Patrick Dempsey Photograph By Gavin Bond
Jennifer Armstrong
September 04, 2006 AT 04:00 AM EDT

In a sterile white corridor of Seattle Grace Hospital, three surgeons are slipping into tissue-papery garments called ”trauma gowns” — which can only mean that there’s serious business to attend to. They are seconds away from greeting an ambulance carrying a severely messed-up accident victim. But instead of silently concentrating to hone their focus or discussing ER strategy among themselves, the doctors of ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy are doing what they do best: bantering about their sex lives.

”You and O’Malley, huh?” says smart-alecky intern Alex Karev (Justin Chambers), needling badass orthopedist Callie Torres (Sara Ramirez) as he helps her tie her gown. ”How’d that happen?”

”I don’t know,” she snaps back. ”You’re a surgeon — how’d that happen?”

But Alex’s no-nonsense supervisor, Miranda Bailey (Chandra Wilson), is having none of it as she joins them mid-rush toward the emergency entrance. ”She’s a resident,” she scolds Alex. ”She outranks you. You don’t ask her personal questions.” It’s a line that would sound perfectly reasonable on any other doctor drama — but on Grey’s Anatomy, it’s a damn funny thing to say. After wrapping the scene, Wilson smiles and cracks, ”Not talking about our personal lives? At Seattle Grace? Come on.”

Playing doctor with each other (and gossiping about it incessantly) actually trumps being doctors for this staff. And the hot docs’ bedside manners have made the third season of Grey’s Anatomy the most anticipated series return of the fall. Of course, it’s not just the 20 million fans who are breathlessly awaiting the Sept. 21 premiere: Now that the hospital serial has taken up residence on Thursdays opposite CBS’ forensics phenom CSI, ABC execs are hoping for their first seriously competitive lineup on that night since 1978’s Barney Miller/Soap combo. ”This is the golden age of broadcast drama, and Grey’s is clearly a centerpiece of that,” says ABC Entertainment president Stephen McPherson. ”This is a chance to grow our schedule. There’s a lot of doomsday talk of ‘Oh, my God, two or three hit shows against each other!’ But we’re hoping there’s plenty of room for everyone.”

In other words, the stakes couldn’t be higher if, say, a patient showed up with an unexploded bomb in his chest.

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