February 5, 2013



MONDAY MORNINGS:  Monday 10PM on TNT – If Nothing Else is On…

About 15 years ago, David E. Kelley was David Chase, Aaron Sorkin and Ryan Murphy combined.  Legendary for his ability to personally write most of the scripts for his multiple shows himself (in long-hand on legal pads, no less), Kelley was the auteur of television’s last pre-auteur period, inheriting the mantle from Steven Bochco when he took over as showrunner of L.A. Law in the late 1980s.  Kelley made hits that won wide critical acclaim, and at his peak, he became–and remains–the only producer ever to win Emmys for Best Drama (The Practice) and Best Comedy (Ally McBeal) in a single season.  For years, networks fought over the right to throw money at him for his latest potential blockbuster.

Kelley’s shows haven’t aged particularly well.  His work is facile and smart, but he never had the ambition of blowing open genre doors that the auteurs who followed him would, and his shows, once so cutting-edge, now feel staid and old-fashioned, content to stay within what now seem like somewhat creaky norms.   The networks lost their taste for him, after pilots that didn’t go anywhere and Harry’s Law, a show that skewed so old that only senior citizens could hear the dialogue.  Now he’s moved to cable with MONDAY MORNINGS, which joins Dallas on TNT’s–naturally–Monday line-up.

Kelley famously was favored to win the match-up when his glittery Chicago Hope, in 1994, was instead decimated by the arrival of ER in the same timeslot, and Monday Mornings doesn’t try to advance the medical genre from its mid-1990s style.  The title refers to the weekly “morbidity and mortality” meetings in which a hospital’s surgeons gather to scrutinize the sometimes fatal failures of the previous week.  At the fictional Chelsea General hospital, the M&Ms are run by Chief of Staff Harding Hooten (Alfred Molina), who cross-examines the hapless surgeon of the week as though he’s prosecuting serial killers.  His surgeons (the show is based on a novel by Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who serves as an Executive Producer) are a fairly routine lot, led by compassionate heartthrob Tyler Wilson (Jamie Bamber), and Tina Ridgeway (Jennifer Finnigan), his soulmate who’s miserably married to a cold, uncomprehending civilian.  There’s imperious Korean Sung Park (Keong Sim), whose thick accent allows Kelley to indulge in the kind of mild politically incorrect humor he’s always enjoyed, and stolid Jorge Villanueva (Ving Rhames), whose every sentence imparts wisdom of the ages.  Sydney Napur (Sarayu Rao) is the brilliant doctor with no functioning social life, and poor Bill Irwin plays Buck Tierney, a favorite Kelley stock character:  the officious idiot.

Everything in Monday Mornings is written (and directed, by Bill D’Elia, a colleague of Kelley’s since the glory days) just a little more explicitly and heavy-handedly than it needs to be.  So when Tyler has to deliver awful news to a mother on whose son he’s just operated, we get a flashback of the day he, as a child, sat in a hospital waiting room and the doctor came out to tell him his father had died on the table.  And later, at the morbidity and mortality conference, when Hooten has a damaging document brought to Tyler, the scene is shot with so many intense, drawn-out cuts and reaction shots that it might as well be the news that a meteor is about to wipe out the earth.  Almost all of Monday Mornings takes place within the hospital, and it feels claustrophobic and somewhat monotonous compared to a medical drama like Grey’s Anatomy, which runs through plot with abandon, gleefully jumps from romantic-comedy to tragedy and back again, and is generally quick on its feet.

Within its limitations, Monday Mornings is well put together and professionally executed.  The cast may not be operating at anywhere near its potential, but all of them turn in fine, capable performances.  Kelley keeps the storylines moving, and provides some sharp turns of dialogue.  The show could well be a good pairing in the ratings with Dallas, another old-fashioned show aimed at an aging audience.  It’s the work, though, of a writer-producer who’s absorbed none of the remarkable changes in television over the past decade, and despite his abundant talent, wants nothing more than to turn out the same work he was doing in the 1990s.  Kelley is still making silent movies, and The Jazz Singer isn’t even news anymore.

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."