Sanjay Gupta: The doctor is in drama, too

CNN's Sanjay Gupta

There are multitaskers and then there’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

A neurosurgeon and CNN’s chief medical correspondent, Gupta had already written two nonfiction best sellers when last year he added novelist to his titles with the publication of "Monday Mornings."

On Monday at 10 p.m., David E. Kelley’s adaptation of "Monday Mornings"  makes its debut as a medical drama on TNT, with Gupta as one of its executive producers.

Just thinking about Gupta’s life makes me tired, but when I spoke with him last month in Pasadena, Calif., where he’d appeared with Kelley (“Boston Legal,” “Ally McBeal”) and the cast of “Monday Mornings” to talk with TV critics, he looked better rested than he probably should have.

Besides his several careers, “I have three small children, so that’s the primary reason I don’t get sleep. I travel to get sleep,” Gupta said, laughing.

His various roles are “not one-offs, I think is the big lesson that I’ve learned. I think that if you treat things as being in different silos and you literally have to stop completely and start [something else], it makes it harder,” he said.

“Everything I do is still within the medical space. Even between news, television news, and something like this [a TV drama], I see myself as an educator, primarily. And I educate people in different ways. When I wrote the book, I originally thought that I wanted to show people how doctors ultimately learn.”

Starring Ving Rhames, Alfred Molina, Jennifer Finnigan, Jamie Bamber, Bill Irwin, Keong Sim, Sarayu Rao and Emily Swallow, “Monday Mornings” focuses on the weekly mortality and morbidity conferences — known as M&Ms — in which doctors discuss their mistakes.

Besides advising on the medical details, Gupta worked on scripts with Kelley, whom he referred to as “the Wizard of Oz.”

Kelley, famous for introducing dancing babies and other surreal touches, has so far tread lightly in “Monday Mornings,” though Gupta acknowledged that at least one character’s quirk had been the “Ally McBeal” creator’s addition.

“People have their idiosyncrasies ...David is just so good at getting to that,” he said.

Gupta’s also been impressed by “the attention to detail in Hollywood,” something he’d once thought of as the province of surgeons.

Writing his first novel took 10 years and wasn’t like writing his other books, he said. On those, he worked in the mornings, “before I made rounds,” but with fiction, “I couldn’t schedule it as well,” sometimes finding himself “on a plane or something, flying to Haiti and all of a sudden this entire thing came to me and I’d write an entire scene or story line.”

Now, with a studio set up on the show’s Manhattan Beach, Calif., lot, he’s available to cover breaking news for CNN even when he’s working in his made-up world.

“It’s a busy life, and I work harder now than I did when I was a resident, probably, but I enjoy it. And it seems logical to me. It’s cohesive in my own head.”

ON HBO Monday

Infuriating and illuminating, “Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God” (9 p.m. Monday, HBO) looks at the first known case in the U.S. of a priest being publicly accused of sexual abuse.

His victims: students at St. John’s School for the Deaf in Milwaukee, Wis. — in some cases boys whose hearing parents didn’t know sign language and so weren’t likely to learn of the abuse from their sons.

The two-hour documentary places the horrific case of Father Lawrence Murphy, who was never brought to justice, in the context of the worldwide epidemic of child molestation by priests — including a case in Verona, Italy, that also involved deaf children — and the Vatican’s long, frustrating failure to respond adequately.

But it’s the testimony of the men who survived Murphy’s abuse, expressed eloquently in sign language (and translated through the voices of actors Chris Cooper, Ethan Hawke, Jamey Sheridan and John Slattery), that makes “Mea Maxima Culpa” important viewing.
As boys, some spoke up and were not believed. They deserve to be heard now.

-- Ellen Gray