Lost and Hawaii Five-0 made him famous, but Haverford College grad Daniel Dae Kim's biggest contribution to TV this season has been behind the scenes, as an executive producer on ABC's The Good Doctor, the breakout hit about a young surgeon (Freddie Highmore) with autism that Kim helped develop from a Korean series.
The actor, who was born in South Korea and who grew up in Easton, Pa., graduating from Bethlehem's Freedom High School, first spotted the 2013 Korean show while he was still working on Hawaii Five-0. He bought the rights through his production company, 3AD, and developed it as a project that eventually landed at ABC.
It's the show's U.S. creator, David Shore (House), who's put his stamp on it, Kim said in an interview this month.
"What I do know is how difficult it is in this industry to get a show on the air," he said. "There's so many different stages: getting a script bought by the network, then getting a pilot made, and having that pilot go to series, and then when that series gets on the air, having people watch it. … Each one of these is a hurdle that you have to cross — I always liken it to salmon swimming upstream. You know, thousands will start, but a precious hundred will get to actually spawn."
What he saw in the original Korean series that made him think it would work for American television was that "Number one, it was in the medical genre, and very few formats are as tried and true as the medical drama. And so I thought that was something that could give it an engine in America to keep it going for a long time," he said.
"I also loved the fact that it wasn't just a medical show — it was really a show about character. It was really a human drama, because at its center, we have a character who's not typical, who is not your standard hero, your square-jawed, all-American, succeed-at-all-costs kind of guy. He's someone we haven't seen before, and I was very passionate about bringing those who have been underrepresented traditionally to our screens."
(Last summer, Kim and his Hawaii Five-0 costar Grace Park left the CBS show after being unable to reach an agreement on salary, amid speculation that they had walked over lack of pay equity with their white costars.)
Highmore's character, Dr. Shaun Murphy, has been experiencing challenges as the season goes on that his academic brilliance — he also has savant syndrome — can't help him with. What we're seeing now is Shore's vision, Kim said.
"The Korean series was roughly 20 episodes. In Korea, they don't have long-running series. They're basically extended mini-series. … Our story lines are very different from what the Korean series ended up doing," he said.
"We watched, obviously, all the episodes, but we took the pilot and David, we gave him free rein to create the show he wanted to make," he said. "I'm very fortunate to be working with someone like him, someone who knows the genre as he does. And I'm also just a big fan of his dialogue, and the characters he creates."
He might even want one of them for himself.
"I never thought that I would want to be [Shaun Murphy], but I'm such a fan of the writing and the cast that at some point I would love to act with them," said Kim, who's playing Ben Daimio in the reboot of Hellboy that's scheduled to hit theaters early next year.
Kim said he discovered acting while going to school on the Main Line.
"I entered Haverford as a political science major, but I caught the bug kind of at the end of my sophomore year," and because Haverford shared a theater program with neighboring Bryn Mawr College, "I actually majored at Bryn Mawr, because the theater program there was more established," before moving to New York to do theater and to earn a master's in New York University's graduate acting program, he said.