ABC's NY Med offers reality TV you can believe in
As a critic who is supposed to be fair and open minded, I shouldn't be admitting this.
But I hate most reality TV.
My biggest beef is the misnomer of the genre's name itself. Most so-called "reality TV" shows are anything but -- mostly because they refuse to admit the influence of the show's producers.
But every so often, a really good unscripted show punches through the muck of Real Housewives knockoffs to make an impact.
That show, this year, is ABC's NY Med.
Filmed over a year at New York-Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan, this series condenses 3,000 hours of footage into a potent look at some of the sharpest doctors in the world.
It is the best dose of "reality TV" in the world, tracking everything from well-known TV doctor Mehmet Oz — a renowned heart surgeon who stills performs one procedure a week at the hospital — to a trauma surgeon who came to the United States as an illegal immigrant; a pediatric surgeon who takes a tumor out of a 4-year-old's heart; and a Gulf War veteran with HIV getting a heart transplant.
After one episode, you will marvel at the miracles today's doctors can perform -- with one doctor taking most of organs out of one woman's abdomen to remove a tumor and then putting them back in place. The show tells us the doctor performing this procedure is the only physician in the world who attempts such a high-risk procedure, which is successful.
But series executive producer Terence Wrong takes issue with one part of my analysis.
"I've been doing these since before reality TV existed, so I don't call (my shows) reality TV," said Wrong, who first created Hopkins 24/7, spotlighting Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore as a special for ABC in 2000. "I challenge anybody to show me a 'quote' reality TV show where somebody dies. It's so hard to peg it correctly."
There is, he notes, an important difference between his subjects and most reality TV stars. "There's no one going on here because they were hanging out on a beach in Santa Monica and they're not getting paid," said Wrong of the doctors spotlighted in the series. "In fact, their careers are somewhat jeopardized by going on the show."
Wrong, whose mother died during an operation performed by one of the doctors in the series years ago (he won't say who), works hard to reveal the humanity behind the medicine.
Oz is shown commiserating with co-workers like the mayor of the hospital, hugging nurses and asking after a janitor's family. Another episode shows a homeless woman who had been coming to the emergency room for 20 years dying during a visit (experienced staffers, one of whom had pictures of her as a young woman on his computer, cried as they heard the news).
Wrong said he suspected patients participated to take control of some part of their illness.
"You can go to the best hospital and have the best doctor, but in the end a good part of this is luck," said Wrong. "It's fate. And there is no better television than getting that story onscreen."
NY Med debuts at 10 tonight on ABC (WFTS-Ch. 28, locally).