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2013 flashback: Gupta's book inspires TNT drama 'Monday Mornings'

By RODNEY HO/, originally filed January 30, 2013

During the first episode of TNT's medical drama "Monday Mornings, " Dr. Harding Hooten (played by Alfred Molina) asks a neurosurgeon why he's nicknamed "007" by his colleagues.

"I believe it has something to do with 'Licensed to Kill, ' " the doctor says, wincing.

"Not a very nice nickname for a surgeon, is it, doctor?" Hooten responds dryly. "I shall be recommending to the board of this hospital that your medical privileges be pulled immediately. You're excused, '007.' Any more conversations in this room you shall not be privy to."

That's the rough-and-tumble way it goes in the weekly morbidity and mortality meetings at a Portland, Ore., hospital inspired by the fictional work of Dr. Sanjay Gupta, the renowned Atlanta neurosurgeon and chief medical correspondent for CNN. These weekly gatherings are for doctors only. No lawyers or administrators are allowed.

"These closed-door meetings are some of the most indelible things I've experienced, " Gupta said in a recent interview. "We're taking people into a part of medicine very few know about, much less have seen."

Taking part in these meetings for more than 10 years, Gupta wrote diligent notes and weaved his thoughts into a fictional 2012 novel (Grand Central Publishing). As an executive producer, he helped transform the book into this TNT series, which debuts at 10 p.m. Monday.

David E. Kelley, known for whimsical work such as "Ally McBeal" and "Boston Legal, " writes and produces.

"I had a lot of stories I could draw from, " Gupta said. "This is hallowed territory. I wanted to treat it with the respect it deserves."

This drama does not take its cues from the more soap operatic ways of ABC's "Grey's Anatomy" or the cult of personality that was Fox's recently retired "House." Rather, it's more sober, more reflective.

Though Kelley is well known for his work on legal shows, he also was the creator of the CBS medical drama "Chicago Hope." He certainly has Gupta's respect.

"I hate to come off as a fan boy, " Gupta said, "but he's so good at putting stories together. He's also a really decent guy. No fuss. No muss. Everyone likes him. There's a no-jerk policy on set."

TNT also spiced up the series with star firepower in Molina and Ving Rhames, who plays an intense trauma chief with legendarily sharp instincts.

Gupta said no one character is him. "They are all amalgams of different types of people I've known, " he said.

Gupta acknowledged surgeons carry a little bit of a Superman complex, given the life-and-death situations they have to deal with every day. These weekly peer reviews are a safe space where they can discuss their often fatal mistakes and prevent future ones --- though surgeons can be put through the wringer if they make too many mistakes.

"Nobody likes to say they screwed up and have other people chime in, " he said.

He recalls his first trip to the hot seat. The hospital's infection rate was too high. Through these meetings, they discovered they were not putting instruments in the autoclave long enough to eliminate bacteria.

"It seems like a small problem, but waiting an extra 180 seconds could make a huge difference, " he said. "I promise you. We never rushed that process again."

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About the Author

Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.