"My sincere belief is that one of the greatest mysteries left to discover is in our heads," said Peter Ocko, creator and executive producer of the upcoming CBS medical drama 3 Lbs., starring Stanley Tucci as Dr. Doug Hanson and Mark Feuerstein as Dr. Jonathan Seger. The title refers to the weight of the human brain.
A gregarious Ocko was promoting the show during a media conference call, which I wasn't able to attend. Because I wasn't invited. I was, however, invited to listen to the recording, where the creator explained his fascination with the human mind.
Ocko, who claims he was more inspired by the stories of Dr. Oliver Sacks than the similarly themed House, said he's less interested in the brain surgery itself as the "complexity and almost ridiculousness of how the brain works. ... When it starts to break, we get this window into this truly magical, strange place."
"We do spend a great deal of time getting into the heads of our patients," he explained.
The pilot, which will air Tuesday, Nov. 14 on CBS, backs up that assertion. One of the patients, a young musician with a brain tumour that affects her ability to speak, is seen in an imaginative sequence literally reaching for words as they drop from the ceiling of a concert hall. We learn nearly as much about her as we do about the doctors who form the regular cast.
The writer for shows such as Dead Like Me, Boston Legal, and Dinosaurs holed up in his garage during a period of unemployment to write the original pilot in 2004. After working in comedy for 10 years, Ocko was determined to write a drama about this subject that fascinated him.
Eventually, Barry Levinson and Tom Fontana were brought in to executive produce, the show was recast with Tucci in the lead, and Ocko's original script evolved from a darker, more character-driven show to the blend of procedural and character elements that will debut on Tuesday. "As we earn the right with the audience, 3 Lbs. will be as much about the mysteries of the patients coming through the door as the mysteries of these characters lives," Ocko added.
As for the similarities between Tucci's Dr. Hanson and Hugh Laurie's Dr. House, Ocko pointed out that "no one invented the grumpy doctor with a god complex."
He sees his central character as someone who sees the world in black and white, but who is starting to realize he might be wrong, and that he might have sacrificed too much to become the best in his field. "We explore this character, this guy who believes the brain is wires in a box, and then we haunt him." Literally. Hanson sees spooky images of a little girl, and thinks he might be in need of a brain surgeon himself.
Ocko is determined to bring to the screen dramatic stories that bring up interesting questions, and to ground them in reality. "One of the challenges of the show is to convince the audience that we're not making this up," he said, pointing to the full-time neurologist who works on set and a medical consultant who's involved in the writing process.
He seemed prepared for the inevitable comparisons to FOX's House, and expressed uncertainty about whether the post-House timeslot would help or hurt his show. "The bar is so high right now for medical dramas," he said before pointing out that audiences are so loyal to their favourites that it "might take time to realize we're a very different show."
Still, Ocko thinks the world of neurosurgery offers 3 Lbs. the opportunity to provide at least "two great box sets" worth of episodes, each exploring our internal uncharted territory.
"One of the most magical things we can experience is part of us, and that's our brain."
3 Lbs. premieres Tuesday, Nov. 14 at 10 p.m., and the pilot is available for viewing now on CBS's broadband channel Innertube.