In his Sunset Boulevard office, Danny Arnold lights a cigar as thick as a gorilla’s finger. ”One of my last vices,” says the 66-year-old producer-writer, who, having accumulated one set of scars from 30 years in the TV business and another from heart surgery, chooses his passions carefully. One is tobacco; another is Stat, his new ABC comedy about doctors in an urban trauma center, currently in the middle of an apparently successful test run. (The show’s April 16 premiere came in sixth in the week’s Nielsens.)
Arnold, who specializes in low-key, grime-of-the-city humor, suffered a heart attack in 1979 and stopped working after his best-known creation, Barney Miller, ended production in 1982. A brief return with the failed Peter Boyle police ”dramedy” Joe Bash in 1986 didn’t reinvigorate him, and the $50 million settlement he negotiated after suing Columbia Pictures Industries for Miller’s profits allowed him a luxurious retirement. But Stat has ended a life of leisure that he calls ”a high-class, plush death row” and let him correct a 13-year-old mistake; his new series is a contemporized revamping of Arnold’s 1978 hospital sitcom A.E.S. Hudson Street, a five-week flop. The two shows’ main characters even share a name, Tony Menzies.
”I didn’t like the way Hudson Street was going,” Arnold recalls. ”It was too much of a soap opera. But I thought that if I could update it (in Stat) and deal with current problems in medicine, I’d be interested.” That meant creating a 360-degree hospital set and shooting Stat without a studio audience. (The laugh track comes from viewers at a screening of the show.) ”The actors lose the adrenaline flow they get from an audience,” admits Arnold, ”but I gain the ability to use multiple cameras and control the look.” Maintaining control of scripts is harder; Arnold has had to revise some Stat teleplays to keep the show true to his vision. ”When you’re my age and you explain that you want a show to reflect your own experience,” he says, letting a cigar ash fall, ”23-year-olds tend to look at you rather strangely.”