'Emily Owens' Boss Previews Love Triangle Tension, Unexpected Stakes and 'Ally McBeal' Hijinks
"You have to have a certain amount of flexibility but you also have to plan. TV is like a train; it just comes and there's deadlines all the time," says creator Jennie Snyder Urman to THR of adapting story to viewer reaction.
High school never leaves you as much as you want it to, a lesson discovered on The CW's new medical drama Emily Owens, M.D.
Centered on a twentysomething doc, Emily Owens, M.D. at first glance can be considered nothing more than a run-of-the-mill hospital drama with a heightened adolescent twist. But the CW's latest fall offering -- as the network continues to venture into more procedural storytelling -- is much more than that. Just ask showrunner/creator Jennie Snyder Urman.
"It's somewhere where Ally McBeal meets Grey's Anatomy meets Scrubs," the former 90210 producer tells The Hollywood Reporter, "but through the filter of Ally McBeal. If you like that, I hope you would like Emily Owens."
Urman -- who admitted that she'd like to "run" Real Housewives of New York City if she had her pick of the litter -- spoke to THR in great detail about the challenges of heading into uncharted territory (for her, at least), the challenges of sustaining a love triangle and why it's so much more than Grey's Anatomy for the younger set.
The Hollywood Reporter: You've worked on TV dramas that catered to the younger set (90210, Gilmore Girls) and older (Men in Trees, Lipstick Jungle) adult set, and you've mentioned you were actively seeking to do a hospital show. Would you say Emily Owens is a departure for you in some respects?
Jennie Snyder Urman: I did want to do a procedural so that's definitely a departure for me, but tone-wise, it fits in with the kind of writing that I do, which is the merging of the quirky character comedy and drama worlds. Doing the medical procedural is a departure for me and I really like it so far.
THR: Since you're already in the thick of breaking stories for the season, did you have a clear idea of where the characters would end up from the onset?
Urman: The emotional stories, I knew right when I was writing the pilot, where I wanted them to go. That made it easier, I think, knowing where you want to end or where you want to get to in episode 13 -- and then hope for the back nine [order].
THR: Are you speaking specifically to the love triangle that's introduced in the pilot between Emily (Mamie Gummer), Will (Justin Hartley) and Micah (Michael Rady)?
Urman: Exactly, exactly. When I was thinking about the show, I was thinking about the characters and how their relationships would be developing also. The medical cases were the work of the story breaking and generating it and making sure it's interesting and surprising and the stakes are there, as well as pacing out the drama.
THR: In television especially, it often calls for writers and producers to be flexible in how story lines or character arcs unfold depending on how an audience receives them. Are you open to modifying the show's path?
Urman: You have to have a certain amount of flexibility but you also have to plan. TV is like a train; it just comes and there's deadlines all the time. I learned certain things from filming the pilot and I'm sure I'll continue to learn to write to certain dynamics, like making sure Justin's character is funny like Justin is. As I get to know people, figure out what parts of them I can bring in and parts not to. That flexibility is there but we still have to plan out the season.
THR: Because a pilot serves multiple purposes -- setting up the premise, introducing characters and establishing its foundation -- can you speak to where you see the show going as it moves beyond the first episode?
Urman: They're getting on their legs as doctors and finding out what kind of doctors they'll be and what their flaws are. Emily's flaw is how invested she gets in people. Love triangle-wise, I wanted to make it really meaty between Micah, Will and Emily but she's already told Will how she felt instead of having it be a slow burn. The challenge was resetting that at the top because I still want her to want him, and that introduces a weird, complicated dynamic into their friendship. The next episode is trying to figure out if they can get back to being friends. She tells him, "No! I had a crush on you. I've moved on," even though she hasn't. While she's pining after Will, Micah's pining after her. I think people come out of the pilot wanting Emily with Micah because he was off to the side, he's got the sick mother, covers for Emily and does all these heroic things. The obstacle is for the audience to really be split between Micah and Will by the second episode. It's hard for people to root for someone who rejected her.
THR: This also brings up characters that are created to fill seemingly specific roles, like the boy that's the "golden choice" versus the more "mysterious one."
Urman: I'm really trying not to [do that here]. They both have things to offer, it's just hard to resolidify the sympathy. The challenge for me will be building back up Will and Emily's relationship and letting people see what they were like when they were just friends, what was their friendship like and why did she fall for him? In the second episode, she tells this story about a message he left her in college when they went out for drinks. He said, "What am I doing with these crazy girls? I should be with someone like you. I should date you." The next day, he never mentions it. So you start to realize that Emily didn't invent this whole thing. There was a moment where he had that thought too. Of course she saved this message for two years. At the same time, Emily's journey isn't all about men. I would be sad if it was.
THR: How are you differentiating the show from other hospital or high school-set dramas? It could be deemed a Grey's Anatomy for the younger set?
Urman: Tone-wise, I understand that Grey's Anatomy comparison, of course. They're young interns in a hospital, but I think tone-wise, it's closer to Ally McBeal and it's a real point-of-view piece. You're going through it from Emily's eyes.
THR: So as the show progresses, it will stick to Emily's perspective. Will we get glimpses into how other characters operate?
Urman: It's her point of view. I'll slowly start to grow those other perspectives, but I don't think you can come from that pilot and all of a sudden be able to do that. There is one scene in the pilot that Emily isn't in, which features Micah and his mom so I've established that there will be a little more there. Other characters start to have scenes without Emily, but at the beginning, her point of view is leading us into those scenes and out of those scenes. The high school stuff will be mitigated by the fact that it's a procedural; every episode will have two or three medical cases where you don't know where it's going.
THR: What's keeping you up at night?
Urman: What keeps me up at night is the sheer volume of stuff, just the amount that you have to generate and trying not to have it bottlenecked when it comes to me. Sometimes I sit up at night worrying about the fact that I'm not sleeping enough. [Laughs]
THR: Can you recall a bizarre network note that you've received?
Urman: One time there was a note about changing a character's eyeshadow after we had shot it. There was nothing we could do to address the note because it was on film. In their defense, it was a bizarre eyeshadow. It was really bright yellow.
Emily Owens, M.D. debuts 9 p.m. Oct. 16 on The CW.
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