Code Black: Newest, adrenaline-filled medical drama

The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - ABC Studios has a new procedural medical drama starring Oscar winner Marcia Gay-Harden titled Code Black to premiere on CBS soon. The name of the show refers to a code name used in the emergency room of an urban hospital when the influx of patients is so great that the staff is too overwhelmed to treat them all and some might die.

Earlier last May, The Philippine STAR sat with an interview with creator Ryan McGarry and executive producer Michael Seitzman at the Disney Burbank Studios in Burbank, CA during its International Upfront week. Ryan is the writer and director of the 2013 award-winning documentary Code Black where the show is based.

When I asked Michael how he came to produce Code Black, he said, “I saw the documentary directed by Ryan last June 2014 and I’ve never seen anything like it. It looked exactly the kind of show I want to do and yet I’m not sure I knew it yet. I’m looking to do a medical show and I want it very kinetic, muscular and have a lot of action and emotion in it and the documentary has everything I want to put in a TV show.”

Michael also added, “It (Code Black documentary) has a lot of urgency and the visuals are I’ve never seen before. The quantity of medical professionals with different types of cases, issues in healthcare and the people who needed them and the struggles of the doctors to maintain their sense of professionalism are all in it.”

When Ryan was asked what inspired him to do the documentary, his answer came as a surprise.  “I’m actually a doctor, I’m an Emergency Room doctor and from the time I can remember, I really want to be a storyteller but I don’t know if that’ll be in film, TV or writing, I just don’t know when. And I got very sick as a teenager, I had cancer and that really pushed me into medicine and when I was a training physician I was always looking for ideas for story inspiration. When I walked into the LA County Hospital ER during my training, I was absolutely floored. This crazy and chaotic space has all the stories I needed with incredible amount of characters, human drama and life-and-death cases.”

The two described their partnership in creating and writing the TV show. Michael said, “I talk to Ryan constantly. His office is right next to mine. Throughout the writing of the pilot episode, I would call Ryan up asking for some cutting-edge medicine, something that feels avant-garde that I can write into the show. Ryan suggested what about a cold infusion? And that ends up in the pilot.” (Be sure to watch this exciting scene in the pilot episode).  Michael added, “Ryan also vets the medical dialogue and to make sure it works so when the character says it, it would sound medically real.”

On his partnership with Michael, Ryan said, “The very core of our partnership is that he’s brilliant with understanding the emotions of a certain moment and I feel very lucky to have a writer who’s an expert at that.”

Asked on what’s their reaction to Code Black being compared to NBC’s E.R., Michael said, “We love E.R.! We both worship E.R. It’s a landmark show. The medical jargon and the field of medicine in the show didn’t talk down to the viewer. E.R. didn’t treat the world of the E.R. as a mere backdrop for a soap opera. It’s an action show as much as it was a story about relationships. In that regard, I think the question shouldn’t really be is your show like E.R.? But, how do you make it more like E.R.”

Michael added, “But we’re not E.R. in a number of respects. Our style in telling a story is different and we call it aggressive realism. E.R. has this slickness in it but ours is more aggressive with natural lighting, we don’t use steady cam, we shoot with three cameras and a dolly and we fill our set with real trauma nurses and get them into the union and guild so they can speak and play their parts. The scene will play out like in real life as they are treating a patient using actual gadgets and tools used in the Emergency Room. It feels electrifying and real. Our filmmaking is very much visceral.”

I also learned that Michael’s family is in medicine. Most of them are either doctors or nurses. So for him, doing a medical show feels like a homecoming of sorts.

The medical drama will not touch on the politics of healthcare in the US.

Ryan said, “For us, healthcare doesn’t have a political party. We won’t touch on politics and take a position on a larger sense for it will cheapen the show. It should be about the patient. No political sides were taken when we were writing the show, our fear is, it would only push people away into their camps if there is an outright political message.”

Months later at the Disney/ABC TCA summer press tour at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Aug. 5, Marcia and Michael were present to meet the international press to promote their show.

Marcia was asked what made her accept the role in Code Black. She said, “I’m always looking for a challenge and this role is so good, it’s hard to say no. I was a little nervous about it because I’m a single mother of three and I know what life is like on set. I was drawn to the show because it’s real, it’s raw.”

She added, “This is drama, documentary style. The amount of knowledge they want us to acquire — so that it feels authentic — is a lot. I have to remind myself all the time that SAG is behind my name, not M.D.”

Michael said the actors went through a “medical boot camp” and were asked to learn a glossary of terms.

 “At the end of the day, the values (of the show) are what stand out to me. The values of health, family, love, community, doing a good job...making a difference,” Marcia added.

Code Black premieres come Sept. 30 at 10 p.m. on CBS; and on Oct. 7 at 8:50 p.m. on the Sony Channel Asia in the Philippines.

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