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Last Updated

05 Jan 2003

Source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution, April 22, 2002.

Disease detectives: ABC experiments with CDC drama

By M.A.J. McKenna, Atlanta Journal-Constitution Staff Writer

The breakout hit of the TV season is "CSI." The next could be "CDC."

ABC is filming a pilot for a series about the disease detectives of the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The show, tentatively called "Flashpoint," has been developed for ABC by Touchstone Television, which like ABC is a division of the Walt Disney Co.

Writers at Touchstone declined to discuss the show before May 14, when ABC chooses its line-up for next fall's season. Privately, they said the pilot script focuses on three investigators -- officers in the Epidemic Intelligence Service, the CDC's rapid-deployment force -- and the female supervisor who dispatches them to disease outbreaks around the country.

Staff at the CDC -- including the actual, not-female supervisor, Dr. Doug Hamilton -- are watching with particular interest to see whether "Flashpoint" gets picked up.

The pilot won't be shown publicly unless ABC buys the series, and the CDC has not seen the script.

"Over the years, a number of people have approached us about doing a TV series on the CDC or the EIS officers," said Vicki Freimuth, the agency's associate director for communication. "This is the first one I'm aware of that has gotten to this stage."

The EIS is small -- 146 members this year in an agency whose staff tops 8,000 -- but high-profile: EIS officers are the front-line medical detectives who parachute into an outbreak, solve it, leave and do the same thing again the following week on the other side of the country or world.

The group includes doctors, nurses, veterinarians and Ph.D.s who serve for two years, trading extreme hours and modest salaries for one of the most desirable credentials in public health.

The 51-year-old group investigated the first cases of Legionnaires' disease, hantavirus and AIDS. They were sent to the first major outbreaks of Ebola in Africa and the West Nile virus in New York, as well as to all the sites in last fall's anthrax crisis.

The proposed series builds on the same two TV trends -- law enforcement shows epitomized by "Law & Order" and its offspring and medical dramas such as "ER" -- that produced "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation."