If anyone needs more evidence that creating a popular series is an inexact science, then listen to the story of an actor who narrates and stars in NBC's "Heroes" at 9 tonight on WGRZ-TV.
Sendhil Ramamurthy, who plays Mohinder Suresh, the genetics professor in India whose late father had a list of people with extraordinary abilities, had an extraordinary casting story to tell, too, at an NBC party.
His story shows how one audition can change the world -- or at least the TV world. Born in Chicago and raised in San Antonio, the 30-year-old Ramamurthy studied premed at Tufts University.
"I come from a family of doctors -- my mom, my dad, my sister, my uncle, my aunt," he explained. "We have every medical profession covered. I don't even need health insurance."
He also has an uncle in Lewiston who is a doctor.
Ramamurthy's parents were hoping his love of acting was just "a phase" and he'd eventually join the family business. "Now I play a doctor on TV and I get paid for it," he said between bites of a roast beef sandwich.
He studied acting at NYU and spent six years acting in England, performing in many Shakespearean plays. He came back to the States a few pilot seasons ago to try television. He immediately got a role in "Grey's Anatomy." He tried out for George O'Malley (T.R. Knight's part).
He was told he was wrong for it but said he got a consolation prize.
"They said they'd really like me to play the critical part of Intern No. 2," he joked. He had four lines in the pilot with Sandra Oh and enough fun to return a year later for pilot season and auditioned for "Heroes."
If auditioning for O'Malley was a stretch, then auditioning for the "Heroes" part was even crazier.
"It was kind of a fluke," he said. "When I went in for this part, it actually was written as my father. The character was 55 years old. The father who died was the original character. I thought it was a mistake. I left the audition, went outside and called my agent. I said, 'There are a bunch of older guys here, and me. I know you haven't seen me in awhile but come on -- I haven't gotten that old.' "
The agent told him not to worry about it.
"Tim Kring (the show's creator) liked the audition and he actually went back and rewrote the entire pilot," said Ramamurthy. "He changed the character to be the son of the (older) guy."
Kring gave the casting story an added twist. Asked what impressed him about Ramamurthy's audition, Kring said: "Well, some of it is fairly obvious. I found him charming and striking.
"It was written for a 55-year-old man and he brought this whole other angle to it that I never ever imagined," said Kring. "A light bulb went off. I thought this was a lot more interesting if he was talking about his father and his father died and he followed in his footsteps. I could work with the archetype of the idea of a son trying to fulfill a father's destiny."
"That plays into what the show is. A giant archetype. I think part of the show's success is that people really get who these people are because they are big giant archetypes -- the cop, the cheerleader, the dreamer. In other series, you can't tell one character from another."
Ramamurthy's audition also led Kring to add a narrator. Ramamurthy, whose family is from the southern part of India, said he uses a British accent and a British-Indian accent at times.
"He has one of the most beautiful speaking voices on the planet," said Kring. "It is so gorgeous. There was no narration originally. It wasn't in the script. It came because of him."
Ramamurthy, however, doesn't know what he is narrating. "I'm assured that is going to be explained," he said. "I don't know what it is -- if it is coming from a journal. I have purposely not asked. I don't want to know yet."
He knows what he likes most about his character. "The thing I like the most about it now is the thing I hated about it the most when I first got the part," he explained. "I was totally bummed out that I didn't have a super power. Now I'm glad that I'm the only main character that doesn't have one. I can separate myself from the pack. I just love the seeking quality of my character. He's always out there seeking the truth. There is always this thing -- avenging your father's death and the whole mythology behind it that I find fascinating."
Is he surprised by the show's popularity? "I'm not surprised by the popularity. I'm surprised that it got on the air. Because it is such an expensive show, has a huge cast, there is a lot of (computer graphics) and I thought it would be too expensive for network television. To its credit, NBC took a chance and it paid off hugely."
Now the show about people with the ability to fly, stop time, hear what people are thinking and see the future is threatened by a head-to-head battle with Fox's "24" (9 tonight, WUTV) and superhero Jack Bauer. Is Ramamurthy worried about the future?
"If any of my other cast members say they aren't worried about it, they're lying," he said. "'24' is a great show. But I think there is room for all of us."
The extraordinary head-to-head battle certainly will test that TV theory.