Medical dramas often rely on real world events — and more often than not, catastrophes — to inspire their storylines. For NBC series New Amsterdam, however, a recent episode was just a little too relevant to the current coronavirus pandemic for NBC to feel it could responsibly be included in its current season.
An episode about a deadly flu pandemic in New York City was slated to air on April 7, as a part of New Amsterdam’s second season. It was written by David Foster, a Harvard-educated M.D. who is on the show’s writing staff. Shortly after the episode was shot, multiple members of the New Amsterdam team — including guest star Daniel Dae Kim — tested positive for the coronavirus, according to Deadline.
"Being sensitive to the current climate, the producers, network and studio have decided that the episode will not air on NBC on April 7 as previously scheduled,” NBC confirmed in a statement.
Creator David Schulner wrote an essay for Deadline about the news, explaining that the episode was initially written in order to educate people about the flu, a virus that, he wrote, kills up to 80,000 people during a particularly bad year.
“We wanted to get this message out. And the best way to do that was to scare you so bad you’d be washing your hands during the commercial breaks,” Schulner explained. “We showed what happens when our hospital has to erect tents in the parking lot because every bed is taken. When the doctors and nurses and medical techs have been working back to back shifts because their replacements are sick. When panic sets in. When people are quarantined. When people die.”
Schulner added that there’s proof some people want to see a reflection of the real world in their fictional programming, pointing out that people are now watching pandemic-centered films Contagion and Outbreak in droves. However, Schulner believes the only thing he has to contribute is the money he “made writing fiction, not the fiction itself.”
His article for Deadline “won’t save your life,” Schulner added, but some information — featuring facts about COVID-19 and what to do during the coronavirus pandemic — could. Right now isn’t the time for fiction, “but for facts.”
Still, while Schulner admitted that “most, if not all of us want this episode to air,” he added that “the images we put on screen, of New Yorkers fleeing parks, autopsies in makeshift labs, are hard to watch.” The episode — originally titled “Pandemic” but changed to “Our Doors Are Always Open” by Foster — will air in a future season, but not at this time.
“[W]hen it does [air] some will still say it’s exploitative. Some will still say it’s in bad taste. And some will be grateful to have their experiences reflected back to them,” Schulner concluded. “To show them that they were not alone. In a time when isolation was the only way to survive. That there was and is… hope.”
New Amsterdam is among the shows doing their part to help medical professionals battling coronavirus by donating props they would use on their hospital sets.
“Our tireless crew, the costume dept., set dec, props, all went through every storage area, every nook and cranny of every set and put together half a truck load of PPE, masks, gloves, gowns and face masks,” Schulner told Deadline last week of how New Amsterdam is providing aid to medical professionals. “While we work closely with Bellevue and Kings County Hospital we are working with NYC relief efforts to find the most needy.”
While medical dramas can be a way to pass the time while we are all socially distancing in order to halt the spread of the coronavirus, it’s important that we don’t consider it a replacement for real medical advice — especially during such a stressful, unforeseen time, where misinformation about the coronavirus is rampant. Perhaps when this episode of New Amsterdam airs, people will be able to look back on it with a different perspective than they would during a real global pandemic.
Refinery29 reached out to NBC for comment.