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An NBC ad campaign says that if you liked "M*A*S*H," you'll like "Nurses."


Why not compare it to Ernest Heminway's "A Farewell to Arms"? That had nurses in it, too.

A medical setting is about the only thing "Nurses," which premieres at 9:30 Saturday night on WMAR-TV (Channel 2), shares with "M*A*S*H." As for differences, there are many. The main one is that "M*A*S*H" was funny, smart and often moving; "Nurses," on the other hand, is all attitude and no insight.

The first three jokes in the premiere, for example, are about lepers, constipation and a patient's sleeping in his own stool. A few viewers might laugh, some might even consider this black comedy -- akin to the dark humor that characterized "M*A*S*H." But the humanity of the people who make the jokes here is not redeemed by acts of goodness; it's the difference between cracking wise and genuine wisdom.

The ensemble sitcom takes place in a Miami hospital, focusing on the interaction of patients and five overworked nurses. Johns Hopkins graduate and stand-up comedian Jeff Altman plays the lone male nurse, a Vietnam veteran who has a big problem with male authority figures, namely doctors. Altman's a talented comedian, but just when you are about to laugh at some of his stranger behavior, you wonder whether Vietnam vets will find it funny.

The show is not a washout and has potential. It may benefit from it's Miami connection. It was created by Susan Harris, whose other projects include such Miami-based sitcoms as "The Golden Girls" and "Empty Nest"; "Nurses" follows the latter show in NBC's Saturday night line-up, which could inflate its ratings for a few weeks by offering a strong lead-in.

LaVerne (Park Overall), the wise-cracking nurse from "Empty Nest," for example, pops up in next week's episode of "Nurses." It's not clear whether LaVerne works in the hospital or is just visiting, but the episode's funniest moments belong to her.

Characters from one sitcom visiting another may sound silly when discussed in a review like this. But the fantasy of such characters all being part of one, big happy sitcom family is an appealing one to many viewers.

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