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Jeff Neira, ABC
"Hopkins," an intimate look at the people who make a hospital work, debuts at 9 p.m. on ABC/Ch. 4.

The meaning of reality television has been so warped that telling you about a great reality show probably carries the wrong meaning.

Yes, "Hopkins" is reality. But we're talking real reality, documentary style, not people being voted off an island or backstabbing each other to win some bachelor's love.

And "Hopkins" is nothing short of engrossing. If you watch nothing else this summer, don't miss this six-week series that begins tonight at 9 on ABC/Ch. 4.

Eight years after "Hopkins 24/7," a documentary film crew returned to Baltimore's Johns Hopkins Hospital. Camera crews followed doctors and patients almost nonstop, and the results are amazing.

"Hopkins" is a real-life version of what "ER" was when it premiered 14 years ago — a slam-bang, roller coaster ride about the incredible variety of patients that come through a hospital.

(There's a bit of a gross-out factor — real medical procedures are captured on camera — but it's less gross than your average episode of "ER.")

"Hopkins" is also about the personal lives of doctors who care for patients, at least as far as their personal lives intersect with the professional duties. And Dr. Brian Bethea, one of the nation's top cardiothoracic surgeons, is not only dealing with crises at the hospital but his 13-year marriage is falling apart.

It isn't easy to devote nearly every waking moment to saving people's lives and have a successful relationship.

And then there's the inspiring story of Dr. Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa, a brain surgeon who can do amazing things to save people's lives.

He entered the country illegally in 1986 and worked in the fields.

"All I wanted to do when I first came to the United States was just to make a little bit of money, send it back to my family so we could actually put food on our tables," says Quinones-Hinojosa, who recalled that when he expressed an interest in going to school and learning English, a relative "looked at me and said, 'This is your future. You're going to spend the rest of your life working in the fields.' And I can honestly tell you that I was in tears."

He went on to attend UCSF, Berkeley and Harvard, "But I'm still the same person. Absolutely nothing has changed. I'm the same crazy son-of-a-gun I was 20 years ago.

"I have failed at many things. But never in my ability to try again."

Now there's a story you don't often hear in the debate over illegal immigration.

It's just one story of many that make "Hopkins" must-see TV for real.

'ASK THIS OLD HOUSE': If you're looking for some help with a home-improvement project, the experts are coming to town this fall.

"Ask This Old House" will make Salt Lake City one of its stops on a tour that will also take the show to Chicago, Charleston, S.C., Indianapolis, Nashville and San Diego.

The show tackles smaller projects at a lot of homes, both around the show's home base in Boston and at various cities on the tour.

The team will be in Salt Lake City on Oct. 21, 22, 23 and 24. If you need help with a project, submit your question at www.thisoldhouse.com/askaquestion.

E-mail: [email protected]