Deep in the rain forest that Jenna Bans envisions, the best of humanity
struggles to survive amid towering green canopies, giant snakes and
disease. For Bans, the screenwriter who created "Off the Map," the new
ABC medical series currently shooting in Hawaii, the jungle is the
landscape of redemption.
It's also the perfect setting for stories about people Bans has wanted
to bring to television for several years: doctors volunteering in Third
World countries where medicine is practiced with duct tape and a prayer.
"I knew I wanted to tell a story in that vein," Bans said in a telephone
interview. "I felt that marrying those two ideas was a really unique
setting for a show, one we haven't gotten to watch yet, whose story
hasn't been told on television before."
Hawaii will stand in for South America Jan. 12 when ABC premieres the
midseason replacement series on KITV. Bans is co-executive producing the
show along with Shonda Rhimes and Betsy Beers of the popular ABC
medical shows "Grey's Anatomy" and "Private Practice."
The series focuses doctors who are battling "personal demons" and who
have chosen to hide out at the most remote clinic they could find -- in a
remote, fictional village known as "la ciudad de las estrellas," or
"the city of the stars."
They quickly learn that their patients require a different kind of
medicine than what they left behind. And that they'll have to cross
rickety rope bridges, jump off sea cliffs and deal with the elements if
they want to save lives.
The creators consider "Off the Map" an action-adventure series.
"These doctors, unlike those on other medical shows that are on
television right now, are more than just doctors," Bans said. "They are
constantly jury-rigging medical equipment together and MacGyvering
solutions to problems that you wouldn't see in America in a hospital
with a lot of equipment and doctors."
The cast lacks big-name stars, but many of the actors are familiar to TV
and movie audiences. They include New Zealander Martin Henderson, best
known to U.S. moviegoers for "Bride & Prejudice" and "The Ring";
Zach Gilford, who played Matt Saracen on NBC's "Friday Night Lights";
and Rachelle Lefevre of the "Twilight" and "New Moon" films.
Also playing roles are Valerie Cruz from Showtime's "Dexter" and HBO's
"True Blood," Mamie Gummer (HBO's "John Adams"), Caroline Dhavernas
("The Switch"), Jason George ("Grey's Anatomy") and Jonathan
Castellanos, who had guest spots on "Southland" and "Boston Legal."
MUCH LIKE ITS CAST, "Off the Map" has flown under the radar since it
began shooting episodes here in August. It arrived after ABC shot the
series pilot in Puerto Rico last March, then decided against continuing
The network had just finished a six-season run in the islands shooting
"Lost" and producers said the experience was overwhelmingly positive.
ABC knew what Hawaii had to offer and it was a simple plane flight to
Los Angeles. It also had the rights to the state film studio at Diamond
The switch was good for Bans, who has visited South America several times.
"I was always a 'Lost' fan and the look of 'Lost' always stuck with me,"
she said. "It was the exact look I imagined for this show so I always
had this in my head while writing."
The move to Hawaii meant a substantial amount of the one-hour pilot had
to be re-shot, but it was worth it, according to Beers, who has had
success with medical dramas. She serves as executive producer for both
"Grey's Anatomy" and "Private Practice." The show's honchos fell in love
with the cliffs and ocean settings, she said.
"Jenna reworked the story line so that we could take advantage of both
the setting and some of the features you have on Oahu," Beers said in a
phone interview. "It's a very different feel than what we had access to
while we were shooting in Puerto Rico. I think this was just all around a
"Off the Map" has been shooting on unused plantation land near Wahiawa
and Lake Wilson, as well as at Kualoa Ranch. The series set designer
created an entire clinic from scratch and a village with market stalls
and a cantina.
"It's unbelievable the amount of things we have," Beers said. "We have a whole town. A couple of towns, actually."
They also shot an underwater sequence in the 280,000-gallon aquarium at
the Pacific Beach Hotel in Waikiki while nearby tourists enjoyed the
ABC has ordered 13 episodes and neither Bans nor Beers is worried about
competing against shows that have been on the air since September. They
are quick to note that "Grey's Anatomy" was a midseason replacement when
it began in March 2005.
"We see it as an amazing opportunity," Beers said. "And with luck, you
get to debut with a little less competition all around you."
BANS, WHO PITCHED the show to Rhimes and Beers in the summer of 2009,
has been writing for television for eight years. "Off the Map" is the
first show she has developed, however, and it's her job to ensure that a
staff of writers sticks to the tropical tone she envisions.
"I am on fire about every single episode," Bans said. "It's always fun
to see where each episode ends up and see us pushing the stories of our
characters further in every episode. So I'm tired but in an excited way
-- the way you are at a slumber party. A season-long slumber party."