'Medical Investigation' evolves to survive
Tuesday, February 8, 2005
LOS ANGELES -- Like the viruses it attempts to eradicate, NBC's "Medical Investigation" has evolved to survive.
Since the docs-on-global-health-watch drama debuted last September, it has acquired new executive producers, shifted to a greater focus on humanity rather than science, and allowed its leading man to become less gruff and more team oriented.
As a result, it's attracting a solid average of 8.8 million viewers each week and scoring well in the coveted 18-to-49 demographic in its timeslot -- 9 p.m. Fridays.
Executive producer Steve Mitchell came on board after episode five to help build an awareness that this forensic-driven show differs from the "CSI" dramas because "our victims are alive and our stories are about people who try to keep these people alive."
While the technical details have to be as realistic as possible, Mitchell believes audiences don't want to hear an excess of medical jargon, but rather want to react emotionally, much as you might when you're told a loved one is sick.
"You don't hear anything the doctor says. All you are thinking is 'Can you save them?'," Mitchell said.
Kelli Williams, who plays outspoken pathologist-epidemiologist Natalie Durant, uses much the same example when discussing the demands and expectations people place on doctors to always be heroes, play God and save the day.
"My daughter broke her arm a couple of years ago and I wanted the doctor just to fix it immediately, just cure her painlessly, although I know that's just not reality," said Williams, formerly of ABC's "The Practice."
"Anyone can do a forensic drama, but when you have a forensic drama that has emotion, that's the catch right there," said Neal McDonough, who plays the take-charge Dr. Stephen Connor, head of a medical team that races around the world chasing diseases.
McDonough says Connor is a man who probably "wishes to God this wasn't his true calling, but it is."
Initially Connor "barked a lot and got mad a lot and ordered people around, and I said after two or three episodes of this the audience is going to get tired of him," McDonough said.
As a result, plotlines have been developed that provide more insight and sympathy for how the gravity and passion of Connor's work affects his personal life.
The cast also includes Christopher Gorham (previously of UPN's short-lived sci-fi series "Jake 2.0") as junior medic Miles McCabe, Troy Winbush as investigator Frank Powell and Anna Belknap as the group's press liaison, Eva Rossi.
The scene shooting is in a laboratory, and Connor, Durant and Powell -- in their white coats and surrounded by test tubes -- peer into microscopes and study computerized images of dust particles.
They're investigating an illness that appears to have been caused by delayed fallout from the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on New York, but could end up being the result of something entirely different.
That's the forensic aspect of the show, which of course still requires the cast members to get their tongues around some hefty terminology.
McDonough said he goes home each night and studies medical journals "to see exactly what I'm saying."
"Here's some," he said as he points to an upcoming line: "Contaminated L-tryptophans can cause eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome. ..."