Without A Trace leading man Anthony LaPaglia knows a thing or two about battling NBC's Must-See TV franchise. In 1996, ABC pitted the actor's critically acclaimed series Murder One against Seinfeld on Thursday nights — a move that slowly killed the legal thriller. So, you'd think the Aussie import would be doing cartwheels over word that his new CBS missing persons drama is gradually closing in on NBC's venerable — albeit declining — ER. Instead, he seems downright blasé.

"NBC has dominated [Thursday] so much in the last eight years, that this time, there's less pressure," says LaPaglia, who plays senior FBI agent Jack Malone on Trace. "The fact that we've picked up some numbers and are doing a little better is just a bonus. Personally, I don't really get into it all that much. I pay a little bit of attention to it because I can tell the producers are either happy or they're not Friday morning [when] the numbers [come in]."

LaPaglia, an Emmy winner for his guest stint on Frasier last year, is paying closer attention to another, more unlikely Thursday rival: Trace's powerhouse lead-in, CSI. Specifically, he cringes at the suggestion that Trace represents CBS's attempt to mass produce CSI's successful crime format. "I've heard... that it was part of the McDonalds chain of CSI or something," he says. "But, [and] I'm not being defensive about it, I really feel like our show has very few similarities with CSI other than the same producer [Jerry Bruckheimer]. We don't deal with forensics analysis in the least. We deal with psychological profiles of people who've gone missing... I think that the formula in itself is different."

Sounds like someone ought to warn the 43-year-old about biting the hand that feeds viewers to him! Then again, Trace does have its own inherent appeal for a country newly obsessed with kidnapping stories; though LaPaglia points out that this is purely coincidental. "This show was in development for the last two years," he says. "The pilot had been written well before it became very newsworthy, which has been in the last six months."