The Doctor Is Out

Another wonderful TV series that I was fortunate enough to have a small part of helping to make into a success has come to an end, so forgive me if yet again I’m in a somewhat melancholy manner.  THE GOOD DOCTOR aired its final episode on ABC last night and given what transpired in the emotional finale, I admit the happy tears gushed a bit more than usual.

As THE WRAP’s Jose Alejandro Bastidas shared, the show wasn’t even supposed to make it to this year:

Showrunner Liz Friedman and creator David Shore told TheWrap that the initial pitch for the show’s ending involved the autistic Dr. Shaun Murphy (Freddie Highmore) becoming a father, a milestone he reached at the end of Season 6. The show moving past its original conclusion and getting to explore Shaun as a father before saying goodbye with Season 7, led to the more personal finale storyline involving the doctors of San Jose St. Bonaventure Hospital working to save both the beloved Dr. Claire Browne (Anthonia Thomas) and Dr. Aaron Glassman (Richard Schiff).

In 2022 the team had produced a well-received backdoor pilot for THE GOOD LAWYER that had been initially commissioned to series, providing a natural transition for the staff as well as THE GOOD DOCTOR’s characters.  But personnel changes at ABC and Disney then revisited the business logic of a semi-procedural hour that wouldn’t be wholly owned, and the spinoff never materialized.  As an olive branch, a 10-episode coda for the mother ship was ordered.  And the coda to said coda was, in a word, brilliant:  With SPOILER ALERTS aplenty, again per Bastidas:

Appropriately titled “Goodbye,” the conclusion of the two-part finale followed as the doctors faced the aftermath of Claire’s collapse and Glassman’s reveal that his cancer is back — and terminal. The doctors find that Claire is suffering from an aggressive infection that they work arduously to contain, while Shaun also enlists everyone’s help to try to find a cure for Glassman once again.

Highmore praised the finale as a “fitting” end to the series, as Shaun faced a more personal dilemma with his final onscreen case. With Glassman, Shaun had to come to terms with a future where his father figure wouldn’t be around; whereas with Claire, he had to make life-altering decisions for his friend and patient — including amputating one of her arms — to save her life. Both challenges, he noted, showed his character’s remarkable growth across seven seasons of “The Good Doctor.”

Indeed, as Shore and Friedman told VARIETY’s Jim Halterman, the finale was intentionally designed to be a full circle experience:

Did either of you go back and watch the pilot in preparation for this final episode?

David Shore: Yeah, we did. Liz watched right away, and told me I should watch it, too. I was going to watch it anyways, but she just said, “Yeah, it’s really good.”

Friedman: We had also watched it for when we did “The Good Lawyer” spinoff [last year]. There are definitely moments that refer back to [the pilot]. Honestly, it was a bit of an accident, but we came up with the story, and then I took a look at the Season 1 finale, which was really about Shaun learning that Glassman had cancer. And those two stories speak to each other quite a bit in a way that really pleases me. It really gives a very good measure of Shaun’s progress over the course of these seven years.

That pilot was one I qualitatively tested with my Sony colleagues.  It was one of the highest-testing pilots in Sony’s recent history, and scored even higher with ABC’s methodologies. I was ebullient, but my colleagues were actually nervous.  It seems Shore had a penchant for picking apart research he had issues with even when it was positive.  He apparently had had a history of false positives on pilots that never went forward and shows he believed in that never truly clicked.  In this case, an overabundance of good news might actually have been interpreted as a bad sign.

But I was a fan of the hit that to that point had defined Shore’s career, the Hugh Laurie tour-de-force HOUSE, M.D.  A medical procedural that NBC inexplicably passed on despite being from their in-house studio, an opportunisitic FOX broke character and picked it up, and then further broke character and slotted it as a lead-out to the then-juggernaut AMERICAN IDOL.   While virtually anything that followed IDOL was guaranteed a high rating, what FOX wisely realized was a truly broad-appeal show would have the best chance of keeping it.  HOUSE eventually was strong enough to lead off a different night and ran eight seasons.

Since I had that “inside baseball” knowledge, I was assigned the task of reigning in Shore should he bring his curmudgeonly side to our presentation.  I introduced myself as both colleague and fan, quoting one of Dr. House’s catch phrases to open things up:  “It isn’t lupus”.  I got a smirk out of Shore.  That was seen as moving a mountain.

I also learned that Shore hadn’t seen our focus groups, which unlike other companies was seen as more of a color commentary add-on than a de facto decider.  We did have detailed descriptors from our quantitative respondents, one of which caught my eye and took me back to another medical-themed series with a quirky lead.  So I seized upon it in the hopes of further disarming Shore enough to actually fall in line with all of our good news:

“We heard the character of Shaun being favorably compared to Doogie Howser–younger, eidetic, earnest and engaging.   I was around for the initial research on DOOGIE and ABC was convinced enough to buy and promote it heavily.  And, frankly, we’ve got way more encouraging data in this case”.

Shore was all in.  We eagerly shared the many success stories that emerged from the debut season, one that completely turned around a weak  and crucial 10 PM ABC time slot.  We even helped Shore defend Shaun’s character to a press that was dubious that an actor not on the spectrum could effectively play someone who was.  And Sony was inadvertently contributing to the debate as it was simultaneously launching the Netflix series ATYPICAL, which revolved around a teen with autism and was actually cast with real-life autistic actors.

As TV LINE’s David Nemetz wrote in 2017:

Shore and the writers did a great deal of research on autism before shooting, he says: “We saw a lot of documentaries. We consulted with people. We have people on the spectrum who we’re working with.” But he cautions that Shaun is “a very specific character. He’s not there to represent autism.” Highmore adds that “it would be impossible… and a somewhat rude thing to say that this character will represent [all autistic people]. Hopefully, he will speak to everyone with differences… he’s not solely defined by his autism.”

ATYPICAL was a superbly produced show, but a niche hit for Netflix at its best.  THE GOOD DOCTOR was not only a smash for ABC, it was also an unqualified international hit for Sony.  And another long-running hit for David Shore.

As all good things eventually do, it came to an end last night.  And yet another connection I had to a current series is gone.  Sobering, to be sure.

But success does open doors for further opportunities.  I have little doubt Highmore, Schiff and Thomas will find future projects and again taste success.  I have little doubt Friedman, Shore and their team will come together again somewhere else for something great.

And I guess if I could find a way to earn their trust with a little creative license of my own, that might mean the same for me.

Until next time…

 

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