LOS ANGELES – Amy Holden Jones isn’t exactly a household name in Western New York.
But the 1971 Buffalo Seminary graduate’s medical series set in Atlanta, “The Resident,” has entered more WNY households than any other Fox scripted drama series this season.
“Really, I did not know that,” Jones said at a Fox party last month.
The success of "The Resident" here is understandable since Buffalo loves hospital shows. ABC’s “The Good Doctor” and “Grey’s Anatomy,” and NBC’s “New Amsterdam” and “Chicago Med” are among the most-watched programs here.
“Of course, it has a lot of hospitals, right,” Jones said.
Jones co-created the Monday series starring Matt Czuchry (“The Good Wife”), Emily VanCamp (“Everwood”) and Bruce Greenwood that focuses on the good and bad practices in medicine.
Her medical expertise is partly the product of being the daughter of a late Roswell Park cancer researcher, Dr. Ralph Jones.
Jones also credits Buffalo Seminary – her best friend there was Lauren Belfer (“City of Lights”) and they keep in touch – with having an influential impact on her life.
“Buffalo Seminary was a fantastic place for me,” Jones said. “It was almost a salvation for me. It was very good for me to go to an all-girls school and in that era – the 70s – it was really hard for women. ... It provided a world we could run and control.”
She was the photography editor of the yearbook, the head of the court of conduct and vice president of the student council.
“We did a lot of stuff that was very empowering,” she said. “I still feel very attached to some of the people at the Seminary.”
The missed diagnosis of her own back problems more than 15 years ago also had a big influence on her writing medical shows. She said her internist sent her to physical therapy. After six months, the pain got so bad she couldn’t lean back. She headed to Google, read there was no such thing as mid-back pain, had an X-ray taken that revealed there was nothing wrong with her back and sought another opinion from “a great diagnostician.”
“He quickly figured out I had pleurisy – which is an infection of the lining of the lung, which is very painful – that caused back pain,” she explained. “Following that, I became interested in how common missed diagnosis is. The realization all the first doctor had to do was listen to my lungs, but doctors don’t do much anymore besides write a prescription and send you to a specialist.”
She read several books about medicine that emphasized the field is driven more and more by expensive tests rather than face-to-face time.
“My father had always said diagnosis comes from the physical exam and taking a very careful history with the patients,” she said.
She concluded that if her first doctor had asked, she would have told him she just had a bad flu and he might have realized it lingered in the form of an infection of the lining in the lung.
A successful screenwriter with a resume that includes “Mystic Pizza,” “Indecent Proposal” and “Beethoven” (one of her favorites), Jones decided she wanted to write a medical series around 2003 when the film business was changing, and television was becoming more interesting.
She was asked if she’d like to write a show in one of the four most popular TV genres – a detective show, a cop show, a medical show or a lawyer show.
“I said I’d like to write a medical detective show,” Jones said. “It was because my father had a floor at Roswell Park with other doctors as they did cancer research. He was a very good diagnostician. … He dealt with people who nobody could find a diagnosis, which is more common than people realize.”
Her first TV pilot was called “The 17th Floor,” a floor designed to diagnose impossible diseases. She said she sold it to CBS, which didn’t want to make it, but wouldn’t let it go to NBC when it tried to buy it.
When the medical drama “House” premiered in 2004 with a similar concept, Jones said her show became obsolete.
She learned some lessons in the process of her medical show being declared dead.
“The game of getting a show on the air is heavily rigged in favor of people who already have shows on the air,” she said. “They know those people can deliver. There is a male-female quality to it, too. At least there was at that time period. Very few shows were created by women on the major networks. So I kept fighting that fight.”
She wrote a medical series in 2008, “HMS,” about Harvard Medical School for the CW that didn’t make it past the pilot stage.
“They picked up a different pilot that did not test well that was about cheerleaders,” she lamented.
She did get a 2014 ABC summer series, “Black Box,” on the air about a brain doctor who was bipolar that was “somewhat inspired by stuff related to my father.”
“My father was bipolar and it was controlled with lithium very well,” she explained. “I think people didn’t realize bipolar is a very treatable form of mental illness.”
“The Resident” came about after a representative of film director Antoine Fuqua (“Training Day,” “The Equalizer”) called and said Fuqua wanted to do a show about a big city hospital “where there are things that go bad as well as things that go well.”
Jones’ response: “I’m the person for you.”
She sold the concept for “The Resident” to Showtime, but the pay-cable network passed. The show was immediately picked up by Fox.
“It has evolved somewhat since the pilot to be much more – it was originally about the young residents who were trying to change medicine and the good doctors trying to make it better,” Jones said. “I’m very aware of how many wonderful physicians there are who want this situation to change.”
A big story line over the first season involved the reluctance of Greenwood’s character to admit his surgical skills were declining while Czuchry’s character felt Greenwood’s character was jeopardizing the lives of patients.
“This year’s second season became much more about the corruption of money in medicine,” Jones said. “The first season was more about this problem that does exist … there are very bad doctors out there and there is almost nothing to stop them, which is kind of ridiculous.”
“Bruce’s character was not unremitting evil, but he was bad,” Jones said. “He is still bad, but not quite as bad as he was. Now he is more money driven. We made him the chief executive officer to make it more about the money, which is a much bigger problem than individually bad doctors. Those are more rare, though they do exist.”
Jones has lived in Los Angeles for 35 years, having met her husband, cinematographer Michael Chapman, when they were both working on Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver.”
She remains a big fan of Buffalo, having moved here when she was 11 years old and living on Cleveland Avenue in the city.
“I think it is one of those cities that I would personally love to live now,” Jones said. “It doesn’t have an over-the-top population, but has an out-sized arts scene, university scene, symphony, art gallery, music. Everything happening without being an overwhelming size.’”
Is there any chance she’d throw something in a script about Buffalo?
“I certainly can try,” Jones said. “We are about to do a snowed-in episode. I could probably mention, ‘What is this, Buffalo?’”
That probably would be greeted as happily as back pain.