June 24, 2008

Medical Series Focuses on ‘Real’ Life


By David Bauder

The Associated Press


In filming a sequel to a 2000 series about Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, ABC News producers found that reality television had changed how they could present reality on television.

"Hopkins," a six-part series that follows the lives of doctors and patients, traces steps taken on "Hopkins 24/7" eight years ago. The new series premieres Thursday at 10 p.m.

Back then, Executive Producer Terence Wrong's cinema-verite style was relatively novel for a news division and for prime-time television in general. Now television is flooded with series that feature real people but aren't exactly nonfiction.

"If you put on a show where real human beings are fighting for their lives, the hope is that the authenticity will come through and distinguish the show from what is called reality television," Wrong said.

TV cameras make most people nervous, but in convincing Hopkins to participate Wrong also had to deal with the cynicism of some doctors that he was making just another reality show instead of realistically trying to portray life at a big hospital .

"I was flat-out scared," said Dr. Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa, one of the nation's top brain surgeon. "I was scared for my patients. I was scared for my family. I was scared for myself."

Wrong tried to counter the skepticism with time.

ABC's crews spent four months at Hopkins, taking thousands of hours of film. Stories unfolded naturally and characters emerged. It reached the point where Quinones-Hinojosa said he forgot the cameras were there.

"Are the viewers making a distinction?" Wrong asked. "Do you get brownie points for making something that is a true documentary? The answer is no, but you have to be dramatic enough and entertaining enough to hold their attention against all of these other shows. And that's a very high bar."

Quinones-Hinojosa, who climbed over a border fence from Mexico as a youth to pick fruit in California, is one of several strong characters in Thursday's first episode .

Some of the stories are titillating, almost like soap operas. ABC focuses on Karen Boyle, a rare female urologist, and a couple she is treating where the man is trying to reverse a vasectomy. A resident, Brian Bethea, is chronicled in the midst of marital trouble. He agonizes on camera about it in one raw moment; yet, he's also shown at a bar, flirting with women.

Wrong said he had to pick stories with entertainment in mind. He studied dramas and adapted some of their techniques, such as tiny cliffhangers before commercial breaks . The original series used a narrator; now the story moves forward without one .

"I hope that what people get out of this is that we are just like everyone else," Quinones-Hinojosa said. "We're human beings. We try to do the best we can with what we have."

on TV

"Hopkins" premieres Thursday night at 10 on ABC.

Originally published by BY DAVID BAUDER.

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