His training at French and Mexican medical schools fuels Going to Extremes. His residency inspired St. Elsewhere. And when he left Manhattan to practice medicine in a remote area of New York, the move spawned Northern Exposure. The man whose iconoclastic life has ricocheted through all three medical series created by Joshua Brand and John Falsey is Brand’s childhood friend Lance Luria, ”one of the few people,” says Brand, ”with the courage and humor to live his life off the beaten track. Some people have fish stories. I have Lance stories. He is really my hero.”
Luria, 42, serves as a paid medical advisor for Extremes, but unlike the show’s students, he studied abroad by choice, not necessity. ”I must have been living on Jupiter not to know there was a pecking order against foreign-trained doctors,” he jokes. Ultimately, he returned to the U.S. to get his M.D. from Boston University in 1980.
The next year, as a resident in internal medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, Luria told Brand and Falsey they should do a show about a teaching hospital and arranged for them to observe his work. ”Josh and John got to watch bypass surgery and hang out at 3 a.m. with puzzled residents,” Luria says. On the series that resulted, St. Elsewhere, he offered the cast a crash course in realism that included teaching Howie Mandel (Fiscus) how to use a stethoscope.
In 1986, Luria, and his wife, Lynda, a registered nurse, moved from Manhattan to tiny Middleburg, N.Y., to start a solo practice. If that sounds like a spark for Northern Exposure, the full story is even quirkier. Before his move, Luria had forsaken medicine for three years to become a police officer in New York City. Today, he patrols weekly with the Schoharie County sheriff’s department. A doctor and policeman in a peaceful little town — sounds like a series, doesn’t it? Brand and Falsey thought so too: In 1989, they wrote an unproduced TV movie-cum-pilot called Changing Colors. But the networks rejected the idea of a doctor-cop show, saying it was just too farfetched.
But there may still be another series or two in Luria’s ever-ready-for-prime-time life — perhaps a Western. ”His dream is to have horses,” says Brand, ”and to be the Jewish doctor-cop-cowboy.”