SPOILER ALERT! This story contains plots points from the series finale of New Amsterdam.
So long, good doctors of New Amsterdam: The drama about an old public hospital from creator/executive producer David Schulner, director/executive producer Peter Horton and Universal Television ended its five-season run Tuesday on NBC. Launched in 2018, the series was inspired by the book Twelve Patients: Life and Death at Bellevue Hospital by Eric Manheimer.
Here, Schulner and Horton reflect on what they did and didn’t do in the final episode, and why they think its way too early to wrap up the drama that stars Ryan Eggold, Janet Montgomery, Jocko Sims, Tyler Labine, Debra Monk, Matthew Jeffers, and Sandra Mae Frank.
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DEADLINE Did you have a checklist going into the finale with things that you wanted to include, like a chainsaw accident?
PETER HORTON Yes, that was the whole basis for the episode. We thought chainsaws, what can we do with chainsaws?
DAVID SCHULNER We only thought about our core cast. How do we honor those characters that we’ve come to know and love over five years?
DEADLINE Did you know how this was going to end from the very beginning? Had you been imagining this ending for a while, that you’d come full circle with ‘how can I help you?’
SCHULNER We knew the ending would have to come out of the beginning, just because that’s good storytelling. So we definitely went back to the pilot to find where these characters started and what would be a satisfying yet surprising conclusion.
DEADLINE Did you talk for a while about killing off Max (Eggold) to cancer?
SCHULNER It felt a little too easy. And ER did it with Dr. Green. There are many shows that came before us. We just wanted to avoid any duplication.
HORTON And then we could never come back and do it again.
DEADLINE Was it a challenge to figure out what your final medical case would be? Did you go back and forth on that?
HORTON Since every single case in the history of medicine has been exploited by television shows, including us …
SCHULNER We were stuck all day long. We could not think of the right thing. We butted our heads for an entire day, and finally I sent everyone away. I said, ‘we’re leaving Zoom, take an hour, take two hours, and then everyone come back to the room and pitch something, just have one thing that you think would make a great final surgery.’ I came back with some bizarre, $5 million computer-generated like laser beam surgery. We all just were trying to find something big and crazy. And then Jai, our writer’s assistant, is the one who pitched a surgery that takes 50 people. Immediately we knew that was the one because it’s about our characters. It’s not about a crazy surgery. It’s about all the characters that we’ve had on our show for five years, for 92 episodes. And this surgery was a way in which we could bring back all the characters who ever performed surgery on New Amsterdam for one unique surgery. It was about the patient, but even more importantly, it was about our characters.
HORTON Our Covid team wasn’t thrilled. Other than that, it was a really cool idea. The show’s basically a character piece. The medical cases are there so we can talk about these people and themes. When you asked about the end, one of the things I love about the way it came about was how David’s 11 year old daughter pitched it to him first, that Luna [Max’s daughter] comes back as a grownup. So it was a group effort.
SCHULNER And then a week later, another writer emailed me the same ending. And then a week after that I was on set with Erica Green Swafford and she was like, ‘this is crazy, but what if this was the final scene of New Amsterdam and Luna comes back as an adult?’ So three people within a span of three weeks had this collective vision.
DEADLINE I really expected the drunk woman who Iggy couldn’t get committed into system would be found dead on a street somewhere.
HORTON Well, I think one of the reasons you feel that way is because she’s such a good actress. You want to see her again. It’s just that she doesn’t really connect to our people. The ending really needed to be about the people we’ve lived with for five years. It wasn’t about our cases, it was about our people.
SCHULNER And by the final scene, it’s very clear she’s going to die on the street. We don’t need to see that.
DEADLINE Did you know that no matter what, you’d want to end this with some hope?
HORTON We had to leave people with a hope taste in their mouth.
DEADLINE Are we to assume Max and Elizabeth (Sandra Mae Frank) stayed together?
SCHULNER That’s for you to decide.
DEADLINE Do you feel like you had plenty of time to end this exactly the way you wanted?
HORTON I don’t. I still think this thing could have, should have run for another couple years. There are still so many stories to tell and these characters are so interesting. David came up with just a raft of amazing characters and I want to know more about all of them. We’re No. 3 on Netflix right now. I don’t think the audience is ready for it to end, either.
SCHULNER And we’re still tied for number one in our time slot.
HORTON It’s a bit of a mystery as to why it was canceled, to tell you the truth.