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Everything You Need To Know About 'Combat Hospital'

by Annette Bourdeau, posted Jun 20th 2011 3:00PM
The hot afternoon sun is sweltering on the Toronto set of 'Combat Hospital,' a new medical drama that's supposed to be taking place in Kandahar, Afghanistan. As the sun beats down on the expansive set meticulously lined with shipping containers, a military helicopter, blast walls and a sign that says 'Welcome to Kandahar Airfield,' it's easy to forget we're standing in the middle of Toronto and not out in the sweltering Afghan desert.

Combat Hospital
'Combat Hospital' stars movie vets Elias Koteas ('The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,' 'Shutter Island') and Deborah Kara Unger ('Crash,' 'The Hurricane') in their first TV roles. This isn't the first time they've worked together -- they both starred in David Cronenberg's 'Crash' in 1996, and were thrilled to team up again.

"I adore Deborah. She's probably the smartest person in the room at any given time," says Koteas. Unger is happy they're both losing their TV virginity together. "This is an exciting adventure for us," she says.

Michelle Borth (Hawaii Five-0'), Arnold Pinnock ('Life With Derek'), Luke Mably ('The Gates') and Terry Chen ('Almost Famous') round out the primary cast.

While there's nothing quite like the show out there, it's definitely more 'ER' than 'M*A*S*H.' There's no time for goofy 'Hawkeye' style pranks at this busy medical hospital. "It's a different energy, time and history," says Koteas.

AOL TV toured the sprawling set and spoke with the actors, producers and set designer Rob Gray to find out everything you need to know about 'Combat Hospital.'

The show is set in 2006, and follows the lives of those working at a military hospital in Afghanistan. The concept is inspired by the real Canadian-lead NATO Role 3 Hospital at Kandahar Airfield, and the creators have gone to great lengths to be as realistic as possible. The set is almost an exact replica of the actual military hospital in Kandahar. "It existed in this jumble of shipping containers and plywood and canvas," says writer-producer Dan Petrie Jr.

Military consultants for the show have said the only thing it's lacking is the overpowering smell of blood. Borth is quick to point out the hot desert weather is also missing. She developed stage 1 hypothermia while filming in desert gear in sub-zero temperatures. In cold weather, the cast are constantly spritzed with water to make it look like they're sweating, and they suck on ice cubes so their breath isn't visible in the icy air. "The weather killed me!" Borth exclaims.

Here are 10 more things you need to know about 'Combat Hospital':

1. The hospital treats everyone in southern Afghanistan – even members of the Taliban. In the first episode, we see the Role 3 team treating a U.S. soldier several feet away from an injured Taliban official. "Inside the hospital, they're patients first," says Koteas. "It's an interesting dynamic from a psychological standpoint."

2. Major Rebecca Gordon (Borth) is basically an alpha male, only female. "She's really learning that being the best of the best in her field does not cross over to the Role 3 hospital here," explains Borth.

3. Colonel Xavier Marks (Koteas) defies stereotypes. "I love how he balances a lot of personalities. He was trained as a soldier to defend, while at the same time he's also a healer," says Koteas. "Every day he's different. I'm discovering him as I'm going along."

4. You don't want to mess with Major Grace Pedersen (Unger). "She has a wry, irreverent Aussie sensibility with a direct, no BS, unshockable demeanor," says Unger. Grace is the military psychiatrist who helps troops battle the war within. "She does everything she can do to get people to get things off their chest," says Unger. "It's difficult to replace the personnel. Units don't want to lose a member to something like depression."

5. Some of the most unbelievable moments on the show actually happened in real life. Like the snake slithering into the active operating room in the first episode. "At first, you're thinking who the hell's gonna believe there's a snake in the operating room, but the reality is that kind of thing happens," says Koteas. Borth was surprised to learn just how far the concept of working with what you've got goes. "There have been times when we've used an office stapler on a person, and apparently that has actually happened, too," she says.

6. Dr. Simon Hill (Mably) is a cool British guy who can pretty much do whatever he wants. "Because he's a civilian and the only neurosurgeon in southern Afghanistan, he knows he can get away with almost anything," says Petrie Jr. That includes luring attractive nurses back to his swingin' bachelor pad, which he doesn't have to share with anyone (extremely rare in the military world).

7. Commander Will Royal (Pinnock) is not a robot, even though he may appear to be in the first few episodes. "You'll start to see the cracks in his armor," says Pinnock. When the Chief of Nursing isn't busy shooing Simon away from his nurses or handing mops to cocky doctors, Will is the one keeping the hospital running as smoothly as possible.

8. There's going to be some romantic tension. Hunky Canuck Adam Beach ('Flags of Our Fathers,' 'Big Love') has a recurring role as a special opps guy passing through the unit. "He sort of becomes a love interest for Rebecca," Borth reveals. As for Simon, who's relentless in his efforts to bed Rebecca, Borth thinks he'd have to have a personality overhaul before having a real chance. "He's the womanizer," she says. "As of right now, he's still an asshole."

9. Captain Bobby Trang (Chen) gains his bearings, fast. He may come across as the startled fish out of water in the first episode, but he proves to be a more-than-capable Trauma Team Leader as the season progresses.

10. Chris Kaye, a real-life retired Canadian Forces Medical Services member, is a permanent consultant for the show to help keep everything as realistic as possible. "We're creating entirely fictional characters while at the same time having the underpinning of reality," explains Petrie Jr. Writers and cast ask Kaye about everything, including little details like how to put their boots on or how to salute properly.

'Combat Hospital' premieres Tuesday, June 21 at 10PM ET/9PM CT on ABC in the U.S., and 10PM ET/PT on Global TV in Canada.

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General Kenobi

Yeah, there's no hope of this show getting anywhere. I doubt it even sees its episodes fully burned off before being yanked. The audience isn't interested in seeing things like this. Why would they be? M*A*S*H itself wouldn't have succeeded if it hadn't couched itself in the Korean War... had they admitted it was really about Vietnam, it would've been dead in the water... not to mention that both as a movie and a tv series it really only started when Vietnam itself was ebbing... The point is, we don't like to have war movies set during an ongoing conflict... this isn't 1942, and this crap won't be Casablanca... and in turn, nobody is going to watch... give it another decade... oh, wait, we'll still be there rebuilding a country that was never built to begin with.

June 20 2011 at 11:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I believe this is not the time for this show. Think of the people who have family there right now fighting or injured.

June 20 2011 at 3:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to wolvie's comment
derp a herp

I have family in Afghanistan. The last thing they need is for you to stick your head in the sand any time you get uncomfortable.

June 20 2011 at 5:27 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I'm not bothering watching a new show that will be cancelled after ten episodes.

June 20 2011 at 3:43 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

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