carry a laundry basket everywhere. And then there's Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) and his partner, Cameron (Eric Stonestreet), a gay couple who, as the series opens, have just adopted a baby girl from Vietnam.

The cast is excellent, the tone is deadpan and it is very, very funny. A must-see.

Also airing

The New Age of Wal-Mart (CNBC, 9 p.m.) is a documentary report about Wal-Mart as, apparently, the giant retailer tries to reinvent itself with "new leadership, aggressively green policies, and full-scale overhauls of its stores." Not a comedy, according to CNBC.

Eastwick (ABC, A, 10 p.m.) is a disappointing new drama, derived from John Updike's novel The Witches of Eastwic k, which was made into the memorable 1987 movie starring Jack Nicholson, Cher, Susan Sarandon and Michelle Pfeiffer. The ABC version has Paul Gross, of this nation, in the Nicholson role as the devil-like Darryl Von Horn. Here, Darryl's object of desire and the putty in his hands are women played by Rebecca Romijn, Lindsay Price and Jaime Ray Newman. The show looks like a low-rent knock-off of the movie and takes ages to settle into an uneasy, ho-hum blend of comedy and drama. It utterly lacks charm.