PASADENA, Calif. Imagine a television show that can make the blind see and the lame walk. Can you imagine calling it anything other than "Miracle Workers"?
Well, this ultimate in feel-good reality shows could have been titled "Medical Miracle Workers."
The premise of this new series is simple; the execution is anything but. Real-life people with major medical problems are treated by doctors who are on the cutting edge of medical technology and perform what certainly seem like miraculous procedures.
In Monday's premiere (9 p.m., ABC/Ch. 4), Todd Heritage, a 34-year-old husband and father of three who has been blind for 22 years, gets a chance to see again. And Vanessa Slaughter, a 47-year-old woman who is confined to a wheelchair because of a degenerative bone disease, gets a chance to walk again.
Talk about your do-good reality show. Even the worst cynic among us (that would be "yours truly") can't help but feel a catch in his throat when a man sees his wife and children for the first time.
"What we are doing is trying to show the incredible breakthrough procedures that are going on in medicine," said executive producer David Garfinkle.
"We wanted to tell stories that were inspirational, that were informative, and . . . with as broad a scope of different medical concerns as we could address," said executive producer Justin Falvey.
They assembled a team of doctors (Redmond Burke and Billy Cohn) and nurses (Tamara Houston and Janna Bullock) who work with two different patients in each episode. They don't perform the surgery, but they "facilitate" the medical treatment.
"We were offering these families a team with 60 years of experience on the front lines of medicine," said Burke. "We know how to navigate that dangerous place where you'll find yourself someday when someone in your family is dying and you'll suddenly have to make a life-or-death decision with inadequate data. And we gave these families that data, and we gave them reassurance, and we gave them hope, and we gave them the same care that anyone else could get, but we were there."
In many cases, not only the patients but their regular doctors were unaware that these cutting-edge procedures are available. James Keller, whose young son is treated for the life-shortening Vater's syndrome in the March 13 episode, had spent more than two years looking for some sort of treatment before he was put in contact with "Miracle Workers."
"I'm very, very surprised the way the technology is nowadays. It's unbelievable how they can do many things," Keller said. "Especially in my son's case, it was really amazing, the stuff that they told me they were going to be doing."
The end result is sort of astonishing a reality show that would almost be over-the-top if it weren't real. And from producers whose credits have included lots of shows that weren't exactly critical favorites, like "The Bachelor," "Chains of Love" and "Blind Date."
"I think what's great about unscripted programming now is that the whole climate has changed. . . . Our type of programming has grown," Garfinkle said. "And it's wonderful that we can do shows like this and tell these types of stories that we hope and we think are inspirational and informative."
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