Psyches, not scalpels

Kring leaves procedures to others, focuses on docs' eccentric lives

He’s been right at the center of a procedural phenomenon, built around forensic medical technology. His resume is chockful of doctor skeins, including “Providence,” “L.A. Doctors” and “Chicago Hope.”

So the obvious conclusion would be that Tim Kring, creator and exec producer of NBC’s venerable “Crossing Jordan,” is just as geeked out about arcane medical science as the 3 million-plus 18-to-49 year-olds who tune in every Sunday night for his show — or the millions more who tune in to CBS’ similarly forensic-themed “CSI” franchise.

“The proliferation of these shows is a sign of the times,” notes Kring with a palpable air of clinical detachment that belies any conclusion that medical jargon is his passion. “In the public consciousness, the idea of deciphering clues from crime scenes long after someone was there is ultimately very fascinating.”

In Kring’s consciousness, however, that part is just business — a means to the more character-driven end that really excites him.

“I’m not that fascinated with it myself, let’s just put it that way. I’ve always been more interested in the characters. Some forensic shows will make a whole scene out of a close-up of a pair of tweezers. In our show, it’s about two characters arguing about whose tweezers they are.”

Of course, within network procedurals — where building mystery, dispensing justice and, of course, drilling down into the minutiae of system and science are essential — making three-dimensional characters is about as easy as neurosurgery. Story arcs are infrequently carried over from episode to episode, and moving the story along usually is job one.

But in small increments, Kring and his writing staff have revealed more and more about Boston medical examiner Jordan Cavanaugh, the series’ tormented lead, played by Jill Hennessy. And on the cusp of finishing season five, this heroine has emerged as something more than a two-dimensional functionary who simply moves the plot from mangled corpse to criminal prosecution.

“We just carved out enough room every week to craft these stories in a way that was much more about the characters,” explains Kring, a one-time UC Santa Barbara religious studies major and USC film school grad who broke into network series by pitching an episode of “Knight Rider.”

Jordan is grappling with romantic ties now, and the series’ loyal fan base has learned enough about her to understand why she struggles at that. Other characters, including the hard-bitten Dr. Garret Macy, played by Miguel Ferrer, have also unfurled to the point where Kring and his writing crew can do more with them.

“By opening up these personal stories, we breathed life into the fifth season,” he says. “People watch for all sorts of reasons. We present a mystery each week, but I don’t think that is what’s kept us on the air. What’s kept us on the air is people’s growing affection for these characters.”

For Kring, that begins with Hennessy’s lead. In 2001, he was creating buzz as a writer on the Peacock’s “Providence” when he was called upon by NBC Studios to help develop “Jordan.”

“We wanted to do a show about a female coroner, and we put it out to Tim,” explains NBC Universal TV Studio prexy Angela Bromstad, who was at the Peacock net during “Jordan’s” gestational period. “He said he had this character he wanted to do for a long time, this Erin Brockovich type of woman.”

“I was interested in creating a flawed character, one that hadn’t been seen so much on television,” explains Kring of the fiercely driven Cavanaugh, a woman fundamentally shaped in childhood by the unsolved murder of her mother.

“Her aggressiveness, her rule-breaking, her going above and beyond to get justice — that’s what’s been interesting to me, the lengths this character will go to, created by her demons, for wanting and needing justice,” Kring adds.

Now past 100 episodes, Kring plans to keep exploring Jordan, right through season six.

There are some distractions, though: Through his shingle, Tailwind Prods., he’s developing a pilot for the Peacock, “Heroes.” Kring says he got the idea for the show, which is focused on the lives of a handful of everyday folks with superhuman powers, from seeing “The Incredibles” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.”

“I started thinking, ‘Wouldn’t it be interesting if the sort of hyper-real characters that Charlie Kaufman created (for “Spotless Mind”) lived with the same sort of curse that the characters in ‘The Incredibles’ did,’ ” he explains.

It’s as far from procedural as Kring can get, and he’s happy about that. Still, he enjoys working with “Jordan’s” scribe squad, all who’ve been there pretty much there from the start.

“There’s been a tremendous amount of consistency,” Kring says. “We’re still getting excited about everyone’s ideas after 100 episodes, and that’s a rare thing in Hollywood.”

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