The Los Angeles Times
January 21, 2012
By, Yvonne Villarreal
Neal Baer, executive producer of the CBS series “A Gifted Man,” is best known for his many years running “ER” and “Law & Order: SVU.” Here, he chats about straddling the medical and TV worlds and spirituality versus logic.
You have a medical degree from Harvard and you’re a licensed physician. How exactly did that lead to a career in TV?
When I was a graduate student at Harvard studying sociology, I decided that I didn’t want to be an academic, so I took documentary film courses there for two years and ended up coming to Los Angeles after that to attend the American Film Institute to be a directing fellow. I directed and wrote an after-school special for ABC, and I was hired by my childhood friend John Wells.
You know, people say, ‘Do you have any advice on how to break into the business? Do you write spec scripts?’ I say, ‘No, go to Holly Hills Elementary School in Denver with John Wells.’ John hired me. We ran into each other in a grocery store and I told him what I was doing. He was already working on ‘China Beach,’ so he brought me in as a freelancer and that was the start of that.
I ultimately decided to leave when my son was a year old in 1991 to go to medical school, even though I had done ‘China Beach.’ When I was in my fourth year of medical school, John Wells came through and sent me the pilot episode of ‘ER’ that Michael Crichton had written. He asked me what I thought and I told him it was like my life — about medical students, residents, from the perspective of the physician and the physician-in-training. I told him what was outdated and what new things could be put in. So, I came out for two months in 1994 with 100 stories of things that had happened to me as a medical student. And I ended up staying seven years on “ER” and became a show runner and executive producer.
I remember watching the first episode of “ER” with my mom and being hooked.
So you might remember the episode I did where George Clooney saves the kid in the tunnel.