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These doctors 'Deliver' the reality to reality TV

May 10, 2008|Lynn Smith | Times Staff Writer

The ad for the first season of "Deliver Me" shows Dr. Yvonne Bohn in scrubs, with her partners Drs. Alane Park and Allison Hill, in the classic tough-woman television pose, three-quarters view, arms crossed. But Bohn, oddly enough, is smiling. The day they shot the commercial, she had delivered two babies.

In their own small way, the Los Angeles doctors have emerged from the flood of reality programming with a surprising approach to the genre: nice, low-key and smart.

"We're pretty normal," Bohn said. "We're all moms, all juggling motherhood and having a career, caring about our jobs, our families and our friends."

Producers at Discovery Health Channel said they were sure the obstetricians -- friends since residency at USC -- would make "normal" interesting. But they didn't realize how much.

In the first season, which concludes Sunday, one of the doctors had her eggs frozen by her ex-husband, also a doctor; another identified so much with a patient who had a miscarriage that she wept on camera; and, even with nannies to help, there were child-care crises. Not to mention the patients: One, in the midst of a high-risk pregnancy, mysteriously disappeared, triggering a search worthy of TV detectives before a dramatic birth by Cesarean section.

"I'm sure one of our shows will show up on 'Grey's Anatomy,' " said executive producer Eric Schiff. "We couldn't have made it up."

Discovery Health will air the finale at 9 p.m. on Mother's Day, following a marathon of the previous six episodes that begins at 3 p.m. The series was filmed in the doctors' offices downtown, adjacent to Good Samaritan Hospital, where they have practiced for nine years.

Though they're familiar with treating an urban population -- they trained at a Los Angeles County hospital -- their patients come from all over, Lancaster to Yorba Linda, including some women who work in the high-rises in downtown L.A., across the 110 Freeway.

Patients must sign releases to appear on the show, but, Hill said, "You'd be surprised how many patients are willing to open up a private time in their lives. Every time you drive down the street in L.A., they're filming something. People are so used to it here, it doesn't seem like that big of a deal to have your birth on television, interestingly."

The doctors were more reluctant.

Perfect fit

Schiff and Discovery Health had been looking for a high-risk practice to follow, but an initial search four years earlier found no takers.

Trying again, Schiff sent out e-mails to nearly every former colleague, which happened to include the husband of Park's substitute yoga teacher, who suggested the doctors.

Schiff said he sensed their sparkle even when talking to them on the phone. When he met them in person, he said, their synergy was unmistakable.

"These women are so bright, so articulate and cool," he said. "They have great senses of humor. They complement each other. The lucky bonus is, they're all beautiful."

They're often called the "Charlie's Angels" of medicine: one blond, one brunet, one Asian.

Their obvious empathy for one another and their patients made it easier to make a different medical show that involved doctors' lives intertwining with their patients, Schiff said. Nothing is staged in the series, which he calls a documentary-style reality show.

But the L.A. doctors were adamant they didn't want to be confused with the plastic surgeons of Beverly Hills or the housewives of Orange County.

"We just didn't want the show to go in a direction that didn't show us as who we are," Bohn said. "We didn't want to be embarrassed; we didn't want our patients to be embarrassed."

In particular, it was scary to be so vulnerable emotionally. "Did I really want the whole world to know some things I'm going through personally?"

Said Park: "You are afraid of what people think. I wonder if I'm practicing my medicine the way the rest of obstetricians in America practice. I don't know what anybody else does."

And they wanted the medical information to be appropriate, so viewers would learn to recognize the subtle symptoms of a high-risk pregnancy.

"They approached us with that," Hill said. "Hopefully by depicting women with certain medical conditions -- such as preeclampsia or cervical incompetence -- it will educate somebody who may not know about it."

They were reassured when they saw Schiff's "sizzle reel" made from a day of shooting. "We loved how he put the story together," Bohn said.

And they're pleased with the show's website, which offers articles and information about issues surrounding pregnancy, birthing and babies.

In high ranks

The show, according to Nielsen ratings, which don't include all telecasts, has 203,000 total viewers. It ranks among the network's top shows, including "Mystery Diagnosis" and "Dr. G, Medical Examiner." The network has ordered a second season, which will air before Discovery Health merges with the new Oprah Winfrey Network late next year.

The doctors can still walk down the street without being recognized, but they said their patients felt proud of them and more connected to them. As a result of the show, they said they've learned that every one of their patients has an interesting story.

They also learned the show took up more time than they realized; next season, they said, they should be able to schedule their time better to ensure that the patients who aren't on the show don't feel short-shrifted.

Park says she thinks the show has been worth it so far. Not only are they helping educate women about pregnancy but also how to live life.

"I hope young women look at it and say, 'You can't do everything perfectly,' " she said. "But you can have a job that you adore and you're proud of, that you can have a family and a family life."

And star in your own television show.


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