How 'Monday Mornings' Transforms The Medical Drama
By Jarett Wieselman
While Monday Mornings showcases cutting edge surgical techniques, TNT's new medical drama is, tonally, a throwback to shows like Chicago Hope and E.R., when stories revolved around the ailing patients, not the banging doctors.
Although it comes as no surprise that Monday Mornings is operating on a higher level once you get a glimpse at the top-notch cast (Jamie Bamber, Alfred Molina, Ving Rhames) and behind-the-scenes crew (created by four-time Peabody Award winner David E. Kelley and based on Sanjay Gupta's book).
According to star Jamie Bamber, centering Monday Mornings around weekly 311 meetings (where doctors gather with their peers for a confidential review of complications and errors in patient care) was one reason he jumped at the chance to join the cast.
ETonline: What attracted you to Monday Mornings?
Jamie Bamber: I knew very early on that I wanted to get involved because of David E. Kelley and the kind of writing he brought to the character in the first episode. Sanjay's book wasn't out yet, so I just had this guy with this god complex who has never had to doubt his own abilities. I mean, what a great way to tee up a character's journey. I had no idea if the show would be procedural or like Battlestar Galactica and go week-to-week, but it was a great role, a great script, a great showrunner with David E. Kelly and I knew these were great ingredients to make a show.
ETonline: What was the audition process like?
Bamber: I had a great first meeting -- they told me right away that I was their guy, which is a great feeling. You dream of those moments. But they're frustrating as well because it means you're normally NOT the guy [laughs]. So it's a scary thought, but it was me that time. I still had to jump through a couple of hoops, but it was a relatively easy process.
ETonline: I love the idea of setting the show around this 311 Meeting -- what appealed to you about that?
Bamber: This 311 meeting transforms it beyond the medical drama. Now, it becomes a crisis of identify for one of the regulars each week. I mean, they're torn apart by their colleagues in this meeting and for someone who needs to be confident all the time, you can't underestimate the enormity of making them question their own beliefs. It engages every part of you, and that's what David E. Kelley does better than any other writer right now.
ETonline: What kind of preparation did you to accurately play a doctor?
Bamber: I immersed myself in it. I wanted to be authentic. I interviewed as many surgeons as I could, I did the rounds, I did the pre-op and watched an 8-hour craniotomy of the frontal lobe. I was amazed by it -- I went home with a completely different perspective on life. I saw a living brain that will continue to live for years to come as a result of what this doctor did.
ETonline: Actors who play doctors always talk about the difficulties of mastering medical jargon. Was this easier or harder than Battlestar Galactica, where you basically spoke a different language?
Bamber: There were basic tenets of the Battlestar jargon that started to seep into every day live. Like saying "Frak" instead of "F*ck" or saying "Gods" instead of "God." Things like that just became second nature after a while. Beyond that, you have the FTL drives and some gobbledygook, bu it wasn't as tough because, if you said something slightly incorrect, there was no one out there who could recognize it in comparison to what is accurate. Here, there's many more pitfalls because millions of people do actually know the medical jargon. We're not on a parallel planet so it's a bit of work, but I really enjoy it.
ETonline: After the highly serialized Battlestar, you starred on Law & Order: UK, which is the definition of a procedural. Does Monday Mornings feel like the perfect combination of those two?
Bamber: It really does. I understand why big popular global shows, like CSI and House, have to be a bit more stand alone. And David E. Kelley knows that, he's no dummy, but this does have on-going arcs that give us more to play as actors. Yes, we're trying to save the patient every week, but you get a sense of our career trajectory through this 311 meeting as well.
ETonline: Are you surprised by the continued passion people have for Battlestar?
Bamber: Not any more. Somewhere around season two Eddie [James Olmos] said that this would be the kind of show people talked about for years, and so far, he's been right. I'm gratified every time someone says to me I've just ruined a week of their life because they can't stop watching the DVD's [laughs]. It's such a great feeling. As an artist, all you want is that thing on the bookshelf where you can say "I contributed" and moved people. That seems to be happening with Battlestar, and I feel very lucky to have achieved that.
Monday Mornings premieres tonight at 10 p.m. on TNT.