Freddie Highmore, Talk Series Co-Showrunners – The Hollywood Reporter
the good doctor was a compelling and emotionally charged staple for ABC on Monday nights, breaking new ground with its portrayal of autistic Dr. Shawn Murphy navigating a prestigious hospital as well as a difficult workplace and personal drama.
But the show, which marks its 100th episode on November 14, has had a long way to go, with Daniel Dae Kim, who bought the rights to the 2013 Korean series of the same name, buying it for several years before she finally lands with Accommodation creator David Shore and Sony Pictures Television.
Now six seasons, starring the Golden Globe nominee Freddie Highmore in the lead role, it was a ratings hit (according to Nielsen, its season six premiere topped out at 10 p.m. in the 18-49 demo) and started new conversations about portraying neurodiversity. Co-showrunners Shore and Liz Friedman, along with Highmore, spoke with THR on the show’s success, depictions of neurodiversity, and what fans can expect from the rest of season six.
Can you share what the impact of reaching 100 episodes means to you?
FREDDIE HIGHMORE I feel overall, like I’ve always felt with this show, very blessed and blessed that we were able to get to this point and that people connected with the show and with the character that I play. It’s increasingly rare in today’s world to have a show that lasts that long. It definitely exceeded my expectations.
LIZ FRIEDMAN It’s such a joy. We have great characters, and we can tell these great stories and follow them as they unfold over the long haul – and follow Shaun [played by Highmore] development. Also, the fact that we can continue to work with these amazing people – from the writers to the crew and the cast – is great.
DAVID RIVE Freddie has been the best since day one. It has not changed or evolved. (Laughs.) He just remained the best. You go to work and you work hard, and you forget to be proud, and then something like this happens and reminds you to lift your head and look around and see what you’ve done.
Do you remember when you realized there was a fandom behind the show?
SHORE There were times when we got letters or something where we were like, ‘Wow, this stuff really struck a chord. But right from the start, we had a really good response because we were telling a story in an area about a person that wasn’t represented on TV. People love this character, and people have responded and rooted for the character.
Freddie, you have such a responsibility in the role of an autistic person. What did you learn from Dr. Murphy and the autism community?
MORE MORE Our portrayal of autism was always going to be the biggest challenge on this show and the thing we most wanted to achieve. We understood that we were only telling Shaun’s individual story and that he would never represent everyone on the spectrum, but at the same time we hoped that he would be a meaningful character and a powerful portrait of the community.
That’s something that struck me now that we’ve reached 100 episodes: if by doing this show we’ve changed one person’s perception of autism and challenged stereotypes, then that’s definitely the something I would be most proud of.
Diversity and representation have been paramount in the good doctor of the pilot. Why was this so important to you?
FRIEDMAN It’s what the world is, and it’s great to have the chance to represent it. I think it’s also really interesting to see how various characters from various backgrounds connect to Shaun. Being able to bounce these characters off of each other gives you some great opportunities.
SHORE People go through their lives in bubbles to some extent. When we meet people outside of this bubble, it opens our eyes and television can replicate that experience. One of the great things television can do is get people to watch something they thought they knew in a new way.
MORE MORE I also think that by celebrating and representing diversity, this is a show that, in a very divisive time, has hopefully proven that we are more alike than different.
SHORE This is an oversimplification of the truth, but the pilot’s director, Seth Gordon, said he realized halfway through that “everyone is screwed. Shaun has just been diagnosed.
Freddie, what did you wish you had known when you started the show?
MORE MORE (Laughs.) I wouldn’t risk rolling the dice again or finding out more. Some of the things you learn are probably necessary along the way to get us here today. It might have been more helpful if I had gone into medicine and known all those terms that we all have to spend a lot of time learning. It would be great if they rolled off my tongue more easily without as much homework.
What surgery or illness you read about was so intriguing that you had to include it on the show?
FRIEDMAN There have been so many. We have amazing support staff and writers here, we all collect medical histories and they publish a summary every week. There’s so much weird stuff going on. We’ve got it floating around so we can say, “Oh, we can do it; we can do the story of the virgin birth here. We never did that one, but there has been someone who got pregnant after being in a hot tub.
Is there a moment from the first 99 episodes that stood out to you or stood out to you more than any other over time?
SHORE These are the times Dr. Murphy first kissed someone, held someone’s hand, kissed someone, or drank tequila [for the first time]. The personal accomplishments that are so huge are the ones that stay with me.
MORE MORE The end of season two when Shaun knocks on Carly [Jasika Nicole] gate [to ask her out for the first time]. I remember thinking at the time that it was magical to end in a hopefully satisfying way, a TV season with such a small moment that feels like enough to be a landing place for the end of the show. I know it’s probably obvious, but the pilot and some momentous scenes for Shaun that were more emotional or bigger still stand out as big turning points.
Several actors exited and then re-entered the series. How do you approach their writing on and off the show?
SHORE We take the stories where we think they can give us the most dramatic fodder. It’s still difficult, though. It’s always heartbreaking. But we never want to avoid grief. It’s a show about hope. It’s a show about overcoming adversity. It’s a show about good people doing their best, but that doesn’t mean it always works out for the best. We want to explore the people who come and go from Dr. Murphy’s life. And whether they stay or go, we appreciate having new perspectives on Dr. Murphy and Dr. Murphy.
What about the newcomers who have been added to the show in recent years? What do you look for when you want to bring an actor into an already established cast?
FRIEDMAN Well, it’s a bold move, but we’re looking for good actors. (Laughs.) We have an incredibly great and professional cast here, so we’re looking for people who will approach it with the same truthfulness and decency.
Liz and David, do you know where the story of Dr. Murphy will end?
FRIEDMAN I used to think so. (Laughs.)
SHORE I think we’ll skip that and move on.
FRIEDMAN I have a few ideas. I want to see what he does. Shaun has grown so much and there is still so much to do.
SHORE Each season we identified a new goal for him or a new challenge – just a general area and an opportunity. Until we run out of these, hopefully we’ll keep going.
Can you share any teasers on what we can expect from the rest of season six?
MORE MORE What’s been exciting for me this year is that Shaun got his promotion. It felt like a little reset, having Shaun overseeing people and being a boss. Being in that position of authority feels very meaningful and fun to me because of how he learns those tricks of the trade. It was fun to play.
FRIEDMAN There’s great drama in the way Shaun, Lim [Christina Chang] and Glassman [Richard Schiff] dealing with the fallout from the surgery Shaun performed on Lim. This creates real emotional complications from which they must find a way out.
SHORE It’s always interesting to watch Shaun deal with emotional complications in his own way.
MORE MORE This year, with Shaun now married, is the very beginning of a whole new life. This raises even bigger questions. Likewise, I think it will take a bit of readjusting with Shaun and Dr. Glassman because up until now, Dr. Glassman has definitely been the most important person in [Shaun’s] life. Now the center of her world has shifted to Lea [Paige Spara]. So what happens to this relationship between Shaun and Dr. Glassman with this new life structure?
Interview edited for length and clarity.
This story first appeared in the Nov. 9 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.