With “House” and “Private Practice” both having wrapped up their runs, and the cancellations of “The Mob Doctor” and “Emily Owens, M.D.,” there is definitely room on the tube for a new medical drama. TNT is hoping to fill the void with “Monday Mornings” from David E. Kelley, based on the eponymous novel by practicing neurosurgeon and CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
Set in fictional Chelsea General Hospital in Portland, Oregon, “Monday Mornings” follows the professional lives of a group of top-notch surgeons, who each Monday morning attend a morbidity and mortality conference. There, decisions they have made during the course of their work is subject to the scrutiny of their peers — and one slip of the knife can cost someone their career!
“At first I had a reservation of the project itself because I had done a medical show before,” says Kelley, who is referring to “Chicago Hope.” “Then I read the book and saw that it was completely different. The characters were different. The stories were different, and the staple of this book was these M&M meetings. It felt like fertile storytelling ground, and I probably was drawn to it because it was different. ”
Before the series premieres tonight, XfinityTV.com dropped by the Manhattan Beach, Calif. set to talk to executive producer Bill D’Elia and Gupta about what makes “Monday Mornings” worth turning into. Here is what they had to say:
No. 1: What makes this show different?: The idea of the M&M conferences was the jumping off point to make this show standout from other medical dramas. So, Dr. Harding Hooten (Alfred Molina) conducts one or two M&M conferences per episode, where even if a patient survives, a doctor can undergo scrutiny if there is something to be learned from what they did or the way they did it. “There is a lot of suspense involved in terms of what goes on,” D’Elia says. “I believe you actually watch this show in a different manner than most medical shows… There is an element almost of the way you watch a procedural drama, where you are looking for clues and wondering, is that going to come up? If you watch this show and see success, you are still going to wonder: Did he do the right thing? If the patient died: Did they still do all the right things? It is a very interesting way into a medical drama that I have not seen or been a part of before.”
No. 2: How real are the M&M conferences?: According to Gupta, they are definitely based on experiences he has had, so he feels they are quite realistic. “When I was training, these meetings were some of the most indelible experiences that I went through,” he says. “No one wants to be at the lectern in that spot, but everyone has been at one point or another. They can be brutal. Someone described it as a street fight, slightly more dignified, but only slightly. Academic wars are waged in these rooms. Sides are picked. You are dealing with some very strong personalities, as well, arguably over the most important life-and-death things. I think it is pretty reflective.”
No. 3. The cast and guest stars: Leading the staff at Chelsea General is Dr. Harding Hooten (Molina), who is the chief of surgery, and as mentioned earlier, the man in charge of the M&M conferences. Next in line is Dr. Jorge “El Gato” Villanueva (Ving Rhames), the hospital’s trauma chief. They are joined by several hotshot neurosurgeons, including Dr. Tyler Wilson (Jamie Bamber) and Dr. Tina Ridgeway (Jennifer Finnigan). Also on staff are Dr. Buck Tierney (Bill Irwin), the socially challenged but genius surgeon Dr. Sung Park (Keong Sim); the formidable Dr. Sydney Napur (Sarayu Rao); and resident Dr. Michelle Robidaux (Emily Swallow).
Hal Holbrook guest stars in the fourth or fifth episode, playing a surgeon who is past his prime but is still a brilliant and well-renowned surgeon who might be missing a step. There is concern within the hospital that he might be endangering patients.
No. 4. What kinds of surgeries will we see?: The joke on the set of “Monday Mornings” is that if someone should accidentally hit their head and wind up with a subdural hematoma, the equipment is sophisticated enough that surgery could be performed on the set to remove it. Of course, Gupta would have to be present — as he is the only one actually qualified to operate. That said, in Season 1, the operations are based on story more than the writers just deciding to do some cutting-edge procedure. But with all the advances going on right now in neurosurgery, Gupta has been able to come up with surgeries we haven’t seen before on TV. “The nice thing about neurosurgery or brain surgery is it is pretty dynamic and changing all the time,” he says. “With cardiac surgery, it is a lot of bypasses and valve replacement, with neuro, the whole idea of treating things that were typically not thought of even as diseases but more in the realm of psychiatric movement disorders, are now being treated surgically.” Dr. Sung Park is somebody who will be a whiz at these new surgeries — and everything he does in the show is real. An example, is the case where a young woman has a movement disorder. It is not Parkinson’s, but anything she does volitionally — if she reaches for something — starts a tremor. Her condition is notoriously difficult to treat with medicines, but over the last few years, surgeries have been developed that can provide relief.
No. 5: How much of the doctors’ personal lives will we see?: After shows like “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Private Practice,” we are used to doctors hooking up, and even though “Monday Mornings” is essentially a workplace drama, it will not be the exception. “You can’t have a group working this intensely together without having sparks fly from that ignition,” says D’Elia. Even so, he adds that most of the action takes place in the hospital, and at Dr. Villanueva’s hangout near the hospital, which they all end up encroaching upon.
“Monday Morning” premieres on Monday, Feb. 4 at 10/9c on TNT.