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TNT brings The Closer back in hopes of opening a new front

TNT's woman of the year returns to the fold Monday with a two-fold mission to solve more murders and launch a new hospital drama.

The Closer, a basic cable ratings-setter in its first two seasons, has Kyra Sedgwick going for it and doesn't need much more. Heartland, following in her wake, gives Treat Williams another go as a doctor after his Everwood series went under.

They're paired from 8 to 10 p.m. (central) on a night that's wide open for first-run scripted drama. The only broadcast network competition is reruns of CBS' CSI: Miami. Otherwise it's wall-to-wall reality series and sitcom repeats. So TNT should thrive.

Sedgwick's tough-minded top cop, Brenda Leigh Johnson, is now firmly established as one of television's singular originals. Impatient, incisive, erotic and a bit neurotic, she's firmly in charge of her LAPD troops. Atlanta, from whence she came, is pretty much out of the picture. Brenda calls the shots, and the men under her no longer see her as either a rube or a threat to their masculinity.

Instead she's facing an all too real terror -- mandated downsizing and budget cuts. Go ahead and catch killers if you must. But do it with fewer people and less money, she's told. Unlike many a male boss, Brenda doesn't buckle under. The grisly stabbing murders of a middle-aged couple and their 12-year-old daughter have her on the prowl without worrying about overtime or other extra costs.

The principal suspect is a teenage son found hiding in the family attic. He claims to not have heard a thing. But Brenda finds this mystifying. And the kid starts to come cleaner after she jolts him by screaming and thrashing the way the victims would have. It's a scene that will stay with you.

On the domestic front, Brenda and FBI agent Fritz Howard (Jon Tenney) are living together in her cramped quarters. All of his stuff is still in her garage, so he yearns to go house-hunting. But she's reluctant to relocate until he finally one-ups her.

All of this makes for a satisfying season-opener with a suitably clever twist to the featured murder case. But the primary reason to watch, as always, is Sedgwick's complete command of the many-faceted Brenda. You just can't go wrong with her.

Then comes Heartland, a straight-ahead, conventionally rendered medical series whose lead doctor of course is brusque but brilliant. That would be Dr. Nathaniel Grant (Williams), a risk-taking organ transplant surgeon whose ex-wife, Kate (Kari Matchett from Invasion), still has to deal with him in her job as an "organ-donor coordinator." This regularly brings Kate to St. Jude's Transplant Center in Pittsburgh, where Dr. Nate has been seeing a younger nurse named Jessica (Morena Baccarin).

For openers we have a teenage girl in desperate need of a new heart. On a lesser plane, Nate's and Kate's teen daughter, Thea (Gage Golightly), is caught stealing condoms from a drug store.

Guest star Dabney Coleman later drops in as the seriously ill Dr. Bart Jacobs, who wants Nate to succeed him as head of St. Jude's transplant unit. Jacobs himself is refusing a lung transplant, which has his onetime protege feeling blue and flexing his softer side.

"I'm not ready for you to go," he tells Dr. Bart after describing himself in front of the St. Jude's board as "just a guy with a knife and some strings, really."

Speaking of strings, there's an awful lot of mood music here. Too much in fact. That can sometimes be a problem with The Closer, too. We don't need an accompanying sound track virtually every time a character emotes. Oftentimes it's far better to just let their words sing a cappella.

Heartland otherwise looks like an OK running mate for The Closer. Williams wears this part well enough, but without making any hearts race. His show likely will just draft along behind The Closer, settling in for what could be a gainful run in an optimum time slot. TNT asks no more.

Grades: The Closer -- A-minus; Heartland -- C-plus