Christopher Polk/FOX/FOX Collection/Getty Images
by Chris Harnick | Wed., Sep. 17, 2014 7:20 AM
Christopher Polk/FOX/FOX Collection/Getty Images
Don't be fooled by basic premise: Fox's Red Band Society isn't your typical teen drama, nor is it your typical medical show.
Hailing from writer and executive producer Margaret Nagle and executive producer Steven Spielberg, Red Band Society stars The Help's Oscar winner Octavia Spencer as Nurse Jackson—sometimes referred to as "Scary Bitch"—and Brothers and Sisters veteran Dave Annable as Dr. Jack McAndrew, the two "authority figures" in Ocean Park Hospital. But don't expect death, melodrama and tears every week—or at all.
"Well, I can tell you this. When you tune into a show, you know you want to be entertained. We're definitely entertaining people, but what differentiates us from the masses is if you compare us to all the other hospital shows, we're not a procedural. If you compare us to all the dramas, we're not a drama. If you compare us to comedies, we're not a comedy," Spencer told us. "It's like a blending of all of these worlds and it happens to center around these kids who have illnesses, very serious illnesses. It' s not about them being sick, it's about the bonds they've created as they navigate the sickness through their adolescents. We are the adults that oversee the process."
Spencer was curled up on a couch at the Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles, seated next to Annable. The two had just wrapped the 2014 TCA panel for the series and were celebrating.
"This is a show that I think families can watch. Parents can watch with kids and talk about what's happening and the message is uplifting, inspiring. It's about life, not death," Annable said. "It's about appreciating your relationships you have and that are forming. I just really think it's something special and I think that people will really relate to the message behind it."
Fox released the pilot for Red Band Society for a limited time before the premiere after fans raised $100,000 for charity. If you caught the limited preview, you know Spencer and Annable are not central to the story just yet. But just because they weren't a heavy presence, doesn't mean they'll be background fixtures going forward.
"You can't have a hospital show with just a bunch of kids running amok. The wonderful thing is while it centers around these kids, it's a pediatrics hospital—and it should—you still have to have a stabilizing force in the adults because we take you out into the real world and help them navigate the real world because a lot of times these kids' parents can't be there with them, so we're kind of that," Spencer said.
After landing the show, Annable said they went to UCLA's Mattel Center and met some patients, including a 14-year-old named Julie.
"We said we're doing a television show, but it's from your point of view—the look on her face was something I'll never forget in my life," Annable said. "She was so happy. She was joking, talking about her wig because there was a cute patient down the hall…really, it was like not one moment where she was feeling pity and that's where the show lives."
Julie has bone marrow cancer and a bucket list. She wanted to wear high heels and bake muffins. Annable suggested she do both of those things at the same time.
"I was like, ‘No! Do not bake muffins in high heels," Spencer said, laughing. "It was great, it was great. We like to live in that bubble of optimism because it's a very different type of show."
Red Band Society will explore the lives of the doctors and nurses who make the hospital tick. "It takes a special person to basically decide to work with sick children all day and the highs and lows that come along with that," Annable said.
When you hear the buzzwords "hospital" and "sick kids," the conclusion most people jump to would be that Red Band Society will be a bleak and depressing show with death always around the corner. That's not the case.
"Let me tell you, there are some sad things…one a child has cystic fibrosis, it is not a fun disease. Heart failure? Not fun, but what Margaret did is present it in a way that she knows—I also did the same thing. 'I don't know, I don't know. I don't want to play a nurse, I played a nurse three dozen times and I don't know. I don't want to watch a depressing show about kids being sick,'" Spencer said. "But, you pick up the script and you realize their illness is a backdrop. It's about their adolescence and the teen angst and all the stuff that we went through. It's basically saying, 'Hey, these kids happen to have these illnesses, but they're normal.'"
"It is really about life," Annable said.
"That is what I love so much about it because it is true to life," Spencer said. "This world is something I wasn't exposed to. I always thought when you thought about hospitals you equated that with depression and sterile. I'm glad they have this environment for kids who are sick to be kids and sort of get through that in a way that we never really thought existed."
Red Band Society premieres Wednesday, Sept. 17 at 9 p.m. on Fox.
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