For “Red Band Society” scribe Margaret Nagle, setting her show in a children’s hospital recalled some of her earliest childhood memories, a personal connection she shared with the guests who gathered for a pilot screening and Q&A at the Landmark Theater in Westwood on Wednesday evening.
“I grew up going to children’s hospitals,” Nagle explained. “My brother Charlie was in a coma, my older brother, so my very first memories of life are from being in a children’s hospital.
Series stars Octavia Spencer, Dave Annable, Nolan Sotillo and Ciara Bravo joined Nagle for the Q&A sesh, moderated by Fox L.A.’s Julie Chang, and explained how they prepared for their roles in a skein that centers on pediatric patients and the doctors and nurses who become integral parts of their lives.
Spencer wasn’t shy about expressing her enthusiasm about her latest role. “I’m not blowing smoke when I say it was the best pilot script I had ever read,” she said.
“I’ve played a nurse so many times that I really could go and do code blue,” she joked. “They’re all very different from this particular type of nurse and what I love is Margaret kind of did a lot of the work for us. I had to just go back and do the research about all the illnesses and what each child would’ve had to go through for their treatment.”
After watching the Spanish version of the show, “Polseres Vermelles,” Nagle said she made some major changes to keep her version from being too-male driven. She and her team added more female roles to the cast as well as the adult characters played by Spencer, Wilson Cruz and Griffin Dunne. Based on her personal experiences, Nagle said she also strived to maintain a “No cheese, no saga” approach to telling a story about teens living in a hospital.
“Teenagers in a hospital stay much longer than adults – the rate of survival is very, very high – but while they’re there they take SATs, they fall in love, they do all the things that teenagers do, and so I also wanted to explore that environment, too,” Nagle explained.
Though “Red Band Society” departs from many of the conventions of other hospital shows, Nagle said Annable’s character — Dr. McAndrew — is in fact a nod to Drs. McDreamy and McSteamy of “Grey’s Anatomy.”
“We’re sort of making fun of it a little bit,” Nagle teased, telling the audience that the character is really more of a tribute to L.A.-based oncologist and hematologist Dr. Philomena McAndrew.
He may play a handsome doctor, but Annable said he did his homework by visiting pediatricians and consulting with his sister, a physician assistant. The former “Brothers and Sisters” actor also shared that he still gets choked up when watching the show.
“You care for these characters,” Annable said. “It’s not trying to make you cry at any point in the show. You cry because you care – and through laughter.”
While the series strikes a delicate balance between comedy and drama, the cast said they kept a light-hearted vibe on set by belting out tunes and busting some moves.
“They would have singalongs on set. The crew was just stunned and Octavia would dance,” Nagle said, though Spencer insisted she’s more of a lip-syncher when asked to showcase her vocals during the Q&A.
ABC Studios’ “Red Band Society” premieres this fall on Fox.