August 3, 2011



It was widely rumored in the weeks before the networks announced their new schedules at the Upfronts that WEEKENDS AT BELLEVUE was destined to hit the air on FOX.  In fact, even its timeslot was supposedly set:  Mondays at 9PM, following House, where it would serve as a compatible mate (both are medical shows) and as heir presumptive if this turns out to be House‘s final season.  But in the way of so many pre-Upfront rumors, this one wasn’t true.  FOX’s schedule is tough to crack, because they have such limited real estate with no 10PM shows and chunks of time given over to American Idol and now X-Factor.  In the end, it was decided that House would share its night with Terra Nova in the Fall, and Alcatraz at Midseason (see my Pilot Reports on those shows), and Weekends at Bellevue went away.  (Dept of Full Disclosure:  in another incarnation, I worked on some of the early business deals for this project.) 

Watching the Bellevue pilot, it’s not hard to see both why the show received serious consideration, and probably why it didn’t make the cut.  In format, the script by Lisa Zwerling (based on the book by Julie Holland) is familiar to the point of routine:  young, beautiful, gutsy, troubled Ellie Harlow (Lauren Ambrose) has just arrived at Bellevue Hospital in NY to supervise the weekend shift at the famous mental ward.  She has a sharp but caring boss (Janet McTeer), 2 potential men in her life (one stuffy and sarcastic, the other cool and studly), and a matching pair of naive young interns to teach.  Each week new patients with colorful disorders come into the ward, and only brilliant Ellie can figure out how best to treat them; but Ellie herself has dark issues (she periodically risks death–by jumping off a yacht, driving without headlights, etc.–all because her mother committed suicide) and she’s just barely started to delve into them.  So far, so simplistic.
What isn’t routine about Weekends At Bellevue is Lauren Ambrose’s performance.  She could have singlehandedly make Bellevue a show worth watching:  it’s not easy to pull off these characters who are supposed to be intuitively masterful, disconcertingly charismatic and secretly tormented, all at the same time, but Ambrose does it (she’s currently the best thing on Starz’s very mixed-bag Torchwood reboot). She makes Ellie fascinating to watch, and by extension, the show becomes quite compelling.  She’s not without assistance:  despite the conventional trappings, Zwerling’s script is fairly smart and fast-paced, and Jack Bender’s direction puts real spark into the walk-and-talk sequences.  And in the small but pivotal role of Ambrose’s boss, there’s Janet McTeer, a great actress who would have made a marvelous pairing with the young star.
FOX seems to have gone for the more easily promotable option in choosing Alcatraz over Bellevue (picking Terra Nova for the Fall was a no-brainer):  a spooky procedural rather than another entry in the well-worn medical genre.  That logic can’t be faulted, and Alcatraz certainly has potential.  It’s a shame, though, that we’ll never get to see–now that the actors’ options have expired, and Ambrose is rumored to be playing Fanny Brice in the Broadway revival of Funny Girl–what Lauren Ambrose and Janet McTeer could have done with this show. 
The Sked’s Verdict:  Worth Another Look
Read more about TV’s new shows at THE SKED PILOT REPORT.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."