All good things must come to an end.
That is what fans of the NBC series New Amsterdam now have to deal with unfortunately. On Tuesday, January 17th, NBC will air the final two episodes of the medical drama. Fans are going to miss the doctors and stories told within the walls of New Amsterdam.
We had the chance to sit down with executive producer Peter Horton to talk about the end of the series, what he hopes the legacy of the show will be and his response to fans who aren’t happy with the way the Helen Sharpe character was handled.
Pop Culture Principle – At the end of episode 11, we see Max make the choice between Helen and Elizabeth. The decision has divided some of the fandom, but at the end of the day with all that happened or didn’t happen between Max and Helen, he made the right decision. Would you agree?
Peter Horton – You know, what’s interesting is that we obviously really wrestled with that entire situation. Our initial plan was that Freema would stay, and we would have a cool story come out of that and when she decided not to stay, we just thought to ourselves what do we do now. There was such a natural chemistry between Freema and Ryan right from the beginning.
Once we had to do down the road of her not being there for the wedding, it didn’t feel right for him to go back and try and talk it out with her because that’s not life. Certain things happen that talking about them are not going to solve it and leave you more frustrated than when you first walk in. I mean, sometimes you get lucky and get a little bit of relief, but generally speaking, it’s just going backwards, so we couldn’t have him doing that.
Going forward with Wilder was great, but there is Helen Sharpe in the background. So, what we finally ended up with is the woman that he ultimately chooses is his daughter Luna, which felt really satisfying to us. Both David and I having daughters, it felt like the heroic choice and the right choice, so that’s where we went.
Pop Culture Principle – What do you say to the fans who have complained that the writers have vilified the Helen Sharpe character and that her exit from the show should have been much better?
Peter Horton – You know, that really baffles me. I don’t quite understand the idea that she is vilified. We never said that she was cruel for what happened. We didn’t say that she was manipulative or anything like that. We were like Max and didn’t know what happened, but we knew there was something. She wasn’t able to express it, that’s not vilification, that’s being human.
We loved Sharpe and the last thing we would want to do is vilify that character. But we also understand that people loved her and didn’t want to see her go away even if her reasons for leaving were cryptic and undefined. We didn’t want people to see that, which would have been negative. We don’t feel that we vilified the character, but we understand why it is disappointing to viewers.
Pop Culture Principle – It’s interesting as a viewer that Max has always been the person who could get answers, but when it comes to Helen, he’s been unable or maybe at this point in time unwilling to get those answers. How do you think that has changed him as a person?
Peter Horton – It’s the one area that he could never quite get right in life. Not his fault with Georgia of course because she died. The journey for him from the relational side of that character ending with him choosing his daughter is him getting it right. You have to choose your daughter first and then the rest of the stuff will be what it is. His first two loves were New Amsterdam and his daughter in that order. By the end of the series, he chose his daughter and then his career and then third is who am I going to be with and who is going to be the mother of my child. So, we left the Wilder thing ambiguous because we didn’t want to resolve it either way. We wanted it to be Max’s journey into figuring it our for himself what is his priority and where his heart is truly, and the answer was Luna.
Pop Culture Principle – How important was it that the series is able to go out its own terms because in today’s television landscape, many shows don’t get that opportunity.
Peter Horton – Well, it was a blessing and a curse. The curse being that we thought the show would go on for a couple more seasons at least. When we found out we were canceled, we were surprised and sad because we love the show. But the fact that they gave us a chance to do thirteen episodes to get us there and give the show a genuine resolution, that is a real blessing, and you rarely get that these days in television.
Pop Culture Principle – What can fans look forward to with the 2-hour series finale? Will there be happy ending for all the main characters?
Peter Horton – It’s really interesting because the story of how we came up with the ending is interesting. David Schulner was sitting at breakfast with his daughter Ella who is eleven years old, and she suggested a scene and he just kind of blew it off. He goes into work about a week later and one of the writers, Laura Valdivia came up to him and pitched the exact same scene and literally a week later Erica Green Swafford, who is another writer on the show, came up to him on set in New York and pitched the same ending. So, the ending was meant to be.
The episode itself is a chance for us to complete the picture of our characters. It goes back to each single one of them and why they became a doctor and what is the genesis of the people we’ve fallen in love with for the last five years. Again, ending a series is such a delicate, delicate thing to do. You really have to find a way to just state what the show was and end it with that. For us, New Amsterdam has always been about hope, so it was finding our way to that last moment of the series that ends with that one statement of hope done just in a way that feels satisfying to us and we hope it feels the same to everybody else.
Pop Culture Principle – Each season of New Amsterdam has a theme throughout the season. What would you say the theme of this final season would be? Hope? Closure? New possibilities?
Peter Horton – Well, it ended up being closure. 😊 I mean, initially we weren’t planning on doing closure! 😊 This season was all about finding the end of the series. David Schulner says that a good ending was stated in the beginning. If you really look at each character in that final episode, you find that they do find their way to the end of where they began. There is something really satisfying about that.
The ending of a series is like a really narrow path with steep cliffs on both sides. It’s so easy to fall into sentiment for an ending which is really unsatisfying or falling into depravity where you don’t really give enough to end it. Finding that place right in the middle where there is enough emotion, enough resolution, but enough ambiguity so that it feels satisfying. We really worked hard to try and find that sweet spot and I think we found it and hopefully everyone feels the same.
Pop Culture Principle – Looking back over the five seasons of New Amsterdam, what are you most proud of about the show?
Peter Horton – That’s a great question. I think I’m most proud of the fact that we were able to talk about and dramatize really difficult issues at a really difficult time in our history. Where racism was coming to the surface and rearing its ugly head again or chauvinism, the pandemic, isolation and all of the things that were suddenly in our faces. We happened to have a show, in the guise of a hospital show, where we could talk about all of them and hopefully contribute to the journey of going through them, but possibly the healing that could come from going through it. I think that is kind of a confluence of a show and a time that I am really grateful to have been a part of.
Pop Culture Principle – Five seasons in today’s television landscape is a great run. Twenty or thirty years from now, what would you like the show’s legacy to be?
Peter Horton – One of the cornerstones that I always try for in my work is being able to articulate what it is to be human. That feeling you get when you walk out of a theater or see a television show and there is something in your system that goes man, am I grateful to be human. Just reminds you of something deep inside. I hope the legacy of the show is that. This show really reminded us over and over again what it means to be human and be good.
Thank you to Peter Horton for taking the time to talk with us! You can watch the final two episodes of New Amsterdam this Tuesday on NBC.
**Photos courtesy of Ralph Bavaro/Virginia Sherwood/NBC**