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Get Ready for Jungle Love, Grey's Fans! Off the Map Premieres Tonight

Off the Map ABC/MARIO PEREZ

Off the Map, ABC's biggest new winter series, kicks off tonight. We say biggest, because not only are some calling it (accurately or not) "Grey's Meets Lost," but it just so happens to come from the great minds behind Grey's Anatomy and have a smokin' hot cast.

In honor of tonight's launch, here are creator Jenna Bans' exclusive thoughts on the beginning of the story, including why they're dirtying up beloved Friday Night Lights star Zach Gilford, why WonderfallsCaroline Dhavernas is "hot for teacher," and which star easily proves her mettle beyond her heritage as the daughter of an Academy Award-winning actress:

VIDEO: Matt Saracen alert! Zach Gilford visits Chelsea Lately!

Q&A with Jenna Bans, Off the Map Executive Producer

Tell us a little more about what "adventure medicine" is supposed to be and how you're going to use the so-called rainforest pharmacopeia?
It's the core challenge of the show: There's a sick person out in the field and you're facing him without all of the normal tools you would have at your disposal in the ER, and it's about how do you put them back together with Saran Wrap. We have an episode where they use army ants as sutures, which native tribes in the Amazon have been doing for a bajillion years. It's medicine you haven't seen before. I'd say the bigger the challenge or the more messed-up the patient is and the less resources our doctors have, the better it is for us as storytellers.

There has to be a limit though. Are there times when you're going to lose people because you just don't have that thing you would have in the well-funded urban hospital in America?
Absolutely. The thing about the show is that while it's fun, it doesn't paint a totally romantic picture of it, I think our doctors paint themselves into situations where normally in America, they would be able to save this guy. And that's kind of the tragedy of the series. They don't save everyone.

Let's talk about Mamie Gummer for a second. She's Meryl Streep's daughter, but there's so much more to her that. How would you describe her appeal?
There is so much appeal. She's really snapped into the character of Nina and run with it. Mamie and I like to joke all the time that her character has a touch of the Asperger's, which we never really say, but I think we'll see in series. And she's already got enough cultural barriers—she doesn't speak the language and to add any sort of social disorder on top of that makes it hard, but Mamie infuses everything with this supersweet awkwardness. And she's really funny. Mamie is laugh-out-loud funny. She's really amazing, she's one of the greatest joys of the whole first season.

What about Caroline Dhavernas and Zach Gilford? Did you know them from Wonderfalls and Friday Night Lights like we did?
I did—I'm a fangirl. I loved Wonderfalls, and I think we mentioned Caroline to our casting director Linda Lowy, and we were told, "She doesn't do TV." So when she read the pilot and said she responded to the character, it was like my birthday and Christmas together. I was so excited. And how could you not be a fan of Zach's from Friday Night Lights?

And you've turned Matt Saracen into a dirty Mark Sloan-esque bad boy!
It's so fun. He's not quite on that Mark Sloan level yet, but he's supposed to be the quintessential ugly American frat boy, which is worlds away from Matt Saracen and just a really fun presence to have down there. That's one of the first conversations we had together: "This character is really, really different than Matt Saracen!" And he was up for it. He was excited. Oh! And Mamie and Zach together are one of the revelations of the first season together, too. They have such chemistry onscreen that's not necessarily romantic, but the friendship pops onscreen. You feel like you know that friendship.

Let's talk about relationships: Caroline's character Lily has a crush on Martin Henderson's Ben. Who else is into who else?
Valerie Cruz and Jason George have a close friendship that quickly becomes something else. And Lily has a professional crush on Ben. She's kind of hot for teacher. And we move on from there. It's not as much coupling as you would think though. We keep it on a slow burn.

Are you terrified?
I'm excited! Also, terrified, yes, but also as a midseason, you're sort of in your own bubble for so long. We have 10 [episodes] banked, so it's time for the world to see it. We're really ready for the world to see it. We're excited.

Being 10 episodes in, what can you tell us about the show as a whole that we might not know from watching the pilot?
That's a good question! I think that it all comes full circle…it all comes together. The idea of these three newbies, these fish out of water in a challenging environment, it all comes full circle and the amount we see them grow through the first season is something I'm really proud of. By the end, I think we'll really feel like they have succeeded or failed, they have found sort of a new footing in this place in a really interesting way.

What are your thoughts on Off the Map so far? Will you be back for more? Hit the comments.

TWITTER: Follow @JenniferArrow for more TV scoop.

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