The Drama Club: ‘Miami Medical’ Takes ‘CSI’ To The Hospital

by | April 1, 2010 at 7:32 AM | Miami Medical, The Drama Club

Lisa Parilla in Miami Medical (CBS)

Lisa Parilla in Miami Medical (CBS)

Friday at 10 p.m., ‘Miami Medical‘ — which CBS’s breathless promos hype as the first medical series from super-producer Jerry Bruckheimer — premieres.   After watching a screener of the first two episodes, I think it’s safe to say that if you like ‘CSI: Miami‘ but always wished you could replace Horatio’s (David Caruso) sunglasses with a gaping chest wound, you have found your show.  The series follows a template that will be familiar to fans of other CBS procedurals.  Each episode begins with a horrific incident that results in serious injuries.  The victims are brought to the trauma center where an elite team of doctors will do everything they can to save their lives within the “golden hour” that often separates life from death for trauma patients.   The characters are familiar: a tough female surgeon from the wrong side of the tracks (Lana Parilla), a cocky smart ass (Mike Vogel) and an overwhelmed resident (Elizabeth Harnois).   The marquee actor is Jeremy Northam as Dr. Proctor, the secretive, maverick head of the team.

Filled with quick cuts, ultra modern sets, and a neverending series of medical crises, the show is not dull.  But the cases, at least in the first few episodes are nothing that ‘ER‘ and ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ have not done dozens of times before.  The blandly expositional dialogue made me long for the overwrought, stylized monologues of ‘Grey’s.  But Jerry Bruckheimer knows a lot more about what most television viewers like than I do, so the show may overcome the Friday night graveyard timeslot and become a runaway hit.  I spoke with Lana Parilla and series creator Jeffrey Lieber about the show.

Tell me about your character.

Parilla: Dr. Eva Zambrono was born in Cuba, came over when she was about six years old on a little boat with her mother, father, cousins, grandfather.  She lost her mother on the way over.  So she was raised with her father and her grandfather.  Her father and her grandfather were both surgeons in Cuba.  She’s known to be one of the top female surgeons in the country.  She’s extremely work focused, dedicated to her job to the point where she’s the first one there, last one to go home.  She’s a great communicator, which is something I learned when I shadowed three surgeons down in Miami at the trauma center the show’s based on.   She doesn’t really have time for a boyfriend even though she would like that.  She’s just been so career focused that she just hasn’t opened her heart to anyone. She’s street smart, grew up not in the best area.  I grew up in a pretty bad neighborhood myself so I know that world.

What attracted you to the show?

Parilla: I thought for a procedural, or a pseudo procedural as Jeffrey Leiber calls it, it’s very different. These characters are so full and dynamic. I really like my character.  I like the people I’m working with.  I liked their creative vision.  I liked how they communicate.  I like how easygoing they were.

The show is centered around the concept of the “golden hour” that a trauma team has to save a patient.  How does that concept impact the stories and your performance?

Parilla: There are sixty minutes after a major traumatic injury. We know that there’s a high chance that these victims will survive if provided with the highest level care in that hour, so we have to move very quickly.  We’re exhausted by the end of the take because we’re pushing gurneys, grabbing this thing, grabbing that thing, scrubbing down, getting into the surgical room because that’s how it really is at the trauma center.  As a surgeon you have to think very quickly, figure out what’s going on.  It’s almost like you have to have x-ray eyes to look inside a body and make decisions. Everyone’s playing God.  90% of the time we save people’s lives and we never think that we can’t.

What sets ‘Miami Medical’ apart from other medical shows on television?

Lieber: My wife, before I met her, got sick. Her mother brought her to the ER.  They said it was the flu, sent her home.  Two hours later, her mother came down the stairs to find her in a coma on the couch.  She put her in the car, raced her to the hospital.  She was admitted to the trauma ward at Cedars.  The decisions that were made by the doctors in the next hour were what saved her life.  They figured out that she had this thing called endocarditis which is an illness of the heart.  She had a prolapsed mitral valve that was pumping bad blood into her system. My wife told me this story once we met and it sort of lived with me.  So when I pitched the show I said what’s really interesting to me is how do people who see dying patients every day of their lives, live?  After seeing the fifteenth car crash, how do you get in your car and drive home?  The idea took off from there.  To me, the show is not really a medical show.  It’s about people who are faced with life and death and have to go out and live their lives.  It’s a character based show that happens to be in a hospital.

How did the cast come together? You’ve got some big names, like Jeremy Northam.

Lieber: We just lucked out.  It’s weird.  That role was never written to be a Brit.  We just sat down and [the network] said, “What about Jeremy?”  And we said, “Good God.  If we could get him, that would be fantastic.”  The question was, do we turn him into an American? We all said, no,no, no.  What’s most interesting about the character is that he’s a wild card anyway.  So how fish out of water could we make the guy? This Brit in sunny, beautiful Miami who walks in the door with a Phish T-shirt and a pair of sunglasses sort of appealed to us.  So we got him.  Lana [Parilla] came in and read and knocked it out of the park.  Between Mike [Vogel] and Omar [Gooding], and Liz [Harnois], it’s a stunningly good cast. We’re not a typical CBS procedural in any way.   We don’t have a lead the way most shows do.  For the first eight episodes, we’ve asked each of them to run an episode at times.

Dr. Proctor is pretty mysterious.  Are we going to learn more about his character in each episode?

Lieber: The first eight episodes does explain what happened as far as the scar on his chest.  We still leave out there whose been left behind and whether they’ll show up.  The overarching arc of the first eight episodes is where the hell did Proctor come from?

I liked that the only nurse on the trauma team is male.  Why did you make that decision?

Lieber: One of the people trauma teams rely on most is the charge nurse.  The thought was, why not?  In the research I did going down to Ryder Medical in Miami, which is what this is based on, I met one guy [nurse.] And I thought, “Well, that’s more fun.”

How do you feel about premiering in April?

Lieber: It’s a little odd, but mostly very cool.  We have the landscape to ourselves.  My hope is that enough people will be aware there’s a new show coming on.  The show’s been a little like the Mars lander.  I started working on it two years ago and sent it off.  Now it’s finally about to hit the planet and I’m hoping the landing gear comes down and the satellite dish opens up because it’s been such a long journey to get here.

I was thrilled to see Andre Braugher in a cameo in the pilot.  Are we ever going to see his character again?

Lieber: It really depends on how successful ‘Men of a Certain Age‘ is.  We were lucky to get him A) because he’s a great actor and known for playing great roles and B) because when he makes his exit, for people who don’t know he’s going to make his exit, all the more unsettling.

What has it been like working with Jerry Bruckheimer?

Lieber: He and the people who work for him are really pros at making television.  They care about television.  They love television.  They really are invested in making better television with each episode.  It’s rare to work with people who want to make entertainment that is both interesting and compelling.  He’s got a real good knack for where the limits lie.  He doesn’t give a lot of notes, but the notes he gives are really quite precious.

You wrote the original pilot for ‘Lost,’ but left the show when J.J. Abrams was hired and ended up getting a created by credit.  How do you feel about the show ending?

Lieber: I haven’t been around since the very, very beginning but I’m sure fascinated to see where it goes.  I know how it ends: they run credits and they go to commercial.  Everyone who works in Hollywood has a version of this story.  It’s been interesting to watch this thing happen on its own and be such a phenomenon.  Meanwhile, this is the third pilot I’ve shot since it happened and the first one to go to series.  I don’t envy them having to find an end.  I’m glad it’s not me because whatever ending they come up with, some people will be satisfied and everyone else will second guess.