Off The Map Bosses Reveal More Off-The-Wall Medicine, Lost Secrets Learned

By now, you’ve heard it 100 times if you’ve heard it once: Off The Map is not simply “Grey’s Anatomy in a jungle.” Namely, ABC’s new medical drama (airing Wednesdays at 10/9c) must play by a whole new rulebook, given its extreme environs. And frankly, some of the doctors’ derring-do makes Yang’s “hardcore” diaper look like child’s play.

Off The Map creator Jenna Bans, along with EPs Shonda Rhimes and Betsy Beers, sat with TVLine to share an inside look at the cray-cray medical magic to come, as well as share the No. 1 tip their Hawaii-based production got from Lost boss Damon Lindelof.

TVLINE | I imagine that after spending so much time in the Grey’s world, when you went to start writing this you had to keep reminding yourself, “You know, we can’t do that. They don’t have the resources” or….
Yes, but that what gets us excited in the writers room – “They can’t do that, awesome, so how are they going to do it?” We have to take this medical case that maybe you’ve seen on television before and do it in a completely different way. The idea that we cant do something they’ve done on Grey’s Anatomy is what keeps us going.

TVLINE | What examples of “inventive” medicine can we look forward to seeing?
In the fifth episode, a scuba diver is trapped under a rock, and because of other medical issues she has they realize they have to cut her leg off to save her life. So Ben (played by Martin Henderson) and Ryan (Rachelle Lefevre) scuba-dive down to use this old 1952-type hacksaw – it’s called a gigli saw – to cut off her leg off, underwater. You’ve never seen anything like it.
We shot it in a tank in a restaurant in Honolulu. You can’t see it but on the other side were people eating — as we’re cutting off someone’s leg.
Also, we use army ants as sutures, which is a technique used by a lot of tribes in the Amazon. You put the ants along the cut line, their pinchers pull in, and then you pull the body off and the wound holds together. One of my other favorites happens when the clinic gets robbed and they don’t have anesthesia for a simple procedure. Otis (Jason George), who’s an ex-junkie, knows where to get some heroin to get the guy through the surgery.
Jenna will come running up the stairs from the writers’ office saying, “We came up with this amazing thing!” She gets so excited.
The doctor we have on staff also gets so excited by these ideas – “We can use an anaconda as a tourniquet!”

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TVLINE | Have you experienced any unexpected production hurdles there in Hawaii? Any tips from Lost‘s Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse?
The only thing that Damon said to me was, “Expect a lot of Spam.”
BEERS: We got a really good caterer because we worried about the Spam, and when I showed up you didn’t see any.
BANS: Hawaii is just a tougher shoot, because they’re not on a soundstage all the time.
RHIMES: Filming a mudslide is not the same as a walk-and-talk in a hallway.

TVLINE | But the interior of the clinic is a soundstage, right?
No. It’s all outside.
BEERS: It’s built pretty much in the middle of the island, and we try to shoot as much as possible around that. It gives the indoor-outdoor feeling that you cant get on a soundstage.

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TVLINE | At TCA you mentioned writing more to certain actors’ chemistry once you picked up on it in the editing bay. What are some examples of that?
One is Valerie Cruz (who plays Zee) and Jason George. We had ideas about their off/on relationship, but once we saw them on, we didn’t want to go off for too long. The other two are Zach [Gilford, Tommy] and Mamie [Gummer, Mina], who have an ease with each other from having gone to college together [in real life].

TVLINE | But Zach told me that he’s got a little arc with Aimee Garcia (Trauma) coming up…?
He does. It gets complicated between the three of them, and that’s a big, fun arc of the first season.

TVLINE | Speaking again of Lost: Did Ben basically choose these doctors, à la Jacob? Did he seek out “damaged” people?
We get into that a little more toward the end of the season. My personal theory is that the people who most need to fix their lives can most help others.

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TVLINE | I can appreciate you want to rule out crossovers with Grey’s or Private Practice, if only to not deal with that nagging question. But I have to imagine ABC had an issue with that hard-and-fast rule. I can practically hear the promo guy’s voice in my head: “It’s a two-night, three-show, crossover event!”
No, they’ve been great.
BANS: I don’t think they’ve ever mentioned it.
BEERS: From the moment we pitched the show, it clearly had its own identity. I actually think they’re excited by the idea they could start a whole other franchise.
RHIMES: This is its own standalone thing, with its own possibilities.