Under the Radar

Military Doctors on the Home Front in 'The Night Shift'

The Night Shift (premiering on Tuesday May 27th at 10/9 C) wants to be a different kind of emergency room drama series. Creators Jeff Judah and Gabe Sachs have populated the staff of their San Antonio Trauma 1 hospital with a group of former military doctors and the lack of other facilities in the area allows them to bring in all kinds of other military elements like helicopter transport and in-the-field medical procedures.

There's a lot of the interpersonal drama that should appeal to viewers who like their medical dramas but there's a more-than-passing emphasis on the issues that veterans face in the civilian workforce over the show's eight-episode run.   

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The show stars Eoin Macken as TC Callahan, the brilliant-but-troubled badass who just can't handle the bureaucracy back here at home. Ken Leung is a fellow doctor who just happened to serve alongside Callahan and Brendan Fehr plays a former Army medic who showed such promise that the military sent him to medical school. The head of the night shift (played by Jill Flint) turns out to be Callahan's ex and her new boyfriend is played by Scott Wolf, so anyone who grew up on Party of Five should be happy.

Jeff Judah and Gabe Sachs talked to us about how they created the show and what they hope to accomplish with the series.

The Night Shift - Season 1

Tell our readers about the premise behind "The Night Shift."

Jeff Judah: The premise of the show is obviously the night shift at a hospital ER, but it's also about bringing some of the doctors who served in the military and bringing that point of view and what they learned over there back onto the hospital.

In a lot of hospital shows, there's this hierarchy where you’re a resident or an intern, doctor attending, trying to get a job, kiss ass. We're looking at people who have done something different.  This is about doctors who served their country over their country club.  This is about guys who joined, who went over there to make a difference.  All the things they saw and experienced changed them and made them less interested in the rules or at least the BS of having to wait for things.  When they went and fixed someone on the battlefield, they need to fix someone now and they're not worried about the consequences or the forms or anything like that.

Talk about the setting, because it's also an unusual location for a network TV series.  

Gabe Sachs: We're set in San Antonio, Texas. We thought the city had a personality of its own, plus there's a lot of military there.  I went to the Center of the Intrepid as part of our research felt that world is a perfect backdrop for what we're trying to do.

We also wanted to have a Trauma 1 hospital that's responsible for a number of counties, a Trauma 1 Hospital.  And it felt like this will be a great setting for that. 

Jeff:  In the Boston Marathon explosion a year ago, there were five or six Level 1 Trauma Centers within a mile or two of the explosion.  In San Antonio, there’s one Trauma 1 Center that’s responsible for 22 counties.

That was sort of mind-blowing to us.  That helps us get some of the military aspect because we can bring the helicopter into it.  Some of our characters are former military medical guys, battlefield doctors, and they're trying to bring that battlefield medicine into treating people at the hospital.  People can't get to the hospital in an hour when you're covering 22 counties, so our doctors and our shift's mentality is we're gonna bring the golden hour to the people in the field.  We felt like San Antonio or Texas gave us the kind of open space where people don’t have access to immediate emergency or trauma care.

Gabe:  That’s why our doctors want to be there and why they're doing this.  They're adrenaline junkies and they have experienced things in battle that most doctors haven’t. We wanted to see their world in a nightshift in a hospital.

The Night Shift - Season 1

The show’s lead character, TC Callahan, is a military vet. Was he based on a real person or is he a fictional creation? 

Jeff: It's half and half.  I have a buddy who is an ER doctor. He wasn’t in the military, but he's been an ER doctor for 16 years and worked with the military guys and had all these phenomenal stories.

As we were creating this show, stories would come on television the military doctor who saved Congresswoman Giffords or about a military doctor stopping on the roadside and saving a dying baby.  I thought this was really cool. ER doctors are already badass and then there's the nightshift ER doctors and then there's this whole other level of guys who have done these operations under fire. Even the doctor who had operated on Congresswoman Giffords said, “I’m in an operating theatre with everything I possibly could need, but I've had to do these kind of operations in Iraq in a foxhole.”  It gives them such a confidence.

We sort of created TC (played by Eoin Macken) as a guy who has been there, a guy who has seen it all, an adrenaline junkie, but also a guy who’s chosen to serve his country.  He didn’t want to leave the military, but he was forced to come home.

Topher (played by Ken Leung) is another one of our military doctors. He’s different than TC. Our story on him is he's someone who is in the Reserves and got called up. That’s where he met TC.  So he's not quite as gung-ho as TC, but he's certainly served his country.  The Drew character, played by Brendan Fehr, is absolutely as gung-ho as TC.  He was a medic in the field and had an ability and affinity for medicine and so they put him through medical school and he’s a career military man.

Over the course of eight episodes the show almost like it's set in a warzone.  You get the military flavor of it, but you were able to get civilian characters because you actually set it in the United States, so it feels like a hybrid between a military show and a traditional network hospital show. 

Jeff: That was what we were going for.  We did not want it to feel like your typical hospital show and we wanted that military influence.  It was very important to us.  And we pounded it into the network, on every episode we want this to have a military element.  Neither Gabe and I served, but we are very pro-military and we want that feel and we want to get across that there are people who join the military to serve their country.  It's not like a just, “Oh, I've got no job,” the way it's portrayed oftentimes in media.  These are highly educated people making this decision to serve.

The Night Shift - Season 1

You’ve got a limited eight-episode run in the summer and the show feels more like a cable series or a mini-series in that you’re telling one connected story.

Jeff: We're thrilled to be on in the summer.  If you go on in the fall, there's fifty new shows.  If go on in the spring, there's twenty new shows.  In the summer, it's not as crazy and as noisy and you can just do your run.  I think that’s kind of – well, we like it.  We wanted to do a show that was entertaining and fun to watch. We just wanted to do an entertaining hour. I feel like in the summer it's got a better chance to be seen and for all the episodes to be completed and to get the full arc.

Plus we’ve got a lead in of America's Got Talent, which is pretty good for us. Television is becoming year-round and I think the idea of seasons is becoming antiquated.  Cable doesn’t launch all their shows in the fall.  They launch them all year round.  And so I think that’s more of an antiquated broadcast idea that slowly is changing and we're happy to be a part of it.

One of the helpful things is that it's eight episodes.  It's like 8 to 12 episodes; you can do that.  It's really hard in 22 episodes to say, “In episode 1 we're going to go from A to Z,” but around episode15 to 16, 17, you start treading water and then you sort of get back there again.  This is sort of more of a cable model in the sense of the order length, that you can really follow through and keep the adrenaline.  And once we get to episode five, six, seven, eight, the last four, it really sort of hopefully – we really want to just really fly fast, blow through, and that was the intention. It's easier to do that when you have a smaller order.  There is no doubt.

Anything else you’d like to say to the military audience?

Jeff: We'd just like to say that we're extremely respectful of the military and the commitment that anybody who goes in the service shows. We're trying to do a show that represents some of the what military people go through.  And in success, into season two, we'll be doing that even more.

In the beginning, it is a medical show, what we'd love to do in success is really be a bully pulpit for some of the issues that people serve go through after they get out, whether it's getting insurance or not having to get a job or what does someone do after they’re out.  We'd love to put as much as that possible and get real stories in that. We want the military audience to feel like, “Oh, at least somebody gets it.”  Because if we can get that out broadcast to a bigger audience, people can see some of the issues they're going through.  So that’s the goal in season two.

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