The doctor will see you now on ‘NY Med'

The show also follows TV doctor Mehmet Oz (left), who maintains a surgery schedule.
The show also follows TV doctor Mehmet Oz (left), who maintains a surgery schedule.
Posted: July 10, 2012

NY MED. 10 p.m. Tuesday, 6 ABC.

A COUPLE of months into filming for his latest documentary series, "NY Med," ABC News producer Terence Wrong began to experience a familiar panic.

"Weill Cornell was just not delivering enough traumas," said Wrong ("Hopkins," "Boston Med"), who'd settled on New York-Presbyterian's Columbia and Weill Cornell Medical Centers for his latest medical docudrama, aware that, as always, he wouldn't know what the stories were until he and his crew got there.

"No one else gets money to make a show where they don't know what the show is going to be," he said, explaining the fear that tends to hit him about two months into most of his projects.

"I'm 100 percent certain we're going to crash and burn," said Wrong, who immediately began negotiations with hospitals all over New York to gain access to their emergency rooms, eventually signing contracts with nine and filming at seven.

He also began staffing the ER at Weill Cornell with videographers 24 hours a day, which, he said, "my staff — let's just say they found it brutal."

But it worked, and so well that ultimately only one of the outside hospitals, Brooklyn's Lutheran Medical Center, was used in the eight-part series premiering Tuesday. Wrong's team ended up with so many emergency-room stories that he's reworking them for a potential cable spin-off, "NY ER."

Filming around the clock, "we broke through a wall we didn't even know existed between us and the staff," he said. "You become a mirror. So we had greater acceptance, participation, camaraderie and raucousness than we've ever had."

Some of that's evident in Tuesday's show, in which a patient comes to the ER with an uncomfortable complaint you may have heard mentioned as a potential side effect in ads for erectile-dysfunction drugs.

"It's alive, it's alive," jokes nurse Marina Dedivanovic, whose patient, fortunately, turns out to be a pretty good sport.

Emergency-room stories are just part of a mix that generally includes complicated surgeries, colorful patients and even the occasional coincidence, as in the discovery that the donor in the face transplant featured in 2010's "Boston Med" had been someone Wrong's team had earlier been following separately, as he waited for a heart transplant that ultimately proved unsuccessful.

There's nothing quite like that face transplant — only the second done in the U.S. — in "NY Med," but there are things that distinguish it from Wrong's other medical documentaries, starting with the occasionally slightly jarring presence of Dr. Mehmet Oz, who while pursuing a career as TV's "Dr. Oz," still spends one day a week working as a heart surgeon at Columbia Medical Center.

"I knew he was there, and I wasn't planning to film with him, because I thought he's way too overexposed," Wrong said.

But then one of the "NY Med" videographers, Valery Lyman, "begged me to spend a little time with him [and] … she comes back with this footage and I couldn't stop watching," said Wrong, now an unabashed fan (though he still doesn't watch Oz's daytime show).

Oz's "DNA is extraordinary. He's like 1 in 10 million," he said of the doctor, who sounds more like his TV persona than a stereotypical surgeon while speaking with patients (and who's also seen joking with and being fussed over by nurses who've known him since long before he was famous).

And though Oz, who also undergoes an on-screen colonoscopy, à la Katie Couric, is probably the only surgeon in "NY Med" who's regularly approached by strangers, he's hardly the only star at a hospital that attracts both celebrity patients and doctors.

Surgeons, Wrong said, don't usually like to say anyone's "the best," but he singled out two, Dr. Jan Quaegebeur and Dr. Tomoaki Kato, who are "irrefutably" tops in their fields.

"There's never been a pediatric heart surgeon like [Quaegebeur] and there may never be again," while Kato will "take every organ out of your abdominal cavity … and he'll shave the tumor off it and put it back in."

Which makes for some gripping TV for those with the stomachs for it.

The real stars of "NY Med," though, are the patients and their families, people who've agree to be filmed in some of the most difficult moments of their lives.

Late in the series, a woman diagnosed with breast cancer is shown leaving her doctor's office, trying to dry her tears before facing other patients in the waiting room.

Hers isn't a story of cutting-edge medicine. "Breast cancer I avoided for 13 years because I thought it was too mundane and garden-variety," admitted Wrong, saying he changed his mind only after realizing that "this is just a shadow of death that stalks people and it's so ubiquitous."

But "how can you do it so it doesn't look like one of those things that's on the news at 11?"

It was the videographer, Lyman, he said, who "bonded with the woman" to produce that part of the episode. "I don't think you could be more intimate … than we were allowed to be."

Contact Ellen Gray at 215-854-5950 or graye@phillynews.com or follow on Twitter @elgray. Read her blog at EllenGray.tv.

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