What You Don't Know About The Good Doctor

Since the earliest days of the medium, television dramas involving the exploits of doctors have been part of the entertainment landscape, from such venerable series as "Dr. Kildare" and daytime soap "General Hospital" to more recent hits such as "ER," "Grey's Anatomy," and "Chicago Med." With so many offerings over the years, it's become key for a medical drama to have something that sets it apart from others, and "The Good Doctor" certainly fits that bill.

Making its ABC debut in the fall of 2017, "The Good Doctor" follows the exploits of young doctor Shaun Murphy (played by Freddie Highmore), whose brilliance at medicine stems from his autism, his savant syndrome providing him with a near-photographic memory and an almost uncanny ability to detect details that may be imperceptible to others. The series quickly struck a chord with viewers and became a breakout hit. The Guardian, in fact, reported that an October 2017 episode was the most-watched show on U.S. television that week.

Beloved by viewers, there are still many facts about the show that even its most ardent fans may not realize. Read on to learn what you don't know about "The Good Doctor."

The Good Doctor is based on a South Korean series

"The Good Doctor" may have premiered on American television in 2017, but the show's origins actually extend back to 2013. This, noted TV Guide, is when a South Korean TV drama about an autistic surgeon, titled "Good Doctor," made its debut, becoming "a huge, award-winning smash" in the course of its 20-episode run.  

After South Korean-born actor Daniel Dae Kim, then starring in the CBS drama "Hawaii Five-0," learned of the show's success, he nabbed the rights with the intent to create a U.S. version. As The New York Times reported, Kim brought the project to CBS, which commissioned a script but ultimately opted not to proceed. "CBS actually passed on it twice," Kim told the Times. "That was really unfortunate to me, because they were my home studio."

However, Kim didn't give up, instead approaching Sony Pictures Television, which partnered with him and brought in producer David Shore (whose credits include "House" and "Law & Order"). It was then that the project began to attract the attention of other networks, ultimately landing at ABC. The show proved to be an instant hit — just weeks after its premiere, ABC announced the network had ordered a full-season of episodes.

The series was originally intended to have an Asian actor in the lead role

While developing "The Good Doctor" for U.S. television, producer Daniel Dae Kim had some specific ideas about the type of actor he wanted cast as the series' protagonist. "I wanted an Asian lead," Kim told Vulture. "The first time we developed it, it was with an Asian lead." After David Shore came aboard as showrunner, Kim said, during their conversations "it became less clear to him how an Asian lead would work." 

The real deciding factor, however, came when the studio suggested Freddie Highmore, who was just ending his run playing young serial killer Norman Bates in "Bates Motel." As Kim noted, he and Shore both "absolutely loved" Highmore for the role. Once Highmore was cast, it led to a shift in how they approached casting the other characters in the series, with a focus on "creating a diverse ensemble."

Compromising his original vision by casting a non-Asian lead, said Kim, was a practical solution that helped bring the show to the screen. "You can develop every show you want, but if none of them ever see the light of day, what's the point?" he explained to Vulture.

Producer Daniel Dae Kim cast himself in a recurring role on The Good Doctor

"The Good Doctor" represented something of a career shift for Daniel Dae Kim. Up to that point, his Hollywood career had been almost exclusively in front of the camera as an actor (save for directing a 2015 episode of "Hawaii Five-0"), with "The Good Doctor" marking his first credit as executive producer. 

As producer, Kim was able to create a role on the show for himself: Dr. Jackson Han, described by Entertainment Weekly as "St. Bonaventure's brash new chief of surgery" in the series' second season. As viewers of the show will recall, Han did not get along with Freddie Highmore's Dr. Shaun Murphy during the character's four-episode story arc. 

As Kim told Entertainment Weekly, the role was his first in several years, and he found himself more nervous than usual. "I know the quality of David Shore's writing and I wanted to do it justice," Kim said. "I also wanted to be a good scene partner to all my fellow actors and people that I'd known in a producing capacity, so I wanted to service the show."

A lot of research ensures Freddie Highmore's portrayal of an autistic character is authentic

Freddie Highmore's portrayal of Dr. Shaun Murphy's autism in "The Good Doctor" has been met with mixed reactions. A 2018 critique in The Hollywood Reporter, for example, accused the show of depicting autism as a type of "superpower," describing the character as "the poster boy of 'Hollywood Autism.'" On the flip side, a review appearing on the Autism Speaks website applauded Highmore's performance as one that "will resonate with many in the [autism] community."

For Highmore, depicting his character's autism onscreen isn't something he takes lightly. "I'm constantly learning," Highmore told Digital Spy. In addition to undertaking his own research and working with the show's in-house consultant, Dr. Melissa Reiner, Highmore explained that he also speaks with "people who feel that they have a personal connection to the show through autism, and are pleased or thankful that the show is seeking to raise awareness in that way."

As Highmore explained during a panel discussion about the show for The Paley Center for Media, his aim is to "focus not purely on the struggles Shaun faces by having autism, but celebrate the way in which he sees the world differently."

The Good Doctor fan favorite Paige Spara was only supposed to appear in two episodes

One of the most popular characters on "The Good Doctor" is Lea Dilallo, played by Paige Spara, girlfriend (and eventual fiancée) of Freddie Highmore's Dr. Shaun Murphy. While Lea quickly became a key element to the show, this wasn't the initial plan for the character.

According to Pennsylvania's Tribune Live, Spara was initially cast as a guest star partway through the first season — as Shaun's neighbor — but was eventually upgraded to recurring status and then series regular. As she told the outlet, she almost didn't audition for the part, because the opportunity came when she was visiting her mother in Pennsylvania. However, Spara decided to give it a shot, setting up a camera in a bathroom (the room in the house with the best lighting) while her mom read Shaun's dialogue. "She kept reading the stage directions — 'Lea's supposed to brush her hair' — and I go, 'Mom, don't read the stage directions, just read Shaun Murphy, that's all,'" Spara hilariously recalled. However, she gives her mother "all the credit for me getting this job because of her patience that day."

Oh, how we love our moms.

Freddie Highmore initially turned down his role in The Good Doctor

Playing Dr. Shaun Murphy on "The Good Doctor" catapulted Freddie Highmore to a level of stardom he hadn't previously experienced — the byproduct of starring in a hit show on American network television. However, when Highmore was first approached about the role, he turned it down. 

As the actor told Adweek (via Express), when the offer came for "The Good Doctor" he had just wrapped his five-season run as Norman Bates in "Bates Motel," and he wasn't exactly looking to immediately jump into another long-running series. "When you've just finished a show that had been on for five seasons, you're aware of the necessary commitment that is behind it," Highmore explained. As he knew from experience, it's key to "choose wisely because otherwise you could end up on something that you might not want to be doing for years and years." His reluctance to commit to another TV show so soon after finishing "Bates Motel," he said, melted away after discussing the series with showrunner David Shore, who "convinced me that this was going to be a wonderful project to be a part of."

We think he made the right choice, indeed.

The show makes a point of hiring actors on the autism spectrum

Despite the efforts that "The Good Doctor" star Freddie Highmore has taken to deliver an authentic performance as a surgeon on the autism spectrum, the show has been criticized for casting a neurotypical actor as a character with autism. 

However, producers have made efforts to cast actors with autism in the series. One of these has been Alex Plank, who appeared in the 2019 episode titled "Xin." As Distractify pointed out, in addition to acting, Plank is also an autism advocate and founder of Wrong Planet, an "online community" intended to bring together those with autism.

Another autistic actor to be cast on "The Good Doctor" is Coby Bird, who appeared on the show in 2017. The following year, Bird shared a selfie of himself and Highmore on Instagram. In the caption, Bird praised Highmore "for giving a voice to the autism community." Highmore's performance, he wrote, demonstrates that "autism doesn't stop Shaun from living his dream of being a surgeon, just like autism won't stop my dream of acting."

The love interest of Richard Schiff's character is his real-life wife

Actor Sheila Kelley initially appeared on "The Good Doctor" during its first season, playing hospital barista Debbie Wexler, who becomes the girlfriend and, eventually, ex-wife of Richard Schiff's character, Dr. Aaron Glassman.

What makes this particular piece of casting all the more interesting is that Kelley and Schiff are spouses in real life. "I lobbied to get her the job," Schiff joked during a panel discussion at the Paley Center for Media, revealing the idea actually came from showrunner David Shore.

So, how did the married couple enjoy working together? Apparently, very much so. Though Schiff admitted he had been "a little bit nervous" because he and his wife don't act together all that often (although they did once portray an ex-couple on "NCIS"), he said he "enjoyed every second of her being up there with me." On set, the spouses were asked "to flirt with each other on set in front of people," Schiff explained, adding, "My wife was just ecstatic and giddy over the idea." Another bonus to having his wife on set, Schiff quipped, was that she managed to "balanc[e] out" his own "acerbic" nature.

Actors Will Yun Lee and Jennifer Birmingham Lee are divorced onscreen but married in real life

Interestingly enough, Richard Schiff and Sheila Kelley are not the only actors on "The Good Doctor" whose real-life relationship is mirrored onscreen in the show. Will Yun Lee (who plays Dr. Alex Park) and Jennifer Birmingham Lee (who portrays the character's ex-wife, Mia) are actually married. According to a report in Express, the couple wed in 2010, although the outlet noted it was "unclear" how long they were together before that point.

While the pair frequently appear together in each other's social media posts, they've otherwise kept their relationship pretty low profile. One exception, however, has been when discussing their son, who was diagnosed with Moyamoya disease, a condition that affects the arteries in the brain.

Speaking with Los Angeles' ABC7, prior to being cast on "The Good Doctor," Lee happened to watch an episode of the show with his wife. "It was just a scene between Freddie [Highmore] and this young kid and we both just started crying and my wife's like, 'Turn it off! Turn it off!' And cut to about six months later, I was here on this set," he shared. 

Three of the show's surgical residents have actually been British

Television viewers who only know Freddie Highmore for playing American characters Dr. Shaun Murphy on "The Good Doctor" and Norman Bates on "Bates Motel" may not realize that he's actually British. 

In fact, Highmore isn't the only Brit to have portrayed an American physician on "The Good Doctor." Shaun's fellow surgical residents Dr. Claire Browne and Dr. Jared Kalu were played by British actors Antonia Thomas (known for her work in such U.K. series as "Misfits" and "Lovesick") and Chuku Modu (whose credits include "Game of Thrones"), respectively. Modu left the show after the first season, while Thomas exited after the fourth.

As it turns out, Thomas and Modu worked together in another project outside "The Good Doctor," collaborating by writing, producing, and starring in the 2020 short film "Freedom's Name is Mighty Sweet." As Thomas told Deadline, she'd been "trying to spread my wings behind the camera," while she and Modu had "been hatching plans and developing things ... for a while."

Freddie Highmore contributes his talents to The Good Doctor both onscreen and off

One could say that "The Good Doctor" has presented Freddie Highmore with quite the opportunity. After all, Highmore not only plays the series' lead role — he's also one of the show's executive producers, and he's even contributed his writing and directing talents to the show as well: writing the second season premiere episode in 2018. "Hopefully, people won't be able to tell," Highmore told ABC News Radio, explaining how, with different writers, the goal is always for it to appear seamless. Highmore added that he found writing the episode to be both "a wonderful opportunity and a huge honor." One drawback to writing his character's dialogue, he joked, was that "if the lines aren't good you have no one to complain to but yourself."

In addition, Highmore has also directed three episodes of "The Good Doctor." After his first time directing the show, the actor praised the series' "incredibly supportive" cast and crew, telling ABC7 that he'd "love to [direct] more as time goes by."

The star of The Good Doctor doesn't think he'd be a good doctor

The title of "The Good Doctor" isn't meant ironically, thus implying that protagonist Dr. Shaun Murphy actually is a very good doctor. And while star Freddie Highmore has won acclaim for his portrayal of the titular physician, he thinks that if he had to practice medicine in real life he'd probably be pretty awful at it. 

During an appearance on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" Highmore was asked what kind of actual medical knowledge he'd managed to attain thanks to the show. "I think the more I do the show the more dangerous it would be for me to try to do surgery, because I have this fake accumulated knowledge," Highmore admitted, joking that he has to "refrain" from believing he has the same medical skills that his character does. 

In fact, Highmore added, he doesn't even know basic first aid or how to perform CPR. "I just went straight to surgery," he quipped.

The Good Doctor was engulfed in behind-the-scenes drama due to COVID-19

Like just about most scripted television series, "The Good Doctor" was forced to pause production due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the early spring of 2020. As it happened, the Vancouver-shot series was intended to become the first U.S. network television show to resume filming, in the summer of that year — under a series of new, stringent safety protocols, of course.

However, one of those safety measures led to a standoff between the SAG-AFTA union (representing screen actors) and the British Columbia Council of Film Unions. As Deadline reported, the former insisted actors be tested weekly while the latter felt testing that regularly would be "invasive" and potentially violate the province's privacy laws. With neither party willing to compromise, pre-production was shut down and crew members laid off.

Production eventually resumed but not without incident. That fall, "The Good Doctor" star Richard Schiff and wife Sheila Kelley both tested positive for COVID-19. Speaking with MSNBC's "The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell," Schiff revealed he was slowly recovering but that he had been hit hard by the coronavirus. "I cannot stress this enough," he said of the virus, "you do not want this."

Some actors on The Good Doctor also appeared on Fox's House because of the shows' producer

Aficionados of television medical dramas may have noticed that several actors from the Fox hit series "House" have appeared as guest stars on "The Good Doctor." This is far from a random occurrence — it stems from the fact that David Shore produced both shows. 

Shore apparently enjoyed working with his "House" cast so much that he's brought a couple of them over to "The Good Doctor." One of these cast members is Robert Sean Leonard, who played Dr. James Wilson on "House" and guest-starred in a 2019 episode of "The Good Doctor" as a fisherman who seeks medical treatment after the massive swordfish he caught stabs him in an artery.

The previous year, Lisa Edelstein (a.k.a. Dr. Lisa Cuddy on "House") was cast in a recurring role on "The Good Doctor" as Dr. Marina Blaize, a top oncologist who treats Dr. Glassman in his battle with cancer. In an interview with Deadline, Edelstein said she and Shore "had a blast working together on 'House,'" so reuniting on "The Good Doctor" was a no brainer. Her biggest concern, she explained, was "to make sure there's nothing Cuddy about what I do in 'The Good Doctor.'"