May 2015 - Behind the Scenes: Gabe Sachs hearts New Mexico
Sitting on the set of The Night Shift, it was like stepping into another world. Taking a break from filming, Gabe Sachs joined me in OR Room 2 and the first question I had to ask was, “Why not Albuquerque Memorial?” The Night Shift takes place in San Antonio, Texas, but filming here in Albuquerque. He saw that the question was coming.
“We were writing this script and we were looking for that ER that was responsible for a lot of counties and San Antonio was one of them,” shared Sachs. “That’s really the story.” Sachs has nothing against New Mexico, as he loves it here - the hiking, the scenery and the people. This state has really given him the opportunity to shoot the show he wanted to shoot.
But before we dove into The Night Shift, we took a step back to one of his memorable projects, Freaks and Geeks, a television series before its time that only saw the light of day for one season. This show paved the way for such stars as James Franco, Seth Rogan, John Francis Daley, Linda Cardellini and Jason Segel. The experience was something that Sachs remembers. “We did 18 episodes and they kept moving us around,” said Sachs. “It got to the point that some people at the network didn’t like us and felt that the show was too real. The crazy thing is it more popular now than it was then.
Sachs is in his wheelhouse when it comes to working behind the scenes as a writer. When he and his writing partner, Jeff Judah, were asked to work on Freaks, it changed their lives. “We were able to do a lot of interesting projects after that,” explained Sachs. One of those projects was the popular book series, Diary of a Whimpy Kid. The way he got there was unexpected. “We created the new 90210. Although we loved the actors and the crew, it was sort of a miserable experience. They wanted a soap and we weren’t the wrong guys to write a soap and we thought it would be interesting to have this great background and put our characters in it…they did not agree,” laughed Sachs. “We said, ‘were not doing television, that’s it, that’s the end’ and we got hired for Diary and knew nothing about it the series, but knew the kids loved it, so we rewrote the script that was already in existence for the first one and then wrote the second.
I had to step back and talk about the irony of the statement Sachs made that he was done with television, but we were now sitting on the set of The Night Shift. Sachs shared that he was done with television, but came up with a crazy story idea. “It was almost as if we said ‘what would be the craziest thing we want to do’ and that would be a medical show. No one was jumping at the chance to do that,” said Sachs. “So Sony called and said that they will do a blind script and see what happens.” The lengthy process lead to no one wanting to see them until NBC gave them a shot. They loved the whole “M*A*S*H in a hospital” theme with the show. The challenge came when Sony asked if they could film the pilot in 6 weeks. “I said yeah…lying through my teeth. I didn’t care what it was, I would have said yes.” joked Sachs. “ I got a hold of Jeff, and Sony pulled the trigger and I was in New Mexico and San Antonio scouting for locations.” They shot the pilot at the old Lovelace hospital on Gibson and waited another year with no word. Then, during a meeting of hiring writers, Sachs got news that he was surprised to hear. “I get a call and they say the show’s dead,” shares Sachs. “We start writing our thank you letter to Sony for letting us do the show we wanted to do and people are asking ‘what are you doing?’ and we said we got a call that the show isn’t getting picked up. It was in Deadline and Variety. But we hadn’t talked to NBC yet.” The headlines of their demise left nothing to the imagination. “The headlines were ‘Night Shift Dead on Arrival’, ‘Night Shift has no life’, ‘No one is breathing at The Night Shift’,” said Sachs. “Then finally Sony called this one writer and said this isn’t true and the retraction was ‘There’s a little life in The Night Shift, but not for long’, and two hours later, the show got picked up.
The Night Shift is currently in their second season and has picked up a core audience of viewers. Sachs shared what it is that keeps viewers coming back to the show. “I think the way Jeff and I create stuff makes it different from Grey Anatomy or ER, and we were huge ER fans, but we wanted to figure out how to incorporate military into it and sort of go from there.” The military element was important because of how he saw the lead character, “We wanted a character who was really flawed and a guy who was in the military and the best doctor, but wasn’t great at following orders. So I think it was important to see what happens when a doctor comes back from Afghanistan or fighting in the war and comes back to this hospital and how that adjustment is and it was important to represent those guys and what’s happening with them coming to this environment.
Like Law and Order, The Night Shift turns to the headlines to get ideas for story ideas on the show. “There’s been stories that have happened around where we live and started grabbing cases from stuff we know and people are turning us onto stuff.”
PTSD is a big topic on the show and it was a goal for Sachs to have a character experiencing the challenge of having PTSD. “We have friends that are in the military and it’s one thing to read about, but until you talk to somebody who’s been there, you just can’t believe it. What you’re dealing with is a lot and everyone deals with it in their own way and we wanted to show that with a guy like TC, who’s really strong and smart, and keeps up this front and what happens when he breaks down.” The show has plenty of characters that the audience can relate to - from gay characters to love triangles and they are looking forward to series 3. “We’d love a season three! We’ve been very happy with this and we still have more stories to tell. It’s all up to the network. It would be great if we were in summer every year, but we’ll see.
When it comes to the cast, Sachs had to joke a little when asked about the camaraderie. “They’re horrible. No, really, the cast is amazing and strong. Camaraderie is great, they hang out, they go out to dinner, we’ve been really lucky. There’s always been one or two you can’t stand, but we’ve been lucky, they’re really good people. You try to get that in casting, but there’s no guarantee.” The magic can also be found in the origin of the characters. I discovered that some of the characters are based on real people that Sachs and Judah know or knew. “A lot of the names are friends of ours.” But be careful, if you get on their bad side, they’ll name a horrible character after you, which Sachs laughed and dodged the question when I asked who.
Sachs wants the audience to take away from the show the crazy rollercoaster of emotions that come in working with this team of characters and feel like they are along for the ride. “I think it’s sort of focusing on these doctors and their crazy situations. I think the real TC (who is not military) would say one minute you’re pulling a cell phone out of someone’s butt and the next minute you’re saving a 5-year-old kid, so it sort of those crazy emotions that happen and we want to show how those guys react.”
When it comes to his legacy and what he wants to be remembered for, Sachs has a simple goal. “Just doing good work. I’ll tell you, Jeff and I just want to tell really good stories and have shows and movies that really have something to say. But we want to do great stuff that we’re happy with and that is what we’ll continue to do.”