It’s early on a Monday morning on the Hollywood sets of CBS’ new medical drama “Three Rivers,” which premieres at 8 p.m. Sunday, and star Alex O’Loughlin, wearing only scrub pants and a striped bathrobe, is sprawled across a hotel bed.
Suddenly there’s a burst of rock music, sending O’Loughlin (“Moonlight”), who plays transplant surgeon Dr. Andy Yablonski, stumbling into the next room. There he discovers a patient playing the video game “Rock Band.” By the end of the scene, the two are jamming.
Between takes, O’Loughlin shows off his air-guitar skills with the game, then picks up a real acoustic guitar and makes some music.
“I was just mucking around,” he says. “It’s a beautiful guitar they’ve got in there. It’s a vintage Gibson. It’s divine. It’s worth a lot of money, so I’m hesitant to pick it up. But it’s its karma. It’s supposed to be played.”
If this scene doesn’t sound like the usual medical drama, that’s the goal of series creator and executive producer Carol Barbee (“Judging Amy”).
“I know we’re doing a medical drama, but it doesn’t feel like that,” she says. “It feels like we’re doing these stories about these lives. The guest-star stories are so interesting, because you’re dropping into these worlds.”
“It’s the worst day; something catastrophic happens. You don’t know that you’re going to be a donor that day.”
Set at Three Rivers Medical Center in Pittsburgh, the drama focuses on the organ-transplant team. Led by Yablonski, it also includes rebellious but talented Dr. Miranda Foster (Katherine Moennig), womanizing Dr. David Lee (Daniel Henney), operating assistant Pam Acosta (Justina Machado) and transplant coordinator Ryan Abbott (Christopher J. Hanke).
Overseeing the team is head of surgery Dr. Sophia Jordon (Alfre Woodard, who was born in Tulsa).
“The stakes are always there,” O’Loughlin says, “and these are people that deal with this on a day-to-day basis. They live in the light. These are some of the funniest, most joyful people that I’ve ever met, because that’s the only way you can deal with death on this scale every minute, every hour of every day.”
“So that brings us in. Then there’s this team that gives life. That’s what they do as a team at Three Rivers. They give hope; they give life. They’re in the life business.”