'Monday Mornings' examines what goes wrong when surgeons gamble in the OR

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TORONTO - It's the failings — not the triumphs — that are on display in the new medical show "Monday Mornings," and that's what sets it apart from other doctor-driven dramas, says its Montreal-bred star Jennifer Finnigan.

Bracing herself for inevitable comparisons to a multitude of hospital-based predecessors, Finnigan states this distinction right off the bat, noting that the Bravo series centres on a group of egotistical doctors who occasionally make mistakes. Bad ones.

"I've been on shows before where they make a concerted effort to not show any flaws in the character — they want the character to be super-human. And our characters are not," Finnigan says during a recent promotional stop in Toronto.

"It's easy to show doctors as super-human and we're really taking the other perspective."

The one-hour series takes its name from the best-selling book by CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta, also a practising neurosurgeon and executive producer of the show.

The name refers to a weekly "morbidity and mortality conference" that takes place Monday mornings at the show's fictional hospital Chelsea General Hospital in Portland, Ore.

Such meetings actually take place at real hospitals, notes Finnigan, who says they are a vital forum for doctors and surgeons to examine sometimes heart-breaking medical disasters so they never happen again.

"They have to go in there, get up on a podium and tell their peers about the mistakes they've made," explains Finnigan.

"They have to become completely accountable for their actions and it's a learning curve for them. It's a really scary situation and actually our creator Sanjay Gupta talks about it a lot, about how horrifying some of those meetings were and he was so inspired to just write that, to show people what goes on behind the scenes that we have no idea about."

Ugly missteps presented on the series include that of a time-pressed surgeon who proceeds with brain surgery before making a crucial family history check, and the cold insensitivity of a doctor who hovers around a dying patient demanding to know when the organs would be ready for harvest.

Alfred Molina plays chief of staff Dr. Harding Hooten, who runs the weekly meeting with exacting detail and holds nothing back as he doles out crippling reprimands.

"You were callous to the point of indecency," Hooten says of one especially arrogant doctor, leaving everyone in the room speechless.

The stories are sometimes appalling, but never anything beyond the scandalous news reports we've all seen or read at one time or another, Finnigan says of the series, executive-produced by "Ally McBeal" and "Boston Legal" creator David E. Kelley.

"We hear about those stories everyday — we hear about mistakes that are made in the hospitals, (about) things that weren't properly cleaned," says Finnigan, who got her start on "The Bold and the Beautiful" and appeared on "Crossing Jordan," "Close to Home" and "Better With You."

"Everything's kind of ripped from the headlines and we have a really passionate, really accomplished neurosurgeon in Sanjay Gupta who gives us all the story ideas."

The ensemble cast includes Ving Rhames, Jamie Bamber, Bill Irwin, Keong Sim, Sarayu Rao and Emily Swallow.

Finnigan's character is the driven Dr. Tina Ridgeway, who is authoritative and confident in her job.

"I have a feeling she lives for her work. And then the minute she walks through her front door at home she falls apart," says Finnigan, who is married to "Weekend at Bernie's" star Jonathan Silverman.

"She has a loveless marriage with her husband. They've been together for a long time and they never see each other anymore. She probably works 20-hour days and they're estranged."

Nevertheless, she cares deeply for her patients, with Finnigan noting "it was important for me to make her kind of be the heart of the show."

Then there's Sim's baffling character Dr. Sung Park, a brilliant Korean surgeon whose English is so bad he addresses patients with the finesse of a monosyllabic caveman: "Not do, dead," he warns a patient leery of surgery.

His incoherence borders on offensive, if only it didn't seem so ludicrous. But Finnigan insists it's not as outlandish as it seems.

"That's how smart he is, that he knows all the medical terminology in English but other than that can barely string a sentence together," she says.

"He's a man of few words and I think he's hysterical. I love that character."

Gupta made sure the stories are as realistic as possible, she says — so much so that their fake operating room is so hygienic and well-stocked with instruments Gupta claimed "he could basically perform neurosurgery on our set."

And when Bamber faked his way through a scene in which his character clips a brain aneurysm, Gupta had to step in, for accuracy's sake.

"'He just killed him!'" Finnigan says was Gupta's mortified objection.

"He rectified it and showed us the actual, proper way to do it and it turned out so much better."

"Monday Mornings" begins Monday on Bravo.

Organizations: Chelsea General Hospital, Bernie's

Geographic location: TORONTO, Montreal, Portland, Ore. Jordan Sung Park

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