For the sixth season of One Chicago’s medical drama, Executive Producers and Showrunners Diane Frolov and Andrew Schneider worked (virtually) with their team of writers to incorporate the COVID-19 virus into the show, just as it was raging around the world in real time.
From broken bones to fatal diseases, Chicago Med pulls inspiration from news headlines, medical professionals, and everything in between. The husband and wife writing team talk about this unique situation, as well as some of their favorite stories from the past five seasons.
Q: The season 6 premiere of Chicago Med focuses on the COVID-19 pandemic. When did the producers, showrunner, and writers decide to make the virus a focal story line?
Diane: When we started meeting in June, we decided to do it because we were in the middle of it.
Andy: We are a hospital show; we realized we had to incorporate the pandemic into our storytelling. We didn’t have a crystal ball to tell us where we would be when the season finally aired, but sadly we are still in a very bad situation.
Q: What was it like to write about the devastation of COVID-19 (including all of its unknowns) as the virus was raging in real time?
Diane: There was so little known when we started out. We were talking to doctors around the country and getting their stories from the hospitals that they were in. We have a team of consultants in various specialties, and we were checking in with all of our regular consultants on this matter because one might say it’s a neurological disease or a cardiovascular disease. They were looking within their specialties at how COVID was affecting their patients physically. So that also gave us a broader picture.
Q: The premiere episode showcased different safety equipment hospitals are using to make it safe for employees. How did you learn about the different tools and devices used in hospitals? How did you get access to these different machines?
Diane: From our consultants and our props department. Chris Shader is fantastic; he researches and then gets in touch with the companies that make the equipment.
Q: The show covers the virus from multiple angles, showing its varying effects on different demographics. Which storyline was the most difficult to write?
Andy: I don’t think any one story was more difficult to write. We knew certain things we wanted to do. We wanted to show that loved ones could not come into the hospital room, or a COVID patient not being able to say goodbye in person to a loved one. That was emotionally a heart-wrenching story. It’s what so many families are going through, and it’s heartbreaking.
The other thing we wanted to do through the Dr. Charles story and his relationship with his daughter was to show the guilt and the emotional pain of feeling you’ve infected someone, or you could have risked somebody’s life whom you love.
Diane: We had already set up a couple of seasons ago that Sharon Goodwin is diabetic, so that put her at a higher risk for a series of complications in dealing with COVID. The fact that she was Zooming from home because the board didn’t want her to come in and risk her health was logical.
Q: How was the writing process for this sixth season affected by social distancing and the health and safety guidelines?
Diane: We’re all isolated in our houses. We only meet virtually with the other writers, and we don’t interact personally with the crews. We used to go to Chicago at least once a month, and certainly, we always went at the beginning of the season. We didn’t do that. And we always have writers on set. They’re only there virtually now to watch shooting. We get a feed from set, so we can watch all three cameras like you would if you were in video village.
Andy: We miss everybody. It’s hard because we don’t have the little interactions that spark ideas. You don’t have the energy around you that you have in a writer’s room where you can see everyone’s faces and their body language and get a feeling of, this is going well or this won’t work. Also Zooming is mentally taxing; it takes a different kind of focus and concentration.
Our group of writers is very close. Normally, we always had lunch together at Universal, and we would hang out in one another’s office or drop into someone’s office and say, ‘I’ve got an idea. What do you think of this as the ending to act three?’ It accommodated much more give and take and spontaneity.
But one nice thing that’s happened with our Zoom meetings is that we get to see our colleagues on the other shows, and we have some panels that we’ve been on all together, so you get this bigger picture of Wolf Entertainment, and that has been very heartwarming.
Q: What unique challenges did the writers encounter in incorporating COVID-19 into the drama of this season?
Diane: I guess the challenge was finding the balance of COVID cases versus non COVID cases.
Andy: As a real hospital, cardiac cases still come in, heart attacks, strokes, cancer…those don’t go away with COVID all of a sudden there.
Q: When writing a medical drama with such high stakes regardless of the particular condition, how do you balance emotions?
Diane: We have cases that are a little bit lighter. Sometimes even if the medical case is tragic, it might have a good side that helps balance it.
Sometimes we will write in a very unusual illness, some of which have very serious implications, and people die, but also people have miraculous saves at our hospital. It’s inspiring on an emotional level.
Q: You have both worked on Chicago Med for multiple seasons. Have you had favorite storylines to write or characters to develop?
Diane: We are pretty equally invested in all of our stories. We don’t do anything that we’re not inspired by, but we really liked doing the panda story.. We did an open heart surgery on a panda in the second season. That was a fun story to write and was inspired by a conversation we had with a pediatrician who also takes care of large zoo animals. He told us that sometimes, say a panda or a gorilla needs an MRI, they have to do it in a hospital because the animals are so big that they don’t have the equipment for certain surgeries at the zoos.
Q: Unlike other storylines and medical issues, COVID-19 has in some way affected every person who will watch the show. What do you hope people take away from this season?
Andy: Community. The last scene in the season 6 premiere on the balcony is about community and embracing your patients as your own; we’re all in this together.