First, there was “Chicago Fire.” Then “Chicago PD” came along. Now there’s “Chicago Med.” The medical drama is the latest show to grow out of uber-producer Dick Wolf’s windy-city based empire. Wolf created the long-running “Law & Order” franchise, which includes the original series as well as “Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” which ran for ten years, and “Law & Order: SVU,” which is currently in its 17th season.
Why did Wolf select Chicago for this franchise? “When ‘Chicago Fire’ was being formed, I didn’t want to go into New York because [the series] ‘Rescue Me’ had just ended and I didn’t want to be compared to that. And, I think Chicago represents Midwestern, All-American values. This is the heart of the country so it felt right to set the series here.”
Among the cast of the series are veterans Oliver Platt, as the Chief of Psychiatry Dr. Daniel Charles, and S. Epatha Merkerson as hospital administrator Sharon Goodwin. Joining them are Collin Donnell as Dr. Connor Rhodes and Nick Gehlfuss as Dr. Will Halstead along with several other regulars on the series.
Wolf admits that Platt had some reservations about doing the series, saying, “He was concerned about the fierce winters.” Then he laughed a little as he said, “But I reassured him that since he’s a doctor surely he’ll be spending most of his time inside.”
Speaking about the show specifically, Platt says, “Even on a really slow day it’s still always dramatic in a hospital. Add real life and our imaginative writers and you have some good material. Aside form the life and death stuff there’s a lot of discussion going on in this country in terms of public health. It’s a natural environment for conflict and high-stakes storytelling”
About his character, Dr. Charles, Platt adds, “I don’t think this guy is interested in the administrative part of the hospital really, he’s more interested in helping people on a more ground level. If you look at the real world, most people that walk into an ER are looking for some kind of psychiatric help. I think this guy signed up for this job to support them and that’s what gets him through his day. Shrinks are complicated people and that’s what I love about this role.”
Donnell admits that one of the hardest things for him in portraying a doctor is the medical terminology. “When I have to say something really difficult, I practice it a lot, and the funny thing is, it always seems that I have it down pat right before we start rolling….and then I’ll open my mouth to say it when the cameras are rolling and something incomprehensible comes out.”
Gehlfuss said that he’s always a bit nervous and also excited when a new script is handed to him. “It’s like a gift and I have to start reading it right away. I hope I have an ‘uh-oh’ moment at some point when I’m first taking it in because If I’m scared of something that’s when all the wheels start turning and I get energized about what we’re doing. I really think that you don’t grow unless you’re scared of something.”
To prep for the role, Donnell and his fellow actors went to ‘medical bootcamp’ during which they observed surgeries and practiced procedures in simulation labs. “When we were watching surgery for the first time I thought I that I would be asking for a chair, but that didn’t happen because I was just fascinated.”
Sharing that sentiment, Gehlfuss added, “Yeah, it was tempting to be kind of standoffish when we would first start doing a procedure, but then you had to remember that we have to jump into this and really learn how to do it because we need to look like we’ve been doing it for years.”
To that end, Gehlfuss says that, just like with any job, the more you do it, the better you get at it. “Every episode that we do, we get more comfortable. There’s always something new each week. It’s a little It’s like learning to dance with a new partner every so often, but you get the choreography down and you’re good to go.”
“Chicago Med” Executive Producers Andre Schneider and Diane Frolov confess that they’re aware that there are several other medical shows currently on the air, but say that this doesn’t affect the way they do their jobs with regard to this series. “Sure, there are other shows out there and we all have the same setting, but we’re all unique in our characters and our storytelling,” says Schneider. Frolov added, “What we’re doing is telling interesting stories with this particular group of people and one thing that we’re doing as well is we’re adding a lot of cutting edge medicine to our series. We want people to watch and invest in the characters but learn something new each week as well.”
There are two other shows that the cast and creatives behind “Chicago Med” wouldn’t mind be compared to. “Well, I think we can all agree that shows like ‘St. Elsewhere’ and ‘ER’ were masterpieces,” says Merkerson. “If we can be compared to those, I’ll think we’d all be ok with that.”
“Chicago Med” airs Tuesdays at 9/8c on NBC.