"No one is going to watch a show about wealthy people in the Hamptons," said execs when the series debuted amid the 2008 financial crisis. Eight seasons later, the quirky medical drama reaches a 100-episode milestone as it signs off.
Of all the blue sky shows on USA, Royal Pains always has been the most blindingly cerulean. Starring Mark Feuerstein as a fired Manhattan ER doctor who starts over as a concierge physician in the Hamptons, the medical dramedy grabbed nearly 7 million viewers a week at its peak, thanks to an easily digestible cocktail of intriguing medical cases, light-hearted character stories and gorgeous beach houses ("architectural porn," the show's creators call it).
But the sun is finally setting on Royal Pains; after eight seasons and 104 episodes, the show is ending its run in July. Once the poster series for the network's "blue sky" brand and "characters welcome" tagline, it increasingly has grown out of place in USA's current, edgier climate, captured by the network's new slogan ("We the Bold") and ascendant signature show (Mr. Robot). "[Royal Pains] was like a finely tuned engine driving this fresh topic at the time — concierge doctors catering to the rich," says Bonnie Hammer, chairman of NBCUniversal's Cable Entertainment Group (and the former USA president who greenlighted the show). "It was timely, original and fun."
As the series celebrates its 100th episode on June 8, and readies for its July 6 finale, THR looks back on its long and pretty painless run with the executives and producers who made it happen.
ANDREW LENCHEWSKI, Co-creator We had been talking to NBC, which was interested in finding a medical show with a twist. When we pitched them this twist, they felt it was a little too twisty for them. We literally went across the street and pitched it to USA, and they really embraced it.
CHRIS MCCUMBER, President, Entertainment Networks, NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment It fit perfectly into the "characters welcome" brand that we had launched. At the same time, House was one of the big series on our air as far as an acquired series goes. It made sense that we would bring on a medical show.
JEFF WACHTEL, Chief Content Officer, NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment, and president, Universal Cable Productions If you look at the shows that were dominating the landscape, on the broadcast networks, it was dark procedurals: Criminal Minds, the Law & Orders. On the cable networks, it was The Closer and The Shield, and premium has always played in a darker space. It was a conscious decision by Bonnie, Chris and I, looking at the world on TV and seeing an opportunity here: We can define ourselves in contrast to these much darker shows. We were zigging when the FXs and HBOs were zagging.
MCCUMBER Once we had Royal Pains on there, that's when you started to hear more about blue skies on USA, literally, because when you watch, there's a lot of blue skies and a lot of blue water.
WACHTEL After we ordered the show but before we went to air, 2008 happened.
MICHAEL RAUCH, Executive producer The financial system collapsed and the network called us very nervously and said, "Things are terrible economically in the country. No one is going to want to watch a show about wealthy people in the Hamptons."
MCCUMBER What we did was make sure that we got across the idea that Hank was a doctor version of Robin Hood. While he took care of the rich, he also made sure to take care of those who were working in the Hamptons.
Showrunners Lenchewski (far left) and Rauch (far right) posed with the cast at the 100th episode
WACHTEL Royal Pains was the first time that we made a conscious effort to really raise the production bar. We spent considerably more money in the first season of that show than we had with any other cable show … to create a different type of profile for the network.
LENCHEWSKI When we launched in the summer of 2009, Michael and I literally couldn't leave our homes without seeing a Royal Pains billboard or a bus ad or an on-air promo or skywriting on the beaches of Malibu and the Hamptons.
RAUCH We got a great phone call from Jeff Wachtel the day we premiered where he semi-tongue-in-cheek said, "Good luck tonight, guys. We're doing really well as a network, which means inevitably one of our new shows is going to bomb, so let's just hope it's not yours." Andrew and I looked at each other not quite sure if he was serious or not. We're still not sure.
MCCUMBER It was the second-highest-rated premiere, only [beaten by] Burn Notice. Right away we knew we had something.
RAUCH For the second episode, they said, "Expect a 20 to 30 percent drop-off. That's normal, don't get disappointed." So the numbers came in and our ratings had gone up. Then the third episode aired and our numbers went up again.
The Later Years
LENCHEWSKI We started to see the network slowly move in a darker and edgier direction, and we started to wonder if Royal Pains, at some point, would no longer fit with what the network needed or what the audience wanted from the network.
RAUCH The beginning [marketing] was so extraordinary and was such a part of our success that it was a little bit scary when it went away. As we got older, there was obviously less and less. There were more options for TV, and the TV landscape changed as well, so everyone's numbers were going down. As our numbers started to dip a little bit, we wanted more promotion, and it wasn't a part of the way it works.
WACHTEL There was a question of the use of resources, at the end of the sixth season, with some ratings challenges. It was a question of prioritization for the network. Can we afford to end the show the way we really want to?
RAUCH We ended up writing a final episode of season six that felt like it would creatively satisfy the stories we had told throughout season six and, in a worst-case scenario, give an ending that could offer a sense of completion and fulfillment.
LENCHEWSKI No show on USA has ever gone for more than eight seasons, and so that's what we always looked at — if we're lucky enough to get to eight, let's make that our goal and push toward it as hard as we can. But obviously with each ticking season, we started to see that possible horizon looming.
RAUCH When we got the two-season pickup [in 2014 after season six], we were so grateful both to be able to make more episodes but also to be told by the network that this is basically it.
MCCUMBER We didn't want to leave everybody hanging. We wanted to give the show the proper send-off and work with the producers. We thought that with the 100th episode coming up that this was the right time to do it.
WACHTEL The new model is, how do you create a show that will be so satisfying in the end that it will last forever on whatever platform? [Seasons one through seven are currently streaming on Netflix.]
From left: Actors Costanzo, Brooke D’Orsay and Ben Shenkman on the show
LENCHEWSKI We were a great chapter in the story of USA Network, and obviously now they're writing new chapters. So we're rooting for them as much as they've always rooted for us.
WACHTEL One of the hallmarks of those [blue sky] shows was a quality of writing and production and cast that helped cable become what it has become right now.
MCCUMBER I don't look at it as closing a chapter on the blue skies era. I look at it as an evolution. Every network, every business has to evolve.
RAUCH Where the show ends, there's the promise and the suggestion of what's to come next. We are so thrilled and grateful to have had eight amazing seasons. My guess is, if a miracle happened, we would find a way to continue telling our stories.
Globe-Trotting Like a Royal
"We actually spent less money flying to Europe and shooting for a few days than we would have spent by sticking around in New York," says Lenchewski, on keeping costs low on the well-traveled series.
Divya (Reshma Shetty) and Evan (Paulo Costanzo) spent time in the Tuscan countryside in season five.
The show's first trip was to Cuba (Puerto Rico played the part, before the U.S. eased travel restrictions) in season two.
Hank (Feuerstein, pictured above) and Boris (Campbell Scott) traveled to Central Europe in season five.
The final passport stamp came when the show filmed in Hong Kong in a season-eight episode guest-starring Constance Wu.
This story first appeared in the June 17 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.