In the cluttered world of fall television, some new shows are already getting weeded out ("The Playboy Club" and "How to Be a Gentleman," to name a few) while others are still hoping that people discover them and help keep them around for a long time to come. One such show is CBS's "A Gifted Man." The one-hour drama starring Patrick Wilson has so far not been burning up the ratings chart but time will tell as the story unfolds about a doctor with a God complex who learns the more emotional (and sometimes spiritual) side of life from ghostly appearances by his dead ex-wife (played by Jennifer Ehle).
Steering the drama, which was created by screenwriter Susannah Grant, is Neal Baer, best known for his many years running "ER" and "Law & Order: SVU." How is Baer handling the new gig? Has it been a challenge showing Wilson's Michael Holt as a jerk but still expecting viewers to like him? What's to come in the romance department for Holt since his dead ex-wife is hanging around? Baer gladly answered these questions and also teased a few upcoming developments when he recently spoke with our Jim Halterman.
Jim Halterman: Coming from 'Law & Order: SVU,' what are the differences in doing 'A Gifted Man?' Is it taking you back to your 'ER' days?
Neal Baer: It's certainly taking me back to my 'ER' days because Eriq LaSalle premiered [last week] so, in that sense, it really takes me back to 'ER' but it's really an element of 'SVU' with the twists and turns but it's also fun to go back and do pure medical stories, which I haven't done since 2000. There were a certain amount of medical stories on 'SVU' but it wasn't about a doctor, obviously, so it's fun to go back and do stories especially since a decade has passed and so much has changed in medicine.
JH: In watching the show thus far, there's this undercurrent of the spiritual versus logic but it seems very subtle so far. Will that become a stronger element of the show as we move forward?
NB: That's always the conflict because Michael is from a very Western tradition of medicine so he's not particularly open to other ways of viewing healing so this is already a challenge to him. He's just wants a patient to come in and have that patient do what he tells them do and he wants to operate; get in and get out. So complicated stories involving people's emotions are not something that he cares to deal with and, hence, there's conflict for his character and the characters at the Clinic, where they are more down and dirty and trying to prevent bad things from happening.
JH: What are the challenges in making Michael not completely a jerk but still be somewhat emotionally closed off? How do we connect with that as a viewer?
NB: You always want to find the right balance and I think Patrick himself is such a nice guy in real life that that can't help but come through but he's also such a terrific actor so to play someone who has a God complex you do have to walk a fine line and I think that's what's interesting because he's such a good doctor that he's the kind of person you'd want to take care of you but he might not be the person who you'd want to be your closest friend so we have to find a way to play into both the positive and the negative elements of his character, which I think is more interesting than if he played a doctor and everyone loved him.
JH: Will there be more about Michael questioning his sanity in future episodes or is that not going to be a concern?
NB: He did in the pilot. He looked up schizophrenia, he had an MRI, he went through all the tests but they were negative so I think he's at the point right now where he's accepting that there's something he can't explain but he doesn't want to dive too deeply into that. Yes, we will go into that much more as the series progresses.
JH: So far, Anna seems very at peace with her place as an angel or ghost. Will she always be that way or will there be a darker side to her world, whatever that world is?
NB: She doesn't know what she is either. We have a scene coming up where she says she doesn't know where she goes in-between. [Recently], it presented her in the real quandary where she had screwed up the clinic and they didn't have insurance coverage. And in an upcoming episode Michael confronts someone who may have killed Anna so we get very involved in that storyline with Anna and what happened to her. We also have a story coming up where she talks to Michael about dying alone in the street. We really get into a lot of things that she is dealing with and dealt with as a doctor.
JH: Even though she is an angel or otherworldly body that she still has very human emotions.
NB: She still has feelings for him, too, and we'll find out secrets about him and her as the show progresses.
JH: She also has said that she can't really control when and where she shows up for Michael. Do you and the writers have a set of rules for Anna as the show moves forward?
NB: When she appears with Michael she can't go through physical space without a door being open. She can't go through walls or things like that. She doesn't eat or drink. We've found those things as we've gone along. She does sort of change outfits, which I don't know if there's a Ghost Store but she does change and she's not in the same outfit. Her hair changes so I don't know if there's a Ghost Salon. But there are rules about how she goes through space and how she shows up and nobody else can see her and things like that.
JH: I would like to think there's a Banana Republic or J Crew in heaven.
NB: Right! Right! Exactly!
JH: I'm guessing with the addition of Rachelle Lefevre on the show that she's a potential love interest for Michael.
NB: Well, you're going to meet Kate's husband, played by Peter Hermann from 'SVU' who is Mariska Hargitay's real life husband. There was a scene where Michael asks her out to dinner and she stumbles and then her husband shows up to pick her up.
JH: I thought that Kate, at least so far, is very Anna-like. She's very committed to the clinic and seems like a good person but how will that affect Anna?
NB: At this point Anna likes her because she's worked to make the clinic work but we'll have to see if there are complications.
JH: Will Michael eventually see other people? You've had some patients come in who have said they hear voices so I was wondering if Michael might see others.
NB: I don't know. We've been talking about it and we will see as the show progresses, certainly.
JH: So far, there are only a few people - Michael's sister (Julie Benz) and Anton (Pablo Schreiber) - who know Michael is seeing Anna. Will that stay the same or will others find out?
NB: So far it's the close circle and in the Thanksgiving episode you'll see that Anton and Christina get involved again and there are issues there.
JH: Has that been a challenge to make sure that Christina and Anton are in the stories since they aren't necessarily immersed in the medical arena?
NB: I think with Anton it's been interesting because he's this other-kind of spiritual side of healing so you'll see him throughout and taking this different perspective. You're going to see some chemistry between Rhys Coiro (who plays Dr. Zeke Barnes) and Julie Benz, as well.
JH: Margo Martindale just won an Emmy for 'Justified.' How will you be using her character in the episodes coming up?
NB: [Tonight's episode] is a huge show for her where she knows the patient and then also the Thanksgiving episode we meet her son and her husband. Her husband is played by Tom Wopat. We have a big Thanksgiving episode focused on Margo.
JH: Does Michael have other family members that we might meet down the line?
NB: You're going to find out about that in the Thanksgiving episode as well. A big secret is revealed.
JH: A family secret?
JH: Last question, does being on Friday night make it less stressful in terms of ratings because expectations are a little lower?
NB: Oh yeah, we think about it because we want people to come to the show and I think often people don't know it's on. It's on at 8 o'clock eastern/pacific and 7 central/mountain so that's a tough time for people to get hooked on a show. I think a lot of people still aren't aware that it's on so you hope that you can get people to give it a shot so they can see it and see that it's a pretty interesting show. It gives you medicine, it gives you spiritual, it gives you faith, it gives you science... it's really not like anything that's on TV right now.
"A Gifted Man" airs Fridays at 8:00/7:00c on CBS while Baer's novel with Jonathan Greene entitled "Kill Switch" is in stores December 13.