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A lot has changed since viewers first met the staff of Chicago Medical back in 2014.
First, there was Chicago Fire‘s season two crossover with Chicago P.D. that introduced The Good Wife’s Dylan Baker and The Mentalist alum Amanda Righetti as two doctors on the scene saving lives in the wake of a deadly hospital bombing.
Then, the powers that be on Fire returned to Chicago Medical in April for a backdoor pilot that swamped in a whole new group of faces, namely Law & Order veteran S. Epatha Merkerson, theater actor Oliver Platt and Walking Dead vet Laurie Holden, as doctors working to stop a madman carrying a deadly airborne disease.
Now, seven months later, Chicago Med finally premieres Tuesday at 9 p.m. on NBC with even more changes on-screen and off, including new showrunners Andrew Schneider and Diane Frolov. “The first episode is really more of a pilot,” Schneider tells The Hollywood Reporter. “It’s really shines a light on this hospital which is a new hospital, a new ER and all these characters, most of whom we’ve never seen before.”
The duo spoke with THR about the various behind-the-scenes alterations and what viewers can expect from the latest installment in the growing Windy City franchise.
After the original backdoor pilot, which was written by executive producers Dick Wolf, Matt Olmstead, Michael Brandt and Derek Haas, CSI vet Andrew Dettmann came on board the series in June as showrunner. However, he abruptly parted ways in August a week after helping present the show to the press at the Television Critics Association summer press tour.
Enter married writing team Schneider and Frolov (The Sopranos, Northern Exposure), who had met with Wolf to pitch a legal show. “He really loved the show we were pitching but we got a call four or five days later and he was wondering if we would come and run Chicago Med,” Frolov says. “We were very, very surprised.” The offer came with a ticking clock. “We were coming on when we were two weeks away from prep,” Frolov says. “That was a big hesitation.”
Following stints on cable and streaming dramas like Boardwalk Empire and Bosch, Schneider and Frolov not only had to learn the ins and outs of Wolf’s Chicago universe – which had already introduced backstories and love interests for several of Med‘s main players – but they also had to adjust back to the demanding schedule that comes with a network drama. “You drink more coffee,” Schneider says with a laugh. “It’s a wild pace.”
However, the two say the process has been smooth-sailing thus far. “They’ve given us a lot of freedom within the show and have been very supportive of what we’ve wanted to do,” Schneider says. “On the first episode, they gave us some thoughts and changes that worked out really well but they’ve really let us run with it.”
Once they signed on, Schneider and Frolov’s first order of business was figuring out the backstories of the main ensemble, which had transformed dramatically. After appearing in the backdoor pilot, Holden announced her exit in August due to “family reasons.” The show also added several new series regulars (Colin Donnell, Torrey DeVitto, Brian Tee and Rachel DiPillo) over the summer. “Really finding the characters, giving them backstories and voices, points of view – we had to know that before we could write anything,” Frolov says. “In scenes, you always want conflict so you want different points of view so giving people different backgrounds … that was a way in which we developed it.”
Further complicating matters were the characters that had already appeared in multiple episodes of Fire (Yaya DaCosta) or P.D. (Nick Gehlfuss). “We did clear some things with Matt and Derek and Michael just to make sure we weren’t doing something that wouldn’t track with what had been done earlier,” Schneider says. The two say they also looked back at audition tapes and talked with the actors to flesh out the characters. “The character of Will, he was established, but again, he didn’t have the background that he has now so he’s different. I mean he’s not different but he’s expanded,” says Frolov. Adds Schneider: “We know more about him now and what drives him and how he looks at medicine, his point of view regarding medicine.”
Because of the events of the backdoor pilot, during which the grenade-carrying madman detonated a damaging explosive at the hospital, the premiere episode centers on the opening day of the brand new facility. “This is a hospital you would want to come,” Frolov. “It has very great equipment, very state-of-the-art.” Subsequently, “it’s a very hard hospital to get into as a resident,” Schneider says. “They only take the cream of the crop.”
It’s the competitive nature of the hospital that will also help Chicago Med stand apart from its two sister series. “They’re doctors as opposed to firemen or cops so they have very different backgrounds and education,” Schneider says. Interjects Frolov: “That changes dialogue and all kinds of things. Its just a completely different group of people.”
Also unlike the less lucky casts of Chicago Fire and P.D., both of whom have had to endure outdoor shoots during the rough Chicago winters, Med “takes place pretty much exclusively inside the hospital,” Schneider says.
Naturally, few cases will have hints of the grenade-carrying madman in the backdoor pilot. Instead, each episode will contain three or four storylines centered on medical mysteries far more complex with “social or political or financial implications,” Schneider says. “Medicine is constantly evolving and the cost of medicine and paying for medicine is constantly evolving so those are issues that we deal with. Biomedicine is raising ethical issues, and the ability of doctors to keep people alive or to resuscitate them when they’re dying – those cases make you ask questions.” Adds Frolov: “You want the case to have a story to it. It has to have twists and turns and surprises.”
The writers say they’ve even learned a few things while working on episodes, thanks in no small part to the show’s team of researchers and technical advisors. “Ultimately every episode there’s something about the practice of medicine that people will say, ‘Gee, I didn’t know that,'” Schneider says.
In addition to teaching viewers new things about medicine, the cases will, naturally, teach fans new things about the characters. “There are also personal stories that are developing throughout the season,” Schneider explains. “When we’re weaving the stories, we’re weaving it through a personal story with one of the characters,” Frolov says. “Those medical stories are bringing forth emotions and history about our characters too. They’re resonating with the characters.”
Despite the evolution of the characters, the episodes do stand alone. “You can view them all singularly,” Schneider says. “You don’t need to have seen the one before to understand the one you’re watching.”
That also holds true for the ever-common crossovers between shows, which happens frequently in the Chicago trilogy. The first three-show crossover between Med, Fire and P.D. is already in the works for January. “Even though we have stories coming in from Fire and heading out to P.D., still within that, we keep the medical mystery as its own separate thing,” says Frolov. Says Schneider, “And we cue up some personal stories that are separate and have a certain resolution within the episode so you could watch it by itself.”
Chicago Med premieres Tuesday at 9 p.m. on NBC.
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