How NBC's New Medical Show Was Born at a Ron Meyer Dinner Party

Dr. Kathy Magliato, on which the series is based, was on hand to tout the authenticity of 'Heartbeat.'
Heartbeat  

NBC’s forthcoming medical series Heartbeat began as fodder at a Ron Meyer dinner party.

When the NBCUniversal vice chairman’s wife, Kelly, heard the tales of Dr. Kathy Magliato, one of few female cardiothoracic surgeons, her response was immediate: “Oh my God, you’re a show.” Not long after, Amy Brenneman and Brad Silberling were introduced to Magliato and the Leftovers actress said she, too, had that response: “I remember driving away thinking that woman’s a TV show.”

In the months that followed, Magliato’s life, which she'd also chronicled in a memoir, became precisely that. Jill Gordon signed on to run the Universal TV series, and Melissa George was cast in the role of Magliato (on-screen name: Alex Panttiere).

When it debuts this spring, the medical soap will center on Panttiere, who brings an innovative eye to treating patients while also balancing the demands of her full personal life. The series, which was initially titled Heartbreaker and is drawing comparisons to Grey's Anatomy, was initially slated to launch last fall, but its premiere date was pushed when George announced she was pregnant.

Magliato, who has a co-executive producer credit on the series, used the Television Critics Association's winter press tour platform on Wednesday to tout the show’s authenticity. She insisted the characters in the series represent versions of people who are or were in her life. Among them: her husband, who is the surgical director of live transplantation at Cedar Sinai in Los Angeles. On Heartbeat, he's played by Dave Annable, who was coming off Fox medical series Red Band Society when he was cast.

"He takes on cases that literally no one else will take on," Magliato said of her husband, though she just as easily could have been talking about Annable's character. To prepare for the role, the actor said he spent time at Cedar’s shadowing her husband. George, for her part, shadowed a heart surgeon in Paris.

Which is not to say the show hasn’t taken creative license with Magliato’s life story. “I’m not getting as much action as [George’s character] is,” the surgeon said to laughs in the Pasadena ballroom. “And I asked my husband about a love triangle, but he won't go for it … other than those two things, it’s pretty authentic.”

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