The Good Doctor is a good show; chances are you probably watch it. In 2018, 47.7 million people watched the ABC drama. In the U.S. alone, season two averaged 6.2 million viewers per episode.
The hospital drama is also a huge hit in the U.K., Australia, Japan, Brazil and countries across Europe, so much so that the series was named the Most Watched Drama in the World by the Monte Carlo TV Festival, knocking out another hospital heavyweight, Grey’s Anatomy. His Serene Highness Prince Albert II, honourary president of the festival, handed out the Golden Nymph statue to two of the series’ stars, Nick Gonzalez and Christina Chang.
Shawn Williamson wasn’t able to accept the trophy in person because the award was presented on the first day of shooting for season three. But “It’s actually in my office at the moment, it’s here 15 feet from me,” he says, before adding “I guess it’ll have to go to Sony eventually.”
Williamson is producer on the series and head of Brightlight Pictures, which develops and produces film and TV programs here in Vancouver. The Good Doctor is the latest of over 100 film and television features produced by Brightlight, including 50/50 and The Interview (with Seth Rogen), Horns (Daniel Radcliffe), 50 Dead Men Walking, The 9th Life of Louis Drax, Passengers (with Anne Hathaway and Patrick Wilson), White Noise (Michael Keaton) and TV’s Wayward Pines.
The Good Doctor is shot here in Vancouver and stars Freddie Highmore as a young surgeon with autism and savant syndrome trying to balance the medical crises of his patients with the more perturbing emotional needs of the people around him.
Williamson says the show resonates with audiences for many reasons. “The show is strong frankly because of beautifully written, elegant scripts and a cast that can pull it off brilliantly. Freddie Highmore is amazing in his role and the directors pull the best performances from their actors. And then there’s the strength of our local crew….”
It’s a show that discusses empathy often and roots for the underdog: the perfect tonic for today’s political climate. “It is accidentally very well timed,” Williamson agrees, noting that given the political shift in North America and in Europe, people are hungry for positive escapism. “We are a show that does appeal as a feelgood escape, and it resonates in many languages,” he says. “Everybody seems to want a warm, empathetic story and a soft, quiet hero.”
The Vancouver shoot is a nice commute for Williamson, who grew up in North Vancouver and still lives in the city. After taking drama classes at Argyle Secondary he landed a job at age 18 at the Arts Club Theatre. “I would love to go back,” he says, “but sadly the pay scales for live theatre and film and television are a little far apart.” He remains active in theatre and sits on the Arts Club’s board of directors.
Vancouver has been a strong player in the film industry for 30 years now and can compete against Los Angeles and Toronto any day. Our products speak for themselves, Williamson notes, but “the problem we’re running into is we just can’t take the volume.” Until recently Brightlight projects alone booked up all the space at Burnaby’s Bridge Studios. “We are very, very fortunate to have an industry that is thriving in our province. We can never take it for granted.”
Right now that industry includes Williamson’s son, who works on the show as a Production Assistant. “I get to see him every day, just in a different environment, which is great,” he says. “It’s nice seeing second and eventually third generations in the industry.”
Williamson’s projects have won several Leos and now a Golden Nymph: so what’s next on the awards bucket list? “Obviously as a kid the international excellence [of] the Emmys and Golden Globes [have] always been the goal, but we would never presume,” he says. The landscape has changed: whereas years ago there may only have been a dozen dramas in competition for the major prizes, now there are strong competitors from the likes of Hulu, Amazon and Netflix added to the mix. “But we’re always hopeful, it’d be awesome!”
Until then, Williamson is quite content with his top-drama-in-the-world status and a handful of still-secret upcoming projects for Brightlight.
“It’s a good year,” he says.