Known for his commentary on CNN, Dr. Sanjay Gupta prepares to enter into a new foray in two weeks: fictional television. The veteran journalist who penned a fiction novel will see his story come to visual life on TNT as Monday Mornings hits television screens across the country February 4th. The medical drama stars Alfred Molina, Ving Rhames, Jennifer Finnigan, Jamie Bamber, Bill Irwin, Sarayu Rao, and Keong Sim; the one-hour drama will debut after Dallas.
David E. Kelley, who also created L.A. Law, Chicago Hope, The Practice, Ally McBeal, and Boston Public, transformed Dr. Gupta’s novel into the television series. The 10-episode order will chronicle the lives of five surgeons in a fictional hospital and is based upon the real-life “Mortality and Morbidity” Meetings where surgeons grill each other after a procedure or treatment gone awry.
Dr. Gupta met with Buzzine's Parimal M. Rohit during the final days of filming Monday Mornings at the Manhattan Beach Studios and provided a little insight on how the story came about, what viewers and health professionals alike can expect to see when watching the show, and the overall experience of bring his novel to visual reality on TNT.
Parimal M. Rohit: Monday Mornings is uncharted territory for you. What are some of the surprise you have experienced while working on this project?
Sanjay Gupta: It is totally new! As a surgeon, attention to detail is the most important thing when we are in the OR (operating room). I thought making a television show about this was not going to be the same level of diligence. (I was surprised by) the amount of prep and diligence that goes into every single part of the show. There’s a lot that goes into even into a very simple scene or simple part of the show.
PMR: What are some cutting edge procedures we can expect to see in the show?
SG: The nice thing about neurosurgery and brain surgery is that it’s pretty dynamic. It’s engaging all the time. (An example) is this idea of what has become to be known as psychological surgery, or psychosurgery. It’s this idea of being able to treat things … like Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, depression, things that again were not that long ago difficult to treat anyway but now you have actual treatments.
PMR: One can say there is a difference between “truth” and “Truth,” the first being an observational presentation of fact but the second carrying a deeper meaning of life and is more educational. What was your “Truth” in writing Monday Mornings?
SG: It’s a television show that is supposed to be entertaining and engaging, but I think that there is an educational component to it. First of all, the fact that a meeting (where surgeons hold each other accountable) like that exists, where that can happen, I think most people don’t even know about it, but it’s real. It happens in all academic hospitals. But I think the idea that doctors hold each other accountable and noble to our way is part of that speaking “Truth.” What people see are incredibly candid interactions between these doctors.
PMR: Can you give us a little more insight as to what happens at these M&M, or “Mortality and Morbidity” Meetings?
SG: Academic wars are waged in these rooms. Sides are picked. And you are dealing with some very, very strong personalities as well. It can be pretty intense.
PMR: As you wrote the book that served as the basis for the show, did the characters on screen come pretty close to how you envisioned them when writing the novel?
SG: It took me a long time to write this book. I had a pretty good idea of who these characters were. I knew all about them. But how do you look at something that’s a short audition tape and be able to extrapolate an entire season of television is a hard thing to do.
PMR: When you wrote the book, was it based on a real experience or interaction?
SG: This book started as non-fiction and transitioned to fiction. This book wasn’t about indicting any particular doctor or hospitals. Being a fiction gave (the story) some freedom. I’ve never written fiction before so the next one maybe fiction as well for that reason.
PMR: Of course it is impossible to completely take yourself out of anything you write, but how much of Sanjay Gupta is in this story?
SG: I think what you said is right. I think we all write from our experiences to some extent. There are certain characters, certain storylines, there are a lot more (of my experiences) than others. Some of them are just little thing I may have observed. But all the characters are amalgamations of people that I’ve know, both inside and outside of medicine.
PMR: It is one thing to point out what laypersons can take away from Monday Mornings, such as providing insight on how surgeons hold each other accountable. What do medical professionals take away from reading the book or watching the show?
SG: When the book came out I spent a lot of time talking to docs and hospitals and medical organizations. This is their world. I think the room where these discussions take place is sort of sacred ground. I think the idea that we show people a part of medicine that very few people know about and fewer have had a chance to see… it gives the patients that they are caring for a better idea of what’s happening in the hospital. I think the docs have been pretty supportive and encouraging for that sort of storytelling to be out there.
'Monday Mornings' airs Mondays at 10 pm ET on TNT.