Behind every procedural television series is a team of highly qualified, and often unheralded, technical consultants who painstakingly help inject authenticity into the fictional life-and-death dramas unfolding on the small screen. Although they are not household names, these advisers are invaluable and indispensable members of the production team.
For Dr. Fred Einesman, becoming “ER’s” medical adviser was an ideal opportunity to merge his two passions — medicine and filmmaking. He was already working as an emergency medicine specialist when he was accepted to USC’s film school.
“There was another guy in film school (Lance Gentile) who was working with ‘ER.’ He called me to come help because it was so medically intensive. I thought it would be a one-year gig, but 12 years later I’m still doing it.”
According to Einesman, only physicians with film backgrounds were considered for technical adviser positions on the series.
Einesman says that after so many years, the advisers are seamlessly integrated into the series.
“There is a two-tiered system at this point, which wasn’t originally. There are two writers who are physicians on the writing staff who work full time in the room developing stories and checking all the scripts for medical accuracy before they ever get to me. My job is (as) the on-set person. I worked in the room for a while, but I rather like being on the set.”
Einesman also directed an episode back in 1999 and says he’s contracted for a future one as well.
Accuracy is such a focal point of “ER” that the technical adviser has equal authority with the director.
“When we started this off, John Wells said there are only two people who can call cut on the set — the director and the doctor, because if it’s not right medically, we’re going to do it again until it is right.”
Einesman admits that in the beginning, “A lot of directors who came in were not happy. You had to walk this line of not stepping on the director’s toes, but at the same time making sure it was right.”
As the on-set adviser, Einesman interacts with everyone. “I write notes for every single crew member — from props to wardrobe and makeup. I block and choreograph all the medical scenes. I meet with the actors individually first, then we do a full technical rehearsal. By the time the director comes in, I show him basically what I’ve put together.”
Not all technical advisers are quite as enamored with Hollywood as Einesman.
Rich Catalani, who spent 16 years working as a crime analyst for the L.A. County Sheriff’s Dept., says working in television was the furthest thing from his mind. So when his co-worker Liz Devine left the sheriff’s crime lab to join “CSI” as a consultant, Catalani says, “We all thought she was crazy.”
Flash-forward to 2002. Catalani had retired from the crime lab and was working as an independent consultant when Devine called.
“She needed somebody to fill in on the set while she moved up and started working with the writers.”
Despite his previous reservations about the industry as a whole, Catalani accepted the offer.
“You can’t change anything from the outside; you have to be on the inside. The first two years I was full-time on set assisting with props, explaining to the crew and director what a crime scene would really look like.”
Although a technical adviser’s job is to point out errors in procedure, Catalani says the advice isn’t always heeded.
“The regular directors have been around from the beginning and know all this stuff. And sometimes they aren’t really interested in reality whereas the visiting directors really and truly defer to the technical advisers.”
When Devine moved over to “CSI Miami,” Larry Mitchell was hired to be the on-set adviser, and Catalani was bumped up to work with the writers. He is the first to see the irony that he is now a full-time television technical adviser.
“Who would’ve thunk it? A crime lab puke is now a story editor on ‘CSI.'”