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‘Ambulance Girl’ based on real life

Kevin McDonough United Feature Syndicate

Academy Award winner Kathy Bates (“Misery”) directs and stars in “Ambulance Girl” (9 p.m., Lifetime), an intelligent if flawed drama about a middle-aged woman who challenges her inner demons and becomes a happier and more fulfilled person, only to discover that her healthy changes may imperil her not-so-stable marriage.

It also happens to be based on a true story by Jane Stern, half of the best-selling writing team of Jane and Michael Stern.

For three decades, the Sterns have written acclaimed books about food, roadside America and popular culture. But Michael’s (Robin Thomas) recent recovery from alcoholism and his frequent attendance at AA meetings make Jane (Bates) feel alone and depressed. She had grown used to (dare we say co-dependent?) on his weakness, and her role as his caregiver had consumed and defined her life.

After a period of self-pity, Jane decides to give of herself and joins her local ambulance corps. This part of the movie is both the most predictable and most rewarding. Suddenly a woman who had been known only for her wit, irony and neuroses has to become strong and selfless.

She learns to cope with burning buildings, grievous wounds and physical danger. And she grows to love hanging out with the firemen and EMT squads, regular folks who don’t know her as a famous author.

But soon Michael begins to feel excluded. He chides her for neglecting their writing work and fears that he’s losing his partner.

Unlike most Lifetime movies that focus on a woman wronged or a divorced wife getting her groove back, “Ambulance” tries to show how a couple struggles to save a lifelong friendship and a 30-year marriage. And that’s a tall order for any movie.

The film places so much emphasis on Jane that it’s a little hard to understand or sympathize with Michael’s problems. In fact, he comes off as an ex-drunk who has “self-actualized” into a cranky jerk.

The film would be easier to take if it stuck to Lifetime cliches and Michael ran off with a younger woman while Jane spent the next 15 minutes brooding before ending up with a ladder captain and living happily ever after. But the problems presented here are based on a real marriage and are therefore a little more complicated.

And “Ambulance” deserves credit for its honesty and ambition, even if we never entirely understand why this marriage should be saved.

A major news organization receives a videotape threatening a local shopping mall with a bio-weapons attack. Does it broadcast it? Turn it over to Homeland Security?

News veteran Fred Friendly hosts “In the Balance” (10 p.m., KSPS), which examines journalistic judgment calls in the time of terrorism.

The new series “Cash in the Attic” (8 p.m., HGTV) offers practical tips on converting your clutter into income.

Other highlights

An etiquette teacher changes places with a woman who doesn’t know the meaning of the word “discipline” on the second-season opener of “Wife Swap” (10 p.m., ABC).

A hospital stint makes the family worry and wonder about life without Ray Barone on the series finale of “Everybody Loves Raymond” (8:30 p.m., CBS).

The Falcons host the Eagles on “Monday Night Football,” 6 p.m., ABC).

Michael’s tattoos attract attention on “Prison Break” (9 p.m., Fox).

Horatio confronts his long-lost brother on “CSI: Miami” (10 p.m., CBS).

Allison helps the Texas Rangers on the season conclusion of “Medium” (10 p.m., NBC).

Cult choice

Kristy McNichol (“Family”) and Christopher Atkins (“The Blue Lagoon”) star in the 1982 bomb “The Pirate Movie” (5 p.m., Fox Movie Channel).

Series notes

Doug’s motivations ruin the mood on “King of Queens” (8 p.m., CBS) … Joe Rogan hosts “Fear Factor” (8 p.m., NBC) … Flex comes clean on “One on One” (8 p.m., UPN) … On two episodes of “7th Heaven” (WB), Mary’s shocking move (8 p.m.), and Simon contemplates intimacy (9 p.m.) … Robert mulls a move on “All of Us” (8:30 p.m., UPN).

New management brings big changes on “Las Vegas” (9 p.m., NBC) … A drunken confession on “Girlfriends” (9 p.m., UPN, r, TV-14) … On two episodes of “Two and a Half Men” (CBS), a baby-sitting decision (9 p.m.), and a ruse (9:30 p.m.) … A job hunt on “Half & Half” (9:30 p.m., UPN).

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