“Code Black” Vs “LFE” (CBS) pilot previews: is one of them the next great medical drama we’re all waiting for?



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Written & produced by Michael Seitzman (Intelligence). Co-produced by Ryan McGarry, Marti Noxon (Buffy, Angel, Grey’s Anatomy, Glee) & Linda Goldstein Knowlton. Directed by David Semel (Madam Secretary, Dr House, Heroes, Person of Interest). For CBS, ABC Studios & CBS Television Studios. 66 pages.

Description: In the busiest and most notorious ER in the nation – LA County Hospital – the extraordinary staff confronts a broken system in order to protect their ideals and the patients who need them the most. Leanne Royer, a force of nature and a force to be reckoned with, is in charge of four residents who are getting their first taste of ER medicine. She’s here to mentor, teach and… terrify them, while the hospital is in code black almost every day…

With Marcia Gay Harden (Into the Wild, The Newsroom, Damages, How to Get Away With Murder, 50 Shades of Grey), Bonnie Somerville (The OC, Friends, NYPD Blue, Cashmere Mafia), Ben Hollingsworth (The Joneses, Cult), Raza Jaffrey (Smash, Homeland, Sex & The City 2), Luis Guzman (Oz, How to Make it In America), Melanie Kannokada (The Brink)…


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Written & produced by Paul Downs Colaizzo. Co-produced by David Marshall Grant (Nashville, Brothers & Sisters, Smash) & Dan Jinks (Pushing Daisies, Big Fish, American Beauty). Directed by David Slade (Twilight, Hannibal, Powers, 30 Days of Night). For CBS, CBS Television Studios & Dan Jinks Co.

Description: Joe, Ryan, Chelsi, Trevor Mae & Anj are New York City’s wildest, brilliant and most promising doctors. As they start their second year of residency in the city’s most prestigious hospital, they attempt to balance their god complexes with their humanity. Julie, their den mother, give them guidance in their lives and share with them the relationship she wishes she had with her own children…

With Melissa Leo (Fighter, Prisoners, Frozen River, Treme, Wayward Pines), Daniel Sharman (Teen Wolf, The Originals), Andy Mientus (Smash, The Flash), Luke Slattery, Ana Kayne (Another Earth), Reed Birney (House of Cards, The Blacklist), Annie Funk (A Most Violent Year)…


CBS President Nina Tassler made it clear a few months ago at the TCAs: she is determined to add a medical drama to her fall line-up, a genre she never had a success with since she got the job. Nobody can or want to remember her previous attempts, but let me refresh your memory: there were Three Rivers & Miami Medical in 2009, A Gifted Man in 2011 and countless pilots that didn’t make it to series, like Only Human last year. To be fair, they were not that bad. But they failed to resonate with an audience. To make sure they find the right one this time, she and her drama team developed a ton of them: two made it to pilot stage, Code Black & LFE, while other two -an untitled project by Parenthood‘s Sarah Watson & Jason Katims and Austen’s Razor– were close but ultimately didn’t make it. It’s safe to say one of them will be on the schedule, but it’s hard to predict which. They are both strong contenders, with their own strengths and weaknesses. I have my favorite, but I’m not sure it’s the perfect one for CBS…

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I’ll start with Code Black which, I predict, is the most likely to get the chance to shine. The ABC Studios co-produced drama comes from Michael Seitzman, a man who, over the years, wrote several pilots that never aired like Empire State, House Rules or Americana, all of them being very different – family soaps, political drama- and efficient but too close to home, too classical. Then came police procedural Intelligence, which was kind of original -for those haven’t seen Chuck– but painfully bad. With Code Black, he seems at ease. Honestly, the script is a page-turner, I was hooked! But it also felt a lot like an high-octane episode of Grey’s Anatomy. You know, one of those when there is a minor catastrophe that makes every doctor rushing around the hospital because there are too many patients to treat at the same time. And I looove Grey’s Anatomy from the bottom of my heart, for 10 years now. And the show is still good, but it’s another subject. The thing is, I totally understand why ABC didn’t keep it for themselves: they already have Grey’s Anatomy, they surely don’t need Code Black. And I’m not sure CBS needs it either because the audience doesn’t. Of course, the Shonda Rhimes drama will die, sooner or later, but the next great medical drama can’t be a copy of it, as Grey’s found success exactly because it was not a copy of ER. They took the best part of it to create something new and modern. Code Black is not new, and not particularly modern either.

For those who wonder what a “code black” is, here is the answer, explained during the first scene: “it’s in an emergency room an influx of patients so great that there aren’t enough personnel or resources to treat them all. The average urban ER is in code black 5 times per year. LA County Hospital is in code black 300 times per year“. It means there will be one in almost every episode, that’s the promise they implicitly make. And it’s one the writers will be able to keep but not without the same damages as in the pilot: every character gets a very short time to connect with the audience at a personnal level. We don’t know much about the residents at the end of the pilot and I’m afraid it will be hard to explore all of them equally with all the action going on (they can’t even find time to hook up somewhere). However, for now, Leanne (played by the GREAT Marcia Gay Harden) and Christa (Bonnie Somerville) are the one getting all the attention. They’re interesting, they are great characters in theory, but you cannot think about anyone else than Miranda Bailey for the first one and a mix of several female characters from Grey’s Anatomy for the latter. The interactions between Leanne and the residents work the same way as with Bailey and her residents in the ABC pilot (or Annalise Keating and her students in How To Get Away With Murder). It’s disturbing. And Code Black lacks a sense of humor. There are failed attempts then no attempts at all at some point. The medical cases are moving, but it feels like we’ve already seen them a thousand times.

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LFE also shares some DNA with Grey’s Anatomy but just the right amount. The resident characters are fresh and a lot of fun: they drink, they dance, they partyyy; they joke, they poke fun at each other; they seduce; they pee on the sidewalk at night and are sent to prison for that; and of course, they are very good job at their job. Most of them are cocky, something that can be upsetting sometimes, but they are flawed characters and we’re instantly and quite subtly exposed to their own personal demons. Joe has a family to take care of since his mom died: his father is seriously sick and his brother does a huge load of nothing. Honestly, he seems a little boring but he does something very disturbing at the end of the pilot that could change that. Anj is a party girl, sexually open minded, who hides who she really is to her very traditional Indian parents who are looking for a husband for her to marry. Chelsi is the baby of the group, she’s kind of genius, she’s only 24, and she’s socially awkward, obsessed by her cases and probably still a virgin. Ryan is the hot bad boy and Mae, the Jennifer Lawrence kind of girl, fun and messy. Finally, Trevor is the nice guy that tries to look cool but almost always fail. All of them already know each other since it’s their second year of residency, and some of them even met at medical school a few years ago. We could have felt excluded from these guys that are already friends but we don’t. That’s where the writer does a brilliant job: we quicky feel like part of the team!

What makes the show different from Code Black and closer to ER is the fact that we spend a lot of time outside of the hospital’s walls: especially in New York’s finest night clubs, in the streets -I already talked about the peeing scene- and in their apartments. With the pilot being shot in Big Apple, and probably the rest of the series if it’s picked up, it really makes a difference in terms of settings and atmosphere. It’s cooler and lighter but, at the same time, there is a lot of darkness coming out of the characters -I’m also thinking about Melissa Leo’s Julie, who looks depressed- and from the situations. Drugs and alcohol are involved in the opening scene. Then there’s an arm roberry that ends up in a bloodbath. The surgery scenes are graphic. Take a look at how the writer describes the show at the beginning: “this is a stylized series. It’s badass. It’s heightened“. And he goes far then saying, and I quote: “Imagine Quentin Tarantino’s name on the title page somewhere“. It’s a little too much, dear newcomer Paul Downs Colaizzo. But you already know how to sell your script! And apparently, it worked! Instead of Tarantino, he got David Slade as a director. And it’s not bad. This man’s behind Hannibal. “Stylized”, he knows to handle it. But can CBS handle it? That’s the real question here. It feels cable-y, not network-y. That’s why I don’t think CBS will go for it. And that’s sad, ‘cos it’s the best.

While Code Black can go anywhere in CBS’s schedule, after NCIS, Scorpion or Criminal MindsLFE seems to be bound to Sundays, the “prestige night” of the network, alongside soon-to-conclude The Good Wife and Madam Secretary. Anywhere else, it will probably bomb. That doesn’t mean Code Black WILL work, but it’s fast-paced, action-packed and sweet at times. Both of them can attract the young demo, but LFE has the edge over Code Black thanks to younger (and cuter) characters and a more modern feel, but its stylized look can also scare people and that makes it a dark horse for a pick-up to series. My heart is saying yes to LFE. But my crystal ball is all about Code Black. We’ll see in a few weeks how things turn out… And to answer loud and clear the question asked in the title of the article: none of them will be the next great medical drama in my opinion. But you never know…


      • Addy says:

        Red band society and LFE are two very different shows. Red Band was more of a feel good drama but LFE is dark. There is really no comparison. I don’t know the exact reason why Red Band society failed but it has nothing to do with the other two pilots. That being said I know the network may already be leaning more towards Code Black but maybe they will end up picking up both shows. They did this same thing a few years back but both shows failed. There is no guarantee for either pilots to survive. Code Black could just as easily bomb.

  1. Kara says:

    When will the actors know of their show has been picked up or not? Does no one know until upfronts or do they tell them beforehand?

    • Lulla says:

      Very slim chance! It’s not exactly the kind of show you can find on cable. It’s a little too much for a network, maybe, it pushes the enveloppe, butit’s not probably “not enough” for cable.

  2. Addy says:

    I’m all for networks taking risks for shows that are modern and exciting. My heart is also with LFE and I think this show is something that could help the network transition into attracting a younger demographic. It has the opportunity to be something different than what we’ve seen before in a medical drama. Code black sounds like another Grey’s- while it might be cute, we don’t need it. A lot of these pilots fail when picked up to series because they are copies of other shows-especially the medical drama ones. I don’t know what the advertising execs will think of it but I hope their willing to take a chance on it. I hope it does well if they test it with an audience. They can always tone down a graphic show but I think networks need to move towards cable-y shows. That’s the way the audience is moving so I hope they choose to do this same. I hope LFE gets picked up. I need to see this pilot!

    • Lulla says:

      I totally agree with you and I really think this is the one for the younger demographic. CBS will have a hard time scheduling it, but they really should give it a try.

      • addy says:

        I don’t think CBS is known for taking risks but I’m hoping they do for this one. The network should be taking risks to compete with fox, abc,nbc..etc. They might go for code black but that would really disappoint me. This could help them shake things up in their drama department (which for me is a snooze fest compared to any of the other major networks). Code black would fit in with their current line up but it won’t set them apart. What do you think the actual chances of LFE being picked up are?

        • Lulla says:

          I think CBS will order “Supergirl” and the new “Criminal Minds” spin-off. It leaves probably two more spots. One of which will go to one medical drama… “Code Black” fit better with the rest of the line up, sadly. So… I don’t think the chances for LFE are very high.

          • addy says:

            That’s a shame then. I’m still hoping we’ll all be surprised and CBS will choose to do something different. I have no intention of watching code black. Is there a chance LFE could find life somewhere else?
            Also what if it does well during the test audience?

          • Lulla says:

            About shopping it somewhere else, well… it’s rare for a pilot but you never know. It’s too adult for the CW I think, but CBS Television Studios could have sent it there.
            And the test audience is very important, CBS will take the results into account, that’s for sure. But test audience is always a tricky thing. Test audience tends to be very conservative…

          • Lulla says:

            Pilots are tested multiple times, inside the network, but also by the producing studio. It’s a panel of people representing the american audience, people of every age, both men and women of course, from every ethnicity… I don’t really how they are chosen.

          • Kara says:

            Is there anyway that we can find out how the audience votes or is it just a waiting game now? If they’re conservative then maybe they won’t like the stylized/ graphicness of lfe

          • Kara says:

            How do you think LFE would do with the older demographic? I recently read an article that said CBS doesn’t think that they should cater to young adults.

          • Lulla says:

            I’d be interested to read the article ^^
            LFE wouldn’t do that bad in the older demographic, I think. But it’s still a stretch.

          • Kara says:


            There’s many but here’s one. They think that younger viewers like to watch tv online more so they are looking to the older demographic. If that’s the case than that might be one of the things they look for when testing the show. I don’t know what an older demographic would think of it if it’s graphic/ because of all the drinking/partying involved. Most of the shows are very conservative on CBS. I’m hoping they don’t pass on something great. I really want LFE to get picked up but I don’t think it will be.

          • Lulla says:

            The article is insteresting, but it is two years old. Things change quickly on TV these days. CBS already lost a lot in the younger demo and they definitely have to react. It’s the reason why they are so eager to have “Supergirl” on their schedule…

          • Kara says:

            I just really want this show to be picked up! Thank you for taking the time to respond. Were you able to watch it with a group? What were their reactions to it?

          • Lulla says:

            I haven’t watched it, I just read the pilot script. I don’t think the pilot is ready.

          • Kara says:

            I wonder what he means when he says stylized. I’ve seen David slades work and I don’t know how that would work for a medical show but I’m really interested in it as we’ll. how graphic were the surgery scenes? Sorry for all the questions!

          • Kara says:

            From what I’ve seen CBS tends to pick shows that appeal to the mass audience. Ncis can be viewed from anyone (18-60) that’s why I think they’ll go for code black but I hope I’m wrong.

  3. Kara says:

    I’m really hoping for LFE to take off. I’m a big fan of Melissa leo and I feel this show could be groundbreaking. With Code black, I feel like we’ve seen that scenario many times before and probably will see it many times again. It might be a safe bet but for me it’s not the best one. I can already tell that I will be hooked to LFE if it gets picked up and I hope it does!

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