Shows set in hospitals have primarily been about saving or extending lives. Some of the finest moments from such legendary shows as “St. Elsewhere” and “ER” were about making miracles happen on the operating table.
“Going Home,” a new series that is shot in Spokane, veers in a very different direction.
Cynthia Geary, who portrayed Shelly on “Northern Exposure,” stars as Charley Copeland, an empathetic nurse.
“My job on the show is very, very different than what an ER nurse does,” Geary explained while calling from her Issaquah home. “I’m coming from a different direction, thanks to Dan.”
Geary is referring to creator-writer-director Dan Merchant, who has made a poignant, moving show with its share of beautiful moments throughout its six-episode first season, which commenced at the start of the month. Merchant has taken a chance crafting a show about a subject most folks prefer to avoid.
“It’s true that we don’t talk about death well in our culture,” Merchant said while staring at Spokane Falls from his downtown writing studio. “It’s unfortunate since death is part of life and we have to face it ourselves and with our loved ones. This show is different. We bring all of our personal experiences with our parents and grandparents in from the writer’s room.”
Merchant, 57, who grew up in Seattle, drew from a recent personal experience. “During the pandemic, my dad was nearing the end of his cancer journey,” Merchant said. “While that was happening, an idea appeared in my head. I thought, ‘Wow, what about a show that covers this? That’s an interesting setting.’ I remembered all of the different experiences I’ve had with the hospice providers.”
However, Merchant had to dig deeper to create a show that focuses on hospice care, so he connected with nurses at the Hospice of Spokane.
“I learned a lot from the hospice nurses,” Merchant said. “I learned what they say and how they’re always present. I heard a story from a hospice nurse there about how an ER nurse left after two days of working at the Hospice of Spokane, since her life has been about trying to save lives.
“Death equals complete failure. The ER nurse was used to running on total adrenaline. She couldn’t deal with the reality that people die,” he continued. “The hospice nurses are a special group of people. Their take is that death is not the opposite of life. Death is part of life. It’s all about how we’re on this journey in this life, which eventually ends.”
Geary is terrific as a compassionate nurse on “Going Home,” which airs on Pure Flix Entertainment.
“Cynthia is the heart and soul of the show,” Merchant said. “She was the leader on set and a very talented and lovely person and a workhorse.”
There’s a number of other fine performances throughout “Going Home.” Veteran character actor Tom Skerritt of “Picket Fences” and “Dead Zone” fame nails it at an age when most folks are well past retirement age. But Skerritt, who turns 89 in August, is terrific as he witnesses the last stages of his wife’s life.
“It was wonderful working with Tom, since he’s a tried-and-true serious actor,” Merchant said. “Even if he has to just cross the room to hand over hand lotion, he has to find the motivation.
“Sometimes he’ll have something extra to offer. Something special comes out of what he does. He made the character real. When he was crying when he was wife was slipping away, it was just incredibly real. That was the only time I didn’t yell cut.”
On the other side of Skerritt, who made his television debut 60 years ago in the television series ‘Combat!,” there’s former NFL star Vernon Davis, who plays a patient in hospice care. The two-time All Pro and Super Bowl winner impresses just three years after he retired from the gridiron.
“Vernon is great, especially for a guy relatively new to acting,” Merchant said. “I knew him as the 49ers tight end who messed up the Seahawks time and time again. We talked football. He was serious and very easy to direct.
“His name came up when we needed an athletic looking guy, We needed a guy who was 6’5” and 230 and ripped. I saw (former Seattle Seahawk star) Richard Sherman on a TV commercial and thought maybe he would work. The agent that handles Sherman said, ‘You don’t want Sherm, you want Vernon.’ ”
Merchant is also impressed with Spokane, which is in the backdrop during the show’s opening title sequence with Geary jogging around Riverfront Park in her University of Washington gear.
“Spokane is like another character in this show,” Merchant said. “It’s cool seeing Charlie, who is a Spokanite, running past the red wagon. That opening sequence is our love letter to the Spokane … We’re honoring the 509, not the 206 with this show. I know how it is living here. It’s always been this state battle. Tech versus farmers.”
Merchant moved to Spokane when he started work on “Z Nation” as a writer-director in 2014.
“It’s cleaned up quite a bit,” Merchant said. “When we used to shoot ‘Z Nation,’ there were entire blocks in the entertainment district with condemned hotels.
“We had zombie shoots on the street without set dressing. But there’s been so much urban renewal. Spokane looks much better, and you can see it in the opening sequence of ‘Going Home.”