TV

Melissa George playing doctor on ‘Heartbeat’

Melissa George portrays outspoken heart surgeon Dr. Alex Panttiere on the new NBC medical drama “Heartbeat.”
Melissa George portrays outspoken heart surgeon Dr. Alex Panttiere on the new NBC medical drama “Heartbeat.” NBC

There was a pregnant pause before getting the new medical drama “Heartbeat” on the air after star Melissa George found out she was about to have her second child. The series was originally supposed to be part of the network’s fall lineup, but “Chicago Med” was rushed in to fill the spot.

Now that the baby has been born, George is back to work, and the series is finally getting on the NBC lineup.

There was no way to write around the pregnancy since George plays the central character, Dr. Alex Panttiere, an outspoken heart-transplant surgeon, who is in almost every scene. The show is based on the life of Dr. Kathy Magliato, one of the few female cardiothoracic surgeons in the world.

George is certain the delay has been a big help for the show.

“Usually the schedule is you get a pilot, you get picked up, you’re shooting, you air, and the creative team has a very short window to really flesh out what they want to say,” George says. “Here we had three months where the writers could actually produce and (executive producer) Jill Gordon could create the show that she wanted.

“I think that’s a gift. To me, there are no mistakes.”

George was so determined to get the show on the air that she came back to work quickly after giving birth to her 10-pound son. She even jokes that she’s sitting on a doughnut pillow to do the interview.

“Heartbeat” is the latest in a long string of acting roles for the Australian actress, who was last seen on the NBC short-run series “The Slap.” Before that, she was in “The Good Wife,” “Hunted,” “Alias,” “Lie To Me” and “Grey’s Anatomy.”

I’m the luckiest girl to play this role, just to have witnessed what it is to see the human heart.

Melissa George, on her new role as a cardiothoracic surgeon after watching an open-heart surgery

To prepare for her role on the medical drama, George went to Paris to watch an open heart surgery. Normally, such observations are done from an area above the surgical unit. In this case, the doctor had George scrub in to assist. She spent eight hours watching the operation.

“It was spectacular because I only had seen it in movies, and he kept cutting and cutting. When he opened him up and I saw that heart beating, I mean, it makes me want to cry,” George says. “His heart just beating, and he was repairing what was wrong with this 72-year-old man, and I was preparing for this role, and I just thought, ‘I’m the luckiest girl to play this role, just to have witnessed what it is to see the human heart.’ 

The reality of her life came rushing back as soon as the surgery ended: George had to dash home to shower because she was covered with bone dust before attending the Christian Dior Fashion Show, where she found herself more interested in watching the hearts of other guests beating under their clothes than looking at the fashions.

If George needs further assistance playing the role, she can always turn to Magliato, who is one of the co-executive producers of the series. How the noted surgeon got involved with a TV show based on her life became fodder for the opening episode.

Magliato was on an airplane when a male passenger started having serious heart problems, and she stepped in to save his life. Later, when she told the story at a dinner party, everyone said that her life would make a great TV series.

Her participation isn’t limited to being the subject of the TV show. Magliato also is in the writers’ room, where she has been helping with the creation of story lines.

Dr. Kathy Magliato was on an airplane when a male passenger started having serious heart problems, and she stepped in to save his life. Later, when she told the story at a dinner party, everyone said that her life would make a great TV series.

The only place where the writers are taking liberties is with the surgeon’s love life. Otherwise, Magliato is happy with how the show is being produced.

“One of the things that I think is amazing about the show and what makes it so unique and so special as an offering is its authenticity, the fact that it’s based on real characters, people either in my life now or in my life in the past,” Magliato says. “I’m not getting as much action as (George) is on the set. The other thing is that I asked my husband about a love triangle. He just won’t go for it. Kind of an old school guy.

“So I don’t have the love triangle, but other than those two things, it’s pretty authentic, pretty true to life.”

Rick Bentley: 559-441-6355, @RickBentley1

Heartbeat

  • 9 p.m. Tuesday, March 22, KSEE (Channel 24.1)
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