NY Med

NY Med debuts tonight on ABC at 10 p.m. Eastern.

ABC’s new summer documentary series about what goes on inside New York-Presbyterian Hospital’s Columbia and Weill Cornell medical centers is closer to ER than Frederick Wiseman, not that that’s a bad thing: The first hour is consistently interesting and sometimes fascinating. God knows how many hours of footage the production crew shot, but it’s been chopped into manageable bits and shaped so that the glimpses of exciting new medical techniques and what a programming executive would call “the human element” are carefully balanced. Sometimes the show allows you to catch it tugging at your heartstrings: There’s a gratuitous shot of a 66-year-old man who says he’s never had surgery before in his life wiping away a tear as he waits to go under the knife to see if anything can be done about the cancer attacking his liver. (The procedure, conducted by Dr. Tomoaki Kato, involves removing the liver from his body, inspecting it and trying to remove the tumor, then putting it back.) Every time the show is about to go to commercial, somebody with access to the soundtrack switches to the Lilith Fair channel. But these lapses are spaced far apart and don’t eat up much TV time.

When ABC was deciding whether it really wanted to plug a hole in its schedule for eight weeks with this show, it probably helped that it comes with an actual TV star: Dr. Mehmet Oz, director of the Cardiovascular Institute and Complementary Medicine Program at New York-Presbyterian, and a man who, despite all the hours he’s logged on daytime TV, can say that he operates on people’s hearts for a living because “there are very few things in life that I could have done successfully” in a way that doesn’t make you want to heave a brick at your television. The show acknowledges his celebrity status early on, showing the gauntlet of well-wishers and hand-shakers he has to navigate when he arrives at work. Having conceded the fact that Oz’s celebrity can’t be ignored, the show pretty much drops it, except for a funny scene later when a fellow who looks and talks like the sum of every character actor who always get cast as “New York Guy” shakes his head in wonder at the way his “ex-wife and girlfriend” are held spellbound by Dr. Oz’s presence.

Dr. Oz is featured in the première in a storyline about a middle-aged man who needs heart surgery and who shows up alone for his appointment to discuss it, thus giving Oz the chance to explain to the camera how important it is to make sure his patients have access to loved ones who understand that their presence during the healing process is important. (“If you don’t have a reason to keep your heart beating, it won’t.”) Oz doesn’t dominate the show, though. The camera keeps hopping from one doctor or nurse or resident to the next; happily, they’re all engaging, and though it’s hard to see how it could be possible that the camera crew never gets in the way, the only clearly detectable way it might be affecting the physicians’ behavior is how incredibly nice everyone acts all the time; one nurse is even good-humored with the guy who shuts off his monitor because the noise is interfering with his sleep. I can’t say that bothers me much, though it did make me think about trying to hire a camera crew to bring along for next check-up. There is, however, one moment during an operation when Dr. Kato may linger a little too long while explaining the situation to the camera and a nurse finally interrupts to ask, uh, should this guy be sewn back up?

The cases in the first episode also include a young mother of two whose headache turns out to be caused by a brain tumor, a fellow who needs his junk drained after a Cialis leaves him with a 12-hour erection (product placement!), and a man who returns home to his bride after a bachelor party in Las Vegas covered with reddish spots and is mightily relieved to learn that he has the measles. (Learning that he may have skipped vaccination as a child because he was raised a Christian Scientist, someone asks, “Is that like Tom Cruise?”) There’s also a staffer who has to have his eyes tended to after someone with a history of HIV and Hepatitis C projectile-vomits in the general vicinity of his face. (When this poor bastard is receiving treatment and a doctor with a sour look on his face strolls in and says, “Who gets vomit in their eye!?” you know you’re with family.)

Then there’s the guy who checks in with food poisoning and feels just good enough to hit on his nurse: “Since my heart rate is a little elevated, maybe a less-attractive nurse would be in order.” She says something about not dating patients, but she also smiles and murmurs, “I like that one, actually.” The dude shows up a couple of weeks later with flowers and a dinner invitation, and he also has the presence of mind to ask her out on camera. Whether he borrowed the crew filming the show or brought his own isn’t made clear. A single guy in New York has got to use whatever advantage he can grab.

Stray observations:

  • I’ve been hearing the name “Dr. Oz” for years, but this is the first time I’ve ever actually watched him in action. I liked him fine, once I got past the surprise of learning that “Oz” isn’t his first name. 
  • The doctor who helps the guy with the erection that needs bleeding looks just a little too much like Andy Dick for anyone’s ideal candidate for the person you’d want helping you with that. On the other hand, the nurse who hears a familiar splashy sound and, without missing a beat, smiles at the camera and says, “That’s vomit!” looks exactly as much like Ellie Kemper as you would want from anyone you had to hear that from.