In the span of a couple of weeks, NBC medical drama New Amsterdam, starring Ryan Eggold, found itself eerily blending fiction and reality amid a global pandemic. Set and shot in New York, the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S., the series, created by David Schulner, had shot an upcoming episode about a deadly flu pandemic in NYC. Soon after that, a recurring guest star, Daniel Dae Kim tested positive for the coronavirus, and a writer and three New Amsterdam crew members got sick.
NBC has decided to pull the flu pandemic episode, originally titled “Pandemic” and later renamed “Our Doors Are Always Open”, which had been initially slated as the show’s next original on April 7. Instead, New Amsterdam, which will be shifting from its Tuesday 10 PM slot to the 9 PM hour vacated by This Is Us starting next week, will run repeats the next two weeks, with the last remaining produced new episode before the mass TV production shutdown airing as a season finale on April 14. (Ellen’s Game Of Games, which was supposed to air repeats at 8 PM and originals at 9 PM, will now run originals at 8 PM.) The flu pandemic episode of New Amsterdam, which has been renewed for the next three seasons, will air at a future date.
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New Amsterdam creator, executive producer and showrunner Schulner supports the decision. “The world needs a lot less fiction right now, and a lot more facts,” he says in an emotional essay written for Deadline. In it, he talks about the origin of the pandemic episode, written in 2019, and describes some of the scenes in it that do not look like fiction at all.
“We showed what happens when our hospital has to erect tents in the parking lot because every bed is taken,” Schulner says of the medical drama, which was inspired by New York’s Bellevue public hospital and films at Bellevue.
Today, we woke up to images of the military erecting tents to serve as makeshift morgues outside Bellevue hospital as New York is bracing for potential surge in coronavirus victims.
“Sometimes, what the mirror reflects back is too horrifying to look at,” Schulner writes.
As the only medical drama filming in New York, New Amsterdam sprung into action when, overwhelmed by exponentially growing new infections, New York was on the brink of running out of medical supplies. A half a truck load of PPE, masks, gloves, gowns and face masks were delivered to the New York State Department of Health Friday morning. New York State now accounts for more than half of the coronavirus cases in the U.S., the majority of them in NYC.
As dire the current situation is, Schulner strikes a hopeful tone. There is some real-life good news too — Kim, and the rest of the afflicted New Amsterdam production members, a writer, two directors and an AD, who self-quarantined but did not get tested — are all on the mend.
Here is Schulner’s essay:
I am a writer of fiction. But if I may say, the world needs a lot less fiction right now, and a lot more facts. The only reason I’m writing about Covid-19 and the effects it had on my show, New Amsterdam, is because Deadline Hollywood asked me to. Again, there are way more important articles to read right now, so please, if you need to learn about social distancing, the symptoms of Covid-19, or where to buy milk, go read those articles now. They could, without exaggeration, save your life. This article will not.
If I sound self-effacing let me assure you, I’m not. I truly believe that right now, at this moment in time, the only thing I have to contribute to society is the money I have made writing fiction, not the fiction itself. I know people say entertainment is needed in times like these, that people need to escape, but I’ve never been one of those people. When I was thirteen Arthur Miller was my idol. I wanted to hold a “mirror up to nature” as Shakespeare dictated. Yes, I know, I sound insufferable. But, it’s only because I really am!
Though, sometimes, when we get it right, the fiction we write actually does what Hamlet instructed. This was the case of an episode of New Amsterdam called “Pandemic” written by David Foster (a Harvard trained M.D.) and directed by Nick Gomez. David wrote the episode in 2019 about a flu pandemic overtaking our fictional hospital in New York. During a bad year, influenza can kill up to 80,000 Americans. We wanted to get this message out. And the best way to do that was to scare you so bad you’d be washing your hands during the commercial breaks. We showed what happens when our hospital has to erect tents in the parking lot because every bed is taken. When the doctors and nurses and medical techs have been working back to back shifts because their replacements are sick. When panic sets in. When people are quarantined. When people die.
Sometimes, what the mirror reflects back is too horrifying to look at.
This is why NBC recently decided not air “Pandemic”. David even renamed it, “Our Doors Are Always Open”, as a salve. But, let’s call it what it is. We shot a fictional pandemic episode right before a real pandemic hit. People are dying in real life. Do we really want to watch fake people die too? Some would say yes. It’s not for nothing Contagion and Outbreak are at the top of the iTunes chart. The reason we engage with fiction is to watch our heroes battle the monsters we can’t and to learn from their struggle. There’s hope in that. Hope is the reason fiction exists.
New York State now accounts for seven percent of the world’s infections. And by the time you read this, it will most likely be more. The images we put on screen, of New Yorkers fleeing parks, autopsies in makeshift labs, are hard to watch. Some would say exploitative. Some would say in bad taste. Now they won’t say anything. Because the mirror has been taken down. For better and for worse.
I need to call attention to the fact that members of our cast and crew are now sick. One of our writers is sick. Daniel Dae Kim, whose character was introduced in this episode, tested positive for Covid-19 a few days after we shut down production. I know most, if not all of us want this episode to air. We poured our hearts and souls into it. And it will air. Just not now. And when it does some will still say it’s exploitative. Some will still say it’s in bad taste. And some will be grateful to have their experiences reflected back to them. To show them that they were not alone. In a time when isolation was the only way to survive. That there was and is… hope.
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