'Miami Medical' creator discusses new CBS hospital drama
Monday, April 5, 2010; 12:00 PM
Jeffrey Lieber, creator of the new CBS drama "Miami Medical," took your questions about the show, how it was developed, life as a show-runner and more.
Harrisburg, PA: How were you able to land Jeremy Northam? I'm a big fan of his, and think it is awesome that he will have a wider audience now. Are there actors that require more convincing than others to do TV?
Jeffrey Lieber: It was a timing thing. We heard he MIGHT do TV, so we made an offer. He read and really liked and then we spent about two weeks meeting with him. He was terrified of American TV and I respected that and promised -- as much as I could -- to keep him protected from some of the rigor.
Derwood, Md.: Can you describe a day in the life of a showrunner? It sounds like a pretty big title, and I'm curious about what it's like. What are some of the challenges that you have encountered so far?
Jeffrey Lieber: Its a big job, but I have an other half... my fellow show runner is Steve Maeda and he's brilliant. (He wrote this weeks episode.) As for the job, its a lot like what I imagine being President is like... without anywhere near the stakes. In the middle of the season Steve and I were responsible for two script drafts in development, one in pre-production, one in production, and two in post. And the biggest challenges are the ones you never see coming. "The actor playing the patient is twenty pounds heavier that he was last week. Do you guys REALLY want him in the speedo?"
Washington, DC: Why did you decide to set the series in Miami? It seems, somewhat surprisingly, like there are a wide variety of shows taking place there in TV lately, from "Dexter" and "CSI" to the Kardashians. What is it about that city??
Jeffrey Lieber: We never meant to do a medical show OR set it in Miami. It just happened. The show is based on an experience I had with my wife (which is too long to recount here). That lead me to the discipline of trauma and there are only three trauma-only hospitals in the country, which is... in Miami. (Ryder Trauma on the campus of Jackson Memorial.) The other two are Maryland and Vegas). We sort of backed into it and I get why it sounds iterative. Hopefully over time it will feel like its own thing.
Alexandria, Va: Congratulations to you for getting something on broadcast television, it must continue to be a difficult path, even with all the media alternatives we have. But please, tell me, what is new and different here that we haven't seen one way or another a hundred times before? It reminds me of Thoreau's observation, philosophically, once you've read a news story about an accident or a robbery or a war, you really know the gist of all future stories of that sort. And I am someone who likes the new details in an old genre. But this may be one too many....
Jeffrey Lieber: Its a great question and one I think we'd probably need to sit over a cup of something to really get into. The short answer is... my wife almost died six month before I met her and a trauma team saved her life. The story of this was part of my life for many years and when I pitched it to JBTV it got us all going. It is our responsibility to find three or five or nine NEW things in each episode to keep you interested. If we do this... I'll keep you as a viewer. If not... I won't.
The Offer: Jeff,
This chat is probably inundated with prospective/failed screenwriters, so thank you for taking my question. What constitutes a successful pitch, and how can you lineup a rainmaker like Bruckheimer to help your cause?
Jeffrey Lieber: A successful pitch is one that makes sense after two sentences. Ideas can get complicated/more interesting than that... later. But you have to be able to say, "Its a domestic MASH unit in an American paradise." And the reason you have to say it that succinctly is because an army of people have to eventually be given the quick pitch and know how to enact it. As for working with JB... you just build a career and keep writing. I'd written 8 pilots before we hooked up. Some got made. Some never got off the ground. All were interesting to me in one form or another.
Princeton, NJ: Jeffrey, Thanks for being here today. Please allow a potentially challenging query: what makes "Miami Medical" different from so many other medical dramas? NBC has two that are struggling, ABC has two, Fox has "House", and "Three Rivers" was DOA (I'm not sorry for the pun). Not to get all Tragedy of the Commons on you, but are there enough viewers out there to sustain a new med drama?
Jeffrey Lieber: I think successful shows leave their "TYPE" pretty quickly and become about the characters and the context. I don't think many people turn into GA for the medicine. They love the soap. House is a brilliant character. (I like both shows a lot.) Our show is a character heavy procedural, which offers a lot of spice and a little medical mystery along the way. We'll succeed if people start buying into Proctor and Zambrano and Dr. C. and Warren and Tuck. And... the deeper into the series we go... the more our characters are allowed to come out and play. (Pilot are SO tough. Much to do, no time to do it in.)
Rockville, MD: Jeff,
Who do you turn to for advice in dealing with networks and being the honcho of a production? Knowing what you know now, would there be anything in the process of developing a show that you would have done differently?
Jeffrey Lieber: I have good hand holders. My showrunning partner Steve Maeda and Johnathan Littman and KristieAnne Reed and Mike Azzolino at JBTV. Its not often that the above group of people get along or see eye to eye, but this turned out to be a rare and easy first season.
Arlington, Va.: Why was Jeremy Northam selected to lead the cast? What was it about him that made him a good fit?
Jeffrey Lieber: I could give you a long answer, but the truth is... he's GREAT. The next episode that I wrote is episode #5 and... he's just FANTASTIC in it. Real star turn.
Washington, DC: So how much research did you have to do before the show? Shadow real-life emergency room doctors, etc.?
Jeffrey Lieber: A bunch. I went and hung out at Ryder Trauma in Miami (which is the inspiration for the show) and we have a great Med Tech (Zach Lutzke) there at all times. That said, I've tried not to learn TOO much, as the medicine is just a vehicle for the characters and the comedy and the drama.
Reviews: Some of the early reviews weren't so kind. Does that worry you? Do you read reviews?
Jeffrey Lieber: I do read reviews, but I try not to let them bother me... anymore than I take to heart the kind ones. TV shows are -- in my opinion -- hard to review because they are living organisms and because pilots are often the worst episode of the show. You have to introduce characters and over-write exposition and color in BIG BOLD COLORS. I'm very proud of the pilot, but I'm also THRILLED to be past it and into the series, where we are allowed to stretch our legs a little.
Escondido, California: Hi Jeff, when will we get the story on Dr. Proctor's scar? And how much of an impact will it have on the development of his character?
Jeffrey Lieber: The scar is the arc of the first season. We play it over the first eight. And the deeper into the season, the more charactery each episode becomes.
How do you respond to notes- and do they come from the network, production company, or both? Do you have to pick battles, and if so, how do you decide? Thanks.
Jeffrey Lieber: There's ALWAYS a way to do a note if you're clever. Most of them are easy. "Sure. Yes. Done." Some are a discussion. "Can we do it this way?" or "What if we kept THIS but cut THAT?" Eventually you end up down to one note that really screws with the show and then I (along with Steve and JBTV) decide whether or not its a hill we want to die on. That said... Warner Brothers and CBS are good partners. When we have stood up and said this is a problem... they have respected our POV.
Los Angeles: When are you going to get rid of that silly soul patch???
Jeffrey Lieber: DeMille... I know where you live. And I'll get rid of it as soon as I see you back on the basketball court.
Washington, D.C.: It seems to me (as someone with no background in television) that there's much more work involved with being a show-runner than just a writer, but also much more creative control. Do you find the tradeoff to be worth it? Would you every try your hand at directing?
Jeffrey Lieber: I LOVE this job. Really. Writing is -- as my fellow Showrunner Steve describes it -- "the pit of dispair," but running a show is really about multitasking and building consensus and problem solving. Its a blast.
Washington, D.C.: Thank you for letting Jeremy Northam keep his accent.
Jeffrey Lieber: It was never a question. The part was not originally written as British, but when we offered it to Jeremy the accent became part of his outsiderness. We didn't want to make a big deal out of it, other than it existed as just another way that he was not "of" Miami.
Rockville, MD: Mr. Lieber, Thank you for hosting this chat. Can you describe the 'birthing' process for Miami Medical? How long did it take for the show to be created, developed, written, cast, and produced?
Jeffrey Lieber: Two years from first meeting with me and JBTV to pilot airing. You pitch, you sell, you write an outline, you REwrite the outline, you go to script, you RE-write the script, you RE-RE-REwrite the script, you get picked up to pilot, you cast the pilot, you shoot the pilot, you edit the pilot, you get tested, you RE-edit the pilot, you get picked up... then you conceive the first season and all the steps above happen over and over again until you've shot (in our case) 12 episodes. I'm exhausted just writing it.
Jeffrey Lieber: Its a little like the Mars lander, which gets sent out and at some time in DISTANT future it finally arrive and you hope that the landing gear and the thrusters fire so it doesn't plow into the planet and disappear forever. :)
Pittsburgh: Congratulations on the new show, Mr. Lieber. How much convincing did it take CBS to bite? Did you shop the show, or did having Mr. Bruckheimer on-board give CBS the first right of refusal?
Jeffrey Lieber: We got lucky. We pitched it a couple of places and CBS bought it in the room.
East Windsor, NJ: What was the thinking behind having the Jeremy Northam character speak in the actor's natural British accent rather than be protrayed as an American, a la Hugh Laurie in "House?"
Jeffrey Lieber: I may have answered this, but it was just that the character was always intended to be an outsider and the accent was just one more thing that set him apart.
Trauma: When you found out there was going to be an NBC show called "Trauma," did you go "uh-oh"? What was your reaction?
Jeffrey Lieber: It was funny, we were always aware of it, but it wasn't an issue because their show is really about EMT's and the onsite moment of violence. Ours is about the the process of taking the dying and restoring them to a state of living... or not. That said, when they got a fall pick up and we were midseason I did think, "Well, THAT'S not going to help."
Great Bend, KS: Will Tuck be getting a larger role in the coming weeks?
Jeffrey Lieber: Yes. Every character gets an episode this season that's more THEIRS then anyone else. He plays a big part in the 7th and 8th episode of this season. Omar is frakking great, as an actor and in the show.
Norwich, CT: What is the average length of time from the table read for the script to the final shooting day for each episode?
Jeffrey Lieber: We don't do table reads, but from first one page (concept) to last day of shooting varies, but I'd say on average its two months.
Escondido, CA: Jeremy Northam has been wonderful in films as a romantic lead. Will you be able to utilize and maximize that strength in the Dr. Proctor character?
Jeffrey Lieber: We've been given the license to let our characters have a sex life... and we intend to follow through. :)
Casting: Can you explain a little bit about casting? Do you start out with a pool of potential leads, then get approval from the studio?
Jeffrey Lieber: Casting starts with lists of all potential actors and then we pare down. We like some people, the studio likes some, JBTV likes some. Same with the network. Then you decide who works and satisfies the most of the above and we go from there. Its a puzzle, to say the least.
Easter eggs: Since it is that season, are there any Easter eggs that fans should be looking for? Books referenced, character names, etc.? Is that something that gets consideration in the writer's room, or just something that happens organically?
Jeffrey Lieber: There's a good one in episode #7, but I'll stop there. They sort of develop organically, based on the lives of those working on the show.
Escondido, CA: The title for the show has been through a few changes. Did you ever consider using the title of The Golden Hour for the show? That one seems like it would have been a natural, and would have distanced the show from Trauma etc.
Jeffrey Lieber: We tested a LOT of names and Golden Hour didn't clear (also some thought it reminded people of Golden Girls). The title is -- between just us -- not my favorite, but it was the best amongst many evils. I was very fond of "Knife and Gun club" which is what trauma is often called, but maybe nobody would have tuned in.
Your DC Relatives :): With the Miami location, any talk of a crossover episode with CSI Miami?
Your biggest DC Fans John, Lisa, Shirley, Larry, Dave, Gitte and Hannah!
Jeffrey Lieber: Hey guys!
No talk yet, but if we get a pickup for season two it seems possible. That said, the shows are very different in tone, so it might be tricky.
Promos: Were you disappointed in the lack of ad support provided by CBS during the NCAA tournament? There were a couple ten-minute segments during which your promos didn't appear.
Jeffrey Lieber: Laughing. Is that sarcasm. I felt like we were everywhere. CBS has a lot of masters to tend to and I thought they did us right.
Harrisburg, PA: Mr. Lieber,
Yours is the first show in the new post-HCR medical landscape; will HCR be acknowledged at all in future eps? Since there is still a lot of uncertainty about it on both sides, both pro- and against, does it factor in the writing?
Jeffrey Lieber: We've tried to stay out of it for the most part, since trauma is about save lives now and ask questions later. That said, there's an episode we wrote for next season (we've already shot 8 for this one and 5 for next) that may have to be rethought slightly. The inspiration was an article that said that people without insurance were 80% more likely to die from a trauma then those that had it.
Jeffrey Lieber: I apologize for typos, by the way. I'm a notorious dyslexic.
Production Co. Name: What was the inspiration for "Skim Milk Productions"?
Jeffrey Lieber: When I was in college and I started a theatre company. We had no money and no resources and were doing shows out of a church basement. It was -- or at least I hoped -- all the good stuff with none of the fat. So... Skim Milk. (Honest truth... I don't DRINK milk. Oh, the irony.)
Philadelphia, Pa.: There is a shortage of head trauma centers, yet getting a person with a head injury in a timely manner can make a huge difference on the extent of brain injury and even survival. Might this be a topic your show will show, or consider showing?
Jeffrey Lieber: Yes. Yes. Yes. Our first goal is to entertain, our next to try and get stuff done. As we get deeper into the show it'll be easier to start looking at the landscape and tying to find topics. Thanks for alerting me to the below.
Escondido, CA: What have you got in the works in terms of marketing for the show? Will we see cast print interviews? Perhaps some talk television, or possibly, some of the actors doing live chats such as this?
Jeffrey Lieber: I know there's a big piece on Entertainment Tonight this week and we're trying -- on all fronts -- to get the world out. The cast is GREAT and they deserve to be seen and heard.
Fan: Does a show set in Miami mean we may expect more emergency patients in bathing suits?
Jeffrey Lieber: Laughing. Probably, but we are SO trying NOT to be that show. There are some bathing suits in this upcoming (but just in the background) but then I don't think we go that route for the rest of the season. (I have nothing religious against bathing suits, however.)
Hartford, Ct,: How many episode of "Miami Medical" are there? Do you like your time slot?
Jeffrey Lieber: 8 for this season, 5 for next. The time slot is fine. If we continue to win it and grow we'll talk going forward, but Steve (Maeda) the staff and I look at it as our little cozy corner of the world.
Norwich, Conn.: Has anything been suggested about a change in time and/or day "Miami Medical" will be shown either this season or next? (And the many years ahead ... I think positive!)
Jeffrey Lieber: See above, but we'll take it as it comes. Can't really think beyond THIS FRIDAY really.
Philadelphia, Pa.: I am curious about your career? Did you start as a screenwriter, and how did you break into the business? How did you get into production and onto creating a TV show? What were some of the key decisions you took that led to these fortunate outcomes in your career?
Jeffrey Lieber: I have had Mr. Toad's wild ride. I started as a playwright and an actor. Then I thought I wanted to write 1/2 hour comedy, but was AT LEAST a joke a page short. I wrote a couple of indie films and those scripts vaulted me into film. From there I spent about four years, before I was asked to do TV. Now I do both. Looking back its a series of things that just happened really.
Kansas: When will you know if you are picked up for a second season? What are the criteria for pickup?
Jeffrey Lieber: Could be as early as now (is that CBS on the phone?) or as late as the middle of May. CBS is pretty patient and they'll want us to continue to win our slot and grow over time. If we do that, we've got a very good shot.
Promotion: Send them to Craig Ferguson! He's got more devoted viewers than the late time slot would suggest. Also, wackiness will ensue.
Jeffrey Lieber: Lana was on Ferguson and they were great together. I'd like to see him and Jeremy go at it. Also, Mike's a GREAT guy. So, yeah, Ferguson... BOOK OUR ACTORS.
Trenton, NJ: I was sorry to see the great actor Andre Braugher depart so swiftly from the pilot episode last week. I realize he had to leave to make way for a new head of the trauma unit, but are there any plans to have him back to give an update on the rather dramatic burn-out/breakdown that we witnessed?
Jeffrey Lieber: We'd love to have Andre back and even had plans, but he's got this thing called "his own career" and "his own show" and they are getting in the way. That said... if he walks into the room, we'll start shooting immediately.
Jeffrey Lieber: Thanks so much to the Washington Post for setting this up. If anyone wants to ask me questions beyond this I'm JeffLieber on Twitter. The show is both CBSMiamiMedical and MiamiMedicalCBS on Twitter.
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