* NY MED. 10 tonight, 6ABC.
NEW YORK - Acting student Juan Vasquez never expected to make his national television debut lying on an ER bed at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, looking up at Dr. Mehmet Oz.
But there he is tonight in the return of ABC's "NY Med," one moment running through his medical history - and theater credits - for the daytime talk-show host, there in his lesser-known role of cardiothoracic surgeon, and the next convulsed with pain well beyond what had brought him there in the first place.
He doesn't really remember any cameras, though he said he'd spoken briefly with members of the "NY Med" crew.
"I just remember seeing Dr. Oz, and the pain," Vasquez said earlier this month during a press session at ABC News for the latest incarnation of a series that began with "Hopkins 24/7" in 2000 and is returning for a second edition at Manhattan's New York-Presbyterian, also featured in 2012's "NY Med."
Oz is still an attending surgeon at the hospital (and still a bit of a distraction in the otherwise celebrity-free show - the carrots he's handing out to staff are almost symbolic of how he's being used to draw viewers).
Did Vasquez recognize Oz?
"I did. It was funny. In my head, I was like, 'Hi,' " he said, mimicking a puzzled tone.
Asked later for consent to air his case, Vasquez said he initially refused because "it's so personal," adding, "I was supposed to be in Maine to see my teacher perform. So I was never supposed to be at Presbyterian at all," ending up there because of what started as back pain and quickly grew into something more serious.
"This is not a show where you get people who want to be on TV and don't have a lot going on in their lives," executive producer Terence Wrong said.
"The doctors have devoted decades to this career - it's a passion, it's a mission," he said. "The patients are undergoing the most dramatic turning points in their life. So the only way you're going to approach them and get consent is if you are as passionate and committed about the medicine and the situation as they are."
Wrong and his team have occasionally ventured beyond hospitals - there was "Boston 24/7," "NYPD 24/7" and even a look at online dating called "Hooking Up" - but his passion for medicine seems only to have grown.
"I had a little episode myself where I was hospitalized a month ago and I had two nurses who [told me they] went into nursing because of this series," he said.
Pressed later for details of the "little episode," Wrong wasn't eager to share as much as the patients in his shows often do, so let's just say he "ended up on an IV drip for three days."
And, yes, at New York-Presbyterian.
"I spent 14 hours in the emergency room, so I didn't get special treatment," Wrong said.
"NY Med" patients don't all get to meet Oz, but they are treated by doctors and nurses whose presence on the show owes less to chance. They're all in their own ways characters and they contribute to the chemistry that makes "NY Med" at least as entertaining as it is educational.
ER nurse Marina Dedivanovic, a standout from the 2012 season, is among those returning, but another familiar face may be there only a short time, as a momentary error in judgment gets someone fired.
It's no accident that one of the first cases in tonight's premiere involves an upbeat, telegenic 28-year-old urology resident. Dr. Ashley Winter, first heard telling a patient on the phone, "I need you to measure your penis," will be helping to replace a penile implant in a jubilant 73-year-old.
Another case, in the ER, deals with a first-time surfer's very bad sunburn.
The thought, Wrong said, "was let's ease them in. Let's not bum anyone out with brain surgery . . . right at the top."
This isn't necessarily how he would have edited the episode in the days of "Hopkins 24/7," he acknowledged.
"It's something I've understood about the audience and what they're getting on the rest of television in that they need these payoffs, these kind of emotional brain payoffs," he said. "They need to laugh, they need to cry and they need to feel it quicker.
"There is this alchemy in the mix, tonally, between the serious and the sad and the more humorous, and there's a mix of speeds, like the case that's a brain surgery that's moving along at 65 miles per hour and a trauma that's 120."
The search for more trauma cases led Wrong's team across the Hudson to Newark's University Hospital, which comes under the "NY Med" umbrella this season.
"They do more traumas there than they do on the Upper East Side. And that's just a fact," said Wrong, who sees this year's edition as "a tale of two cities" (though viewers, accustomed to being whipped from case to case in institutional settings, may not always realize when they've left the world of Oz behind).
Dr. Adam Fox, a trauma surgeon at University, praised Wrong and his team for, basically, not making pests of themselves.
"We have a very narrow time frame with which to deal with many of these patients," he said. "And if that was getting in the way, it would have been a problem for me, and I know, my partners. I don't know of any of us who had that problem."
"After the first couple of days, where I realized I use my hands a lot when I talk, I realized that they were really unobtrusive," Fox said.
"Sometimes some off-color comments came out of my mouth and I didn't even realize they [the crew] were sort of sitting there in the corner. I tend to curse on occasion," he said, adding. "Not at the patients. In general."
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