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The Good Doctor has been a compelling and emotionally charged staple for ABC on Monday nights, breaking ground with its depiction of the autistic Dr. Shawn Murphy navigating a prestigious hospital as well as fraught workplace and personal drama.
But the show, which marks its 100th episode Nov. 21, had a long path to air, with Daniel Dae Kim, who bought the rights to the 2013 Korean series of the same name, shopping it for several years before it finally landed with House creator David Shore and Sony Pictures Television.
Now six seasons in, with Golden Globe nominee Freddie Highmore in the starring role, it has been a ratings success (per Nielsen, its season-six premiere rated tops in the 10 p.m. hour in the 18-to-49 demo) and started new conversations about representation of neurodiversity. Co-showrunners Shore and Liz Friedman, along with Highmore, spoke with THR about the show’s success, depictions of neurodiversity and what fans can expect from the rest of season six.
Can you share what the impact of making it to 100 episodes means to you?
FREDDIE HIGHMORE I feel overall, as I’ve always felt with this show, very lucky and fortunate that we’ve been able to get to this point and that people have connected with the show and with the character that I get to play. It is increasingly rare in today’s world to have a show that goes this length of time. It’s definitely surpassed my expectations.
LIZ FRIEDMAN It’s such a joy. We have great characters, and we get to tell these terrific stories and follow them as they play out over the long term — and follow Shaun’s [played by Highmore] development. Also, the fact that we get to keep working with these incredible people — from the writers to the crew and the cast — is terrific.
DAVID SHORE Freddie’s been the best from day one. He hasn’t changed or evolved. (Laughs.) He just stayed the best. You go to work and you work hard, and you forget to be proud, and then something like this comes along and reminds you to stick your head up and look around and see what you’ve done.
Do you recall the moment when you realized there was a fandom behind the show?
SHORE There have been moments where we’ve gotten letters or something where we go, “Wow, this thing’s really struck a chord.” But from the start, we got a really good response because we were telling a story in an area about a person that wasn’t represented on television. People like this character, and people responded and rooted for the character.
Freddie, you have such a responsibility in portraying someone who is autistic. What have you learned from Dr. Murphy and the autism community?
HIGHMORE Our representing autism was always going to be the biggest challenge of this show and the thing that we most wanted to get right. We had the understanding that we were only telling Shaun’s individual story and he would never represent everyone on the spectrum, but at the same time, hoping he would be a meaningful character and a powerful portrayal of the community.
That’s something that’s struck me now that we’ve reached 100 episodes: If, by doing this show, we have changed even one person’s perception of autism and challenged stereotypes, then that’s certainly the thing that I’d be most proud of.
Diversity and representation have been paramount in The Good Doctor from the pilot. Why has that been so important for you?
FRIEDMAN That is what the world is, and it’s great to have a chance to represent that. I think it’s also really interesting to see how various characters from various backgrounds connect with Shaun. To be able to have those characters bounce off of each other gives you great opportunities.
SHORE People go through their lives in bubbles to a certain extent. When we meet people from outside that bubble, it’s eye-opening, and TV can replicate that experience. One of the great things TV can do is make people look at something they thought they knew in a new way.
HIGHMORE I also think that by celebrating and representing diversity, it’s been a show that, in a very divisive time, has hopefully proved that we’re more the same than different.
SHORE It’s an oversimplification of the truth, but the director of the pilot, Seth Gordon, said he realized halfway through that “everybody’s fucked up. Shaun just has a diagnosis.”
Freddie, what do you wish you had known when you started the show?
HIGHMORE (Laughs.) I wouldn’t risk rolling the dice again or knowing something more. Part of the things you learn are probably necessary along the way to get us here today. It would perhaps have been more helpful had I done medicine and known all of these terms that we all have to spend a lot of time learning. It would be great if they rolled off my tongue easier without as much homework.
What’s a surgery or ailment you read about that was so intriguing that you had to include it in the show?
FRIEDMAN There have been so many. We’ve got amazing support staff and writers here, we all collect medical stories, and they put out a digest every week. There’s so much weird stuff that happens. We have it floating around so we can go, “Oh, we can do this; we can do the virgin birth story here.” We’ve never done that one, but there was someone who got pregnant after being in a hot tub.
Is there a moment from the first 99 episodes that stands out to you or that has stuck with you more than any other over time?
SHORE It’s the moments where Dr. Murphy hugged somebody for the first time, held somebody’s hand, kissed somebody or had tequila [for the first time]. The personal accomplishments that are so huge are the ones that stay with me.
HIGHMORE The end of season two when Shaun knocks on Carly’s [Jasika Nicole] door [to ask her out for the first time]. I remember thinking at the time that it felt magical to end in a hopefully satisfying way, a TV season with such a small moment that feels like enough to be a landing place for the end of the show. I know it’s probably stating the obvious, but the pilot and certain momentous scenes for Shaun that were more emotional or bigger always stick out as big turning points.
Several castmembers have exited, then subsequently reentered the series. How do you approach writing them in and out of the show?
SHORE We take the stories where we feel they can give us the most dramatic fodder. It’s always difficult, though. It’s always heartbreaking. But we never want to shy away from heartbreak. It’s a show about hope. It’s a show about overcoming adversity. It’s a show about good people doing their best, but it doesn’t mean it always works out for the best. We want to explore the people that come and go from Dr. Murphy’s life. And whether they stay or they go, we enjoy having fresh perspectives toward Dr. Murphy and from Dr. Murphy.
What about the newcomers who have been added to the show in recent years? What do you look for when you want to bring an actor into an already well-established cast?
FRIEDMAN Well, it’s a bold choice, but we are looking for good actors. (Laughs.) We’ve got an incredibly great and professional cast here, so we are looking for people who will approach it with the same veracity and decency.
Liz and David, do you know where Dr. Murphy’s story will end?
FRIEDMAN I used to think I did. (Laughs.)
SHORE I think we’ll blow right past that and keep going.
FRIEDMAN I’ve got some ideas. I want to see what he does. Shaun’s grown so much, and there’s more to be done.
SHORE Every season, we’ve identified a new goal for him or a new challenge — just a general area and opportunity. Until we run out of those, hopefully we’ll keep going.
Can you share any teasers about what we can expect from the rest of season six?
HIGHMORE What’s been exciting for me this year is Shaun getting his promotion. It felt like a little reset, having Shaun overseeing people and being a boss. Being in this position of authority feels very meaningful and funny to me because of how he’s learning those ropes. It has been fun to play.
FRIEDMAN There’s some great drama in how Shaun, Lim [Christina Chang] and Glassman [Richard Schiff] deal with the fallout of the surgery that Shaun performed on Lim. It creates real emotional complications they have to find their way out of.
SHORE It’s always interesting to watch Shaun deal with emotional complications in his unique way.
HIGHMORE This year, with Shaun now married, it’s the very beginning of a whole new life. It raises even bigger questions. Similarly, I think it will require a bit of a readjustment with Shaun and Dr. Glassman because, until this point, Dr. Glassman has certainly been the most important person in [Shaun’s] life. Now the center of his world has shifted toward Lea [Paige Spara]. So what does that relationship now become between Shaun and Dr. Glassman with this new life structure?
Interview edited for length and clarity.
This article was updated Nov. 13 to reflect new air date for the 100th episode. The story first appeared in the Nov. 9 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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