BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. Last fall, no show launched with higher hopes than "Private Practice."
It was a spinoff of the hugely popular "Grey's Anatomy." And one of that show's best characters, Addison Montgomery (Kate Walsh), moved to "Private Practice."
The result was never better than just OK. Despite a great cast that included a number of proven stars including Tim Daly, Amy Brenneman, Audra McDonald and Taye Diggs the show seemed to flail around trying to find itself in its writers' strike-shortened first season.
"For me, it was about delineating sort of what the medicine of 'Private Practice' is versus what the medicine of 'Grey's Anatomy' is," said creator/executive producer Shonda Rhimes. "'Grey's Anatomy' is all about the surgery, and 'Private Practice' this season we're honing in on really making it a show that the stories tell more of the ethical dilemmas that our doctors have to face."
There will still be stories about surgery because, well, Addison is a surgeon.
"But there's also just very high stakes in terms of the sort of medicine of people's everyday lives that raises questions about sort of what-would-you-do-if-you-were-in-that-situation things that cause debate and conflict and are very interesting."
Well, that's the intent. And, certainly, Rhimes is trying to push the show in that direction. The second-season premiere (Sept. 25) includes a storyline about parents who conceived a baby as a donor to save the life of the child they already have.
Of course, that's been done several times before on several different shows.
And there's apparently an attempt to make the characters a bit more relatable than they were when they were all rich, successful and living in sunny Southern California. Let's just say they're not going to be quite a rich as they were in Season 1.
Cast members weren't happy when the strike cut their first season to just nine episodes, but they think the long layoff has given Rhimes a chance to "find" the show.
"Obviously, we didn't want the interruption," Walsh said. "But then, in the end, the scripts are so great and strong this year."
"I feel like it's starting over in a good way," said Daly (Dr. Pete Wilder). "When you do series television, there's always a period where you're trying to find the show. When we stopped, we were kind of trying to find the show. And I think we have taken a big leap in terms of where we started this year."
Brenneman (Dr. Violet Turner) agreed with Daly.
"His sister (and her "Judging Amy" co-star, Tyne Daly) used to say, 'With every series, you should throw out the first six episodes because you're nervous,"' she said.
The problem is convincing people who watched "Private Practice" and gave up on the show the ratings faded from a strong start to come back.
One of the major criticisms of the show was the Addison who had been such a strong character on "Grey's Anatomy" softened considerably on the new show. Rhimes refused to concede that point, although she did somewhat acknowledge it.
She said her characters "end up sort of doing what I'm doing at the moment." And even as Rhimes was trying to find her way running two shows at once for the first time, Addison was adjusting after moving from Seattle to Los Angeles.
"Addison was finding her footing. I was finding the show. So I feel like both of those things are stronger now," Rhimes said. "I feel like, yeah, it's the Addison you know and love in the new setting that you've come to know and love."
BABIES ON BOARD: Given that Addison is an obstetrician and the "Private Practice" team includes a pediatrician and a fertility specialist, it's not unusual to have babies on the set. And that presents its own set of problems.
"I'll tell you right now, the worst part of working with babies is the parents," Daly said. "Always."
And Brenneman pointed out that, "It's really wrong that they are earning money when they are 6 months old."
Chris Lowell (who plays nurse/office manager Dell) said it's "a little weird" to have babies in the show because it's "always really cold" on the set. So, when they're not being filmed, the babies end up in "like a storage closet where there's not a lot of air conditioning."
And then a lot of those infants are prepared to play newborns.
"They always put the kids in there and then cover them in cream cheese and jelly," Lowell said. "So there's this major ethical dilemma that we have as a cast dealing with the children."
"'Stop putting cream cheese on that baby!"' said McDonald, who plays Dr. Naomi Bennett.
Looking a bit concerned about where this was headed, Rhimes interjected, "We take wonderful care of all the babies."
"We do," Brenneman agreed. "It's all good. It's all good.
"The cream cheese is especially delicious."
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