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Ellen Gray: 'Eli Stone' premieres, in real time

ELI STONE. 10:02 tonight, Channel 6. DRAMA JUNKIES could use an extra set of calendars these days, just to keep up with their favorite characters.

ELI STONE. 10:02 tonight, Channel 6.

DRAMA JUNKIES could use an extra set of calendars these days, just to keep up with their favorite characters.

They've hurtled five years ahead on ABC's "Desperate Housewives,"

they're flashing back and forth in time on NBC's "Heroes," and in ABC's "Lost on Mars," there's a guy stuck in 1973, surrounded by sideburns.

And that doesn't count all the people who'd like to blink their eyes and flash-forward to the season premieres of ABC's "Lost" and Fox's "24."

So it's with some relief that I report that in tonight's season premiere of ABC's "Eli Stone," our favorite lawyer-turned-prophet is just six months older than when we saw him last.

Aneurysm- and vision-free after saving people from an earthquake and having surgery, he's apparently had a quiet six months, seeing a therapist (Sigourney Weaver) and taking steps to get back his law license.

Apparently would seem to be the operative word here - nothing on "Eli Stone" is quite the way it seems - but since an Eli (Jonny Lee Miller) without visions is an "Eli Stone" without elaborate song-and-dance numbers, you just know the quiet wasn't going to last (though I wouldn't have minded seeing a little more of how a non-hallucinating Eli might behave, given all that he's supposedly learned about himself in the past year).

Still, if last season's finale was merely a way of wrapping up a series that might not make it to a second season, tonight's premiere is a push of the reset button, a chance to remind us that Eli's destiny, as outlined in his own flash-forward vision last season, hasn't been abandoned.

I didn't start out as a fan - and the song-and-dance numbers still seem to owe way too much to David E. Kelley and his "Ally McBeal" - but Eli is hard not to like, whether or not you buy him as a prophet. Next week's episode, in which producers do everything they can to keep guest star Katie Holmes from towering over Miller, is a naked plea for higher ratings, disguised as a pretty good episode, and you might want to give in before they enlist Tom Cruise, too.

Laying out 'The Choice'

It's hard to imagine that people who are still telling pollsters they're undecided about their vote for president - the election's three weeks from today - will have their votes swayed one way or another by a two-hour documentary on PBS.

At the same time, it's painfully easy to imagine that many who may have known their Election Day plans for weeks or months would now rather undergo extreme waxing in public than listen to one more partisan shouting head trying to shake - or shore up - their resolve.

Masochists can skip the wax and go straight to MSNBC or Fox News, but those opposed to torture, or at least self-torture, might do just fine with "The Choice" (9 tonight, Channel 12), "Frontline's" once-every-four-years look at the candidates for president. And not just because everyone in it uses his or her inside voice. Focusing as it does on biography rather than individual issues, "The Choice" is a reminder of the men who exist beyond the speeches, the position papers, the spin doctors.

And while I came away still sure of my own vote, I learned things I'd never known about John McCain and Barack Obama and was reminded of things I'd forgotten. And none of that made me fear for my country in the way that two hours of cable news can. *

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