Diane Haithman is contributing to Deadline’s coverage of TCA.
At today’s TCA panel on TNT’s new medical drama series Monday Mornings, executive producer David E. Kelley (Chicago Hope, The Practice, Doogie Howser M.D.) admitted reservations about a taking on another medical show. But he said he went back into the operating room because of the participation of neurosurgeon and co-executive producer Sanjay Gupta. The series is based on the book by Gupta. The surgeon also serves as CNN chief medical correspondent.
Kelley said the book made him realize that the show, whose large ensemble cast includes Ving Rhames, Bill Irwin, Alfred Molina and Emily Swallow (on the panel,) could offer “fertile story-telling ground”, adding: It only came to fruition when Sanjay agreed to stay with it. The book is what made me want to do the series, but I wanted to keep the voice that came with us. He assured me he would not abandon us, and stay with us”.
Network television veteran Kelley was asked to compare the budget of this TNT medical show and what he is used to working with in network TV. “The budgets in TNT are more competitive with broadcast than any of us anticipated, “ Kelley said. “The bigger challenge is 7 days vs. 8 days” to produce an episode, he added. “Bill [exec producer Bill D’Elia” says I still write 8-day shows”.
“You write 10-day shows”, joked D’Elia, who was also on the panel with producers and cast.
Despite his long network track record, Kelley is coming off two network disappointments: One, the cancellation of the NBC series Harry’s Law, and the failure of his pilot for a new Wonder Woman series that failed to go to series at the same network. After the panel, he spoke about both.
On Wonder Woman: “I still believe it’s viable. I only regret we weren’t given a chance to correct it. We could have fixed what was wrong…I think it could have been a great success. We produced it at warp speed”.
On Harry’s Law: “It was working on many levels, we’re still scratching our heads. We still had 8 million viewers.” Despite the numbers, he said that NBC “blithely dismissed us” and refused to promote the show because it appealed to an older demographic. “As someone over 49, I take that a little personally”.
Also after the panel, Kelley said that these days he “finds nothing to watch” on network TV. “In terms of scripted product, cable is more daring, more creative and moving-forward place to be”, he said
He did say there is one drawback to doing a TNT series vs. pay cable: Commercials. “Working at TNT is great, the only thing I envy about Aaron’s job is the commercials,” he said, referring to his envy of Aaron Sorkin’s freedom to write scripts without breaks for the HBO series The Newsroom.
Other cast members appearing on the panel are Sarayu Rao, Keong Sim, Jennifer Finnigan and Jamie Bamber.