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Desperate Couples

Inconceivable finds the heartbreak in infertility—and the comedy.

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At first glance, Inconceivable, the NBC drama about a high-end fertility clinic, seems spliced together from the DNA of other successful shows: ER’s quickstep pace and medicinal hand-wringing; David E. Kelley’s Boston Legal blend of big drama and broad humor; and an unmistakable strand of Desperate Housewives’ winking soap operatics. So it’s surprising to learn that the show’s conception was somewhat more organic: The idea came up at a dinner between two longtime friends and veteran TV writers, Oliver Goldstick and Marco Pennette, both of whom are gay and both of whom have had children with their partners through surrogate mothers. “I wanted to write it as a feature,” says Goldstick. “When I told Marco, he got this look in his eyes. I said, ‘You think it’s a terrible idea.’ He said, ‘No, I think it’s a television show.’ ”

The result is a drama that’s both obvious in its premise and pleasingly deft in its execution: Think Nip/Tuck with sperm instead of scalpels, or Six Feet Under with cribs instead of coffins. Inconceivable’s volatile assemblage of characters ranges from a rogue British charmer, Dr. Malcolm Bowers (Jonathan Cake), to Rachel Lu, the clinic’s sociologist and conscience (played by Ming Na, ex of ER), to Angie Harmon as Dr. Campbell, a boundary-pushing hard case who does a romantic tango with Bowers. The show aims to dissect the moral quandaries around conception, but it’s not all furrowed brows: Expect some spermicidal-based slapstick as well. “That’s a healthy trend in the prime-time landscape,” says Mike Tollin, an executive producer. “You’re blurring the lines between hour drama and half-hour comedy.” But with controversial subject matter, such experiments are risky. “When we sold the show to NBC, tone-wise, they wanted Desperate Housewives,” says Goldstick, a former writer on that show. “But we wanted something closer to David E. Kelley World. This is a subject that for many people is very, very painful. It has to be treated with respect. Six Feet Under handled that balance beautifully. You’d have irreverence and even deaths that we laughed at. But it never mocked the people who were grieving. When the characters came in to bury that person, it had to become real.”

Inconceivable
NBC; premieres September 23 (10 P.M.).


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