'NY Med' Executive Producer Talks Going to Newark, the Case That Didn't Make It on TV
Terence Wrong and the doctors featured in the ABC News series discussed the importance of trust and concerns the physicians had about appearing on a television show.
After two years off the air, ABC News' real-life hospital series NY Med returns to television on June 26.
This year, in addition to showcasing the cutting edge surgeries and cases involving doctors and patients at New York-Presbyterian, NY Med goes across the river to Newark's University Hospital, highlighting its life-threatening trauma cases, including gunshot wounds, stabbings and other violent injuries.
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At a screening of the second season's first episode at ABC News' offices in New York, executive producer Terence Wrong talked about showing the other side of big-city medicine.
Featuring both hospitals, said Wrong, "enables the series to be a tale of two cities."
"Newark is a fascinating part of America. In some ways, it is part of the other America that people pay less attention to. The city's made huge efforts to rebuild … but certain facts are undeniable: The murder rate has gone up; the only Starbucks in town has closed; [former Mayor] Cory Booker's left the house; there was a bruising mayoral election," said Wrong. "I guess people in Newark are still hopeful, but perhaps a little less hopeful than they were when Cory Booker was elected. So you feel that community in the ERs and in the traumas."
In a postscreening Q&A with several of the doctors and one of the patients featured in NY Med's first episode, Wrong expanded on why he chose Newark and University Hospital to tell the stories of "the other America," explaining that he saw the hospital as this season's source of trauma surgeries.
"University Hospital is front and center in that, and it's an amazing institution, and it's particularly exceptional in this area," he said. "They do more traumas there than they do on the Upper East Side [at New York-Presbyterian]; that's just a fact. So in looking around at where we could go, that seemed like a very good opportunity. Also, it was nice to go across the river, 12 miles away, and really capture a population living in a different community."
Prior to the screening, ABC News' recently appointed president, James Goldston, said that the show represents the news division's expanded focus. "We've built the news division out into telling these amazing tales and amazing documentaries, and we want to see that continue," he said.
Wrong added that ABC News is the right place to do a show like NY Med.
"These series and the kind of commitment they require and the training that has to go into them — I don't think they can be made by anyone else anywhere else," he said. "So I think we will continue to be the only place that makes a show exactly like this."
Still, getting the footage they need requires dealing with the doctors and patients in a respectful, committed way, Wrong explained. "It's a trust issue. It's not being a bull in a china shop," he said. "It's moving very delicately. And it's listening to the doctors and the nurses when they say, 'Get away.' "
"We've had this partnership with New York-Presbyterian now for five years," Wrong added. "They've shown incredible integrity with us in terms of allowing us to do what we do. And this time Newark has joined, and it's been the same kind of integrity."
And unlike many unscripted series found on cable that often give the people or institutions they profile final approval over what gets on the air, at ABC News, it's ultimately up to Wrong, his team and the news division's standards-and-practices unit to decide what makes it to air.
"There's no deal. You don't get to edit the show; we'll put in what we think should be put in," Wrong said. "That sort of confidence is rare in our society, and it really speaks to the integrity of these institutions."
However, there was one case that Wrong was particularly upset didn't make it onto the series, after the doctor performing the surgery objected. He explained that they were hoping to cover the case of a former Rockette who was having a very difficult pregnancy with a baby that had a heart problem, which required risky pediatric heart surgery. Although the patient agreed to let the NY Med team film it, the surgeon didn't want to participate because he thought he'd be distracted by the camera, Wrong said. So the doctor went to the patient, and they pulled consent. (Obstetrics has the highest rate of malpractice in medicine.)
"It was very disappointing," Wrong said. "She was a great character. It was going to be a dramatic surgery."
Even a few cases that don't "have a good outcome" made it onto the series, Wrong added. And three of the doctors featured in the show said they were concerned about having failed surgeries end up on camera.
"If I didn't do well, it would represent failure, and having that displayed on a national screen would be bad for the patient and bad for me," said Philip Stieg, neurosurgeon-in-chief at NewYork-Presbyterian, who commented that putting his job "on display adds another level of stress."
Urologist Ashley Winter said that she'd heard good things about the team behind the show from colleagues who participated in NY Med's last iteration, but "of course, you have fear engaging in this process. Mostly of yourself as a physician and how that can come out in its reality."
As for Newark trauma surgeon Adam Fox, he was worried about what his mentors would think. "One of my concerns initially was that my mentors, not necessarily the lay public, would see this and say, 'Adam didn't do this right,' " he said.
Fox added that having the cameras there at first made him aware of his tendency to talk with his hands, so much so that he tried to stop. But ultimately, he became so unaware of the cameras that he would accidentally curse in their presence.
"It did not obstruct anything that we were doing from a trauma flow perspective, which was the most important thing for me as a professional," Fox said of filming. "We have a very narrow time frame with which to deal with these patients. And if that was getting in the way, it would have been a problem for me and I know my partners, and I don't know of any of us who had that problem."
Watch the trailer for the second season of NY Med below.