ABC's "Hopkins" A Welcome Prescription for Summer TV Doldrums


It’s been eight years since ABC News presented Hopkins 24/7, that engaging, unpredictable nonfiction documentary series about staffers and patients at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. A lot has changed on TV since then, but the quality of Hopkins(the name of the sequel series, beginning tonight at 10 ET) remains a welcome constant.

Producer Terry Wrong and colleagues have tweaked the formula a bit, to reflect the times and acknowledge both the numbingly familiar vocabulary of reality shows and the popularity of ABC’s own Grey’s Anatomy. The only discernible alterations, though, are a use of pop music to accompany and punctuate certain scenes, and a total lack of narration.

Neither of those changes hurt Hopkins, and may in fact help it. Getting the doctors to explain their own stories to the camera turns out to be a good way to cover the exposition – especially if the doctor is as energetic and interesting as Alfredo Quinones-Hinjosa, who opens the show by almost daring the camera, and the viewer, to match his pace as he races to work.

He’s a brain surgeon, but one who came to this country as an illegal immigrant, literally jumping the fence to cross from Mexico to California. (“You gotta just climb it,” he says. “You gotta be like Spider-Man.”)  He was picking fruit as a migrant worker then, but decided to go to school and learn English – and his amazing path to Hopkins began there.

Each hour of Hopkinstells three primary stories. Some doctors, like Quinones-Hinjosa, we see only once. Others, like heart-and-lung expert Brian Bethea and ER specialist Anne Czarnik, we visit in several episodes. Partly because they’re young and attractive, no doubt, but also because their individual stories are just as compelling.

Not every story ends happily in Hopkins, but most do. That takes the edge off the show’s toughest moments, but those moments are part of the reality these doctors and patients face every day – and which we, on TV, face too seldom.  Congratulations to Hopkins for treating viewers like the Johns Hopkins physicians treat their patients: with respect and dignity.

This summer, on ABC as much as any other network, that’s a rarity.