Jason Katims Explains Why He's Going From Family Drama to Procedural With CBS' 'Pure Genius'

The 'Parenthood' and 'Friday Night Lights' creator opens up about the tonal change for the forthcoming drama.
Sonja Flemming/CBS
'Pure Genius'

Parenthood and Friday Night Lights creator Jason Katims is making a hard right turn for his next act. The producer behind both critical darlings next has CBS medical drama Pure Genius due in September — and it marks a big change from the two family dramas.

Pure Genius centers on a young Silicon Valley tech titan (Augustus Prew) who enlists a veteran surgeon (Dermot Mulroney) with a controversial past in starting a hospital with a cutting-edge, "new school" approach to medicine.

To hear Katims explain it, Pure Genius was inspired by his experience caring for his wife and his father's time in the hospital a few years ago.

"I come from a personal place in my writing and … my wife and my dad both got very ill. I spent a year in hospitals back and forth as a supporter of them and advocate for them," he said. "What I found in that experience is it renewed my admiration for doctors and their commitment for what they do and was frustrated by the system that they were working in."

Thus Pure Genius was born, as the drama — produced by Universal Television, where Katims is under an overall deal — will explore the red-tape bureaucracy that exists at the show's central hospital.

"I yearned for a hospital like Bunker Hill where the best idea wins, everyone is talking to each other and things don't fall through the cracks," he said. "I tried to imagine what that hospital would look like, and that led to the idea of merging worlds of medicine and technology and not just gadgetry but also the philosophical approach to solving problems. A world without hierarchy where the best idea wins, there are no offices and everyone has all the access to all the information. It's exciting for me to imagine something like that actually happening."

Pure Genius was picked up to series after narrowly missing the cut last development season when CBS and Katims had a script called Bunker Hill that was written by frequent Katims collaborator Sarah Watson (Parenthood, About a Boy). The retooled incarnation features a tweaked philosophy of its central character and his approach to the world.

"We deepened the medical research behind it and have a deep bench of medical consultants working on the show and making sure the science feels real and making sure it doesn't feel sci-fi," said Michelle Lee, Pure Genius exec producer and head of Katims' True Jack banner.

In addition to the medical consultants, Katims noted that there are two doctors in the writers room to help ensure that element of the series is handled correctly.

"What we're trying to balance is that there's an aspirational quality of the show with wish fulfillment — there is hope," he said. "In the world we're living in now and you turn on your TV and look outside — there's a need for that and a want for that. We want to balance that against the obstacles that these are not in every episode; our characters will be dealing with the obstacles of trying to push medicine through the use of technology. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. It's a show we think of as hopeful and aspirational, but we also want to make it real."

Katims added: "We're looking at this as what's possible. All the technology that is used in the show is all based on real things that are being developed all over the world. Not stuff that's being used yet or at the stage that we see it in the show, but there are things being developed and tested and we're looking at that."

As for previous efforts Parenthood and Friday Night Lights, Katims is proud that new audiences are finding both series via streaming services and that he's approached regularly about both. "It's always meaningful when people tell me they're discovering [them] now," he said, noting that his friend's kid just started watching his former WB series Roswell.

Pure Genius is set to debut Thursday, Oct. 27, at 10 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.

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