Almost everyone involved with Monday Mornings, the new TNT medical drama from David E. Kelley, knows the audience might be hesitant to scrub into another hourlong TV program set in a hospital.
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"That's the first question that we asked: How this is different than what we already did in Chicago Hope many years ago?" executive producer and frequent Kelley collaborator Bill D'Elia tells TVGuide.com. "But you wind up watching this show differently than you watch any another medical drama. Most of them are about, 'Are they going to save that patient? How are they going to deal with that? Is the doctor flawed? Heroic?' That happens here, but [whether or not] the case is solved successfully ... the difference truly is the morbidity and mortality conference, where the doctors are called to task."
Indeed, the show's title, which it shares with the novel by Dr. Sanjay Gupta upon which the show is based, refers to those weekly "M&M" meetings, during which doctors — from hotshot neurosurgeon Tyler Wilson (Jamie Bamber) to trauma chief Jorge "El Gato" Villanueva (Ving Rhames) — gather in Chelsea General's Room 311 to discuss and defend their shortcomings and successes before Chief of Staff Dr. Harding Hooten (Alfred Molina). It's in those scenes that the show diverges from a typical medical drama and more closely resembles another time-honored TV genre that Kelley favors a bit more.
"Suddenly when I was in that room 311 for the first time, I realized, 'Oh my God, this is a courtroom on steroids,'" D'Elia says. "This is no-holds-barred courtroom, and [Molina] is the Grand Inquisitor. Having done all that courtroom stuff, it greatly informed how to pace and shoot those scenes."
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The doctor on trial in the premiere episode (Monday at 10/9c on TNT) is Bamber's Dr. Wilson, whose failure to ask for a full medical history endangers his 7-year-old patient during surgery to remove a brain tumor. "I was intrigued as to how someone who's supremely confident, who is the very, very best at what he does, then unravels as a result of making such a fundamental mistake," Bamber says of his character. "His sense of self really is eroded through that. ... I think this is forever part of his DNA from there on in. Once your confidence has been cracked, that fissure is there and it can be reopened."
Dr. Wilson is particularly hard on himself because of his own tragic past: His brother also died during a brain surgery when Dr. Wilson was very young. "His whole life has been this slightly immature attempt to put back those pieces that were shattered when he was so young," Bamber says. "His whole medical career is a search for redemption. Ty is in this game to put people's lives right... and that's what he bases his whole self-esteem on."
During this stressful time, Bamber's character will turn to Dr. Tina Ridgeway (Jennifer Finnigan), a colleague whose own struggling marriage portends some possible outside-the-OR consolation time between the duo. But don't expect hanky panky in the on-call room. "It's not really a show about their personal lives as some other shows might be," D'Elia says. "We get a little bit involved in that relationship between Ty and Tina, but our show is mainly with the doctors at work."
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Adds Bamber: "The beauty of their relationship is that it is there in glimpses and touches, and the audience will decide. Whatever is going on between them, they're very aware of the perceived image of each other and they don't want to compromise that. We were very serious about making sure that this thing is not overt, whatever it is."
But Bamber argues that perhaps the biggest difference between Monday Mornings and other recent medical dramas is the portrayal of the doctors as humans, not surgical superheroes. "The normal trope is that these people are flawless at work, but flawed personally," he says. "Our show is fundamentally trying to do a different thing. We're trying to show that these surgeons, yes, they're brilliant, but they are flawed in the professional work as well. They make mistakes. The mistakes are actually the things that are highlighted in the show. ... For the first time with these M&M meetings, you get to see that sort of honesty."
But could highlighting a doctor's flaws each week scare some viewers from ever going to the hospital again? "I'm reminded of Bill Cosby's old routine: You don't want your doctor to say, 'Oops,'" D'Elia says with a laugh. "We're showing you some of the 'oops.' There is an element in watching this show where if I go to a hospital, I'm going to ask some different questions than I might have asked. And I think that's a great thing. People look at doctors as very god-like. ... But if a doctor makes a mistake, what happens? That's what we're showing."
Monday Mornings premieres Monday at 10/9c on TNT.