The star of “Doogie Kameāloha, M.D.” prepared for shooting the new series in Hawaii by spending 2½ years shooting a different series in Utah.
Peyton Elizabeth Lee played the title character in the made-in-Utah “Andi Mack” for the Disney Channel, and now she’s playing the title character in a “Doogie Howser, M.D.” reboot for Disney+, which starts streaming Wednesday.
“‘Andi Mack’ and shooting in Utah was such an incredible experience for me,” Lee said. “And while, obviously, Utah and Hawaii are incredibly different in pretty much every way, there is something similar about the two experiences.”
When you shoot a show on location, “you only really have your cast and crew there with you,” said the 17-year-old actress. As a result, “you get very close to who you’re working with very quickly. That happened in Utah and that really happened again for me in Hawaii.”
“‘Andi Mack’ was sort of my first time doing any of this,” Lee said. “Going into ‘Doogie,’ having more experience, I definitely was more comfortable.”
The concept of the new “Doogie” is patterned on the 1989-93 original: Lahela Kameāloha (Lee) is a 16-year-old wunderkind who is both a medical doctor and a teenager trying to figure herself out. The show features an updated version of the original theme song with a Hawaiian flair — plus a best friend who climbs in and out of Doogie’s bedroom window, a parent who’s also a doctor (it’s the mom this time), the same journaling at the end of episodes (done in a different way), and the general feel of the original.
You don’t have to have seen a single episode of the original series to appreciate the reboot, “but if you have seen the original, there are all of these little Easter eggs and all of these little times where we pay homage to the original,” Lee said. “And keep, hopefully, the spirit of the original alive.”
She had not seen a single episode of “Doogie Howser, M.D.” while she was growing up. “It was just a little before my time,” Lee said.
Well, more than a little. She was born in 2004, 11 years after the final episode of “Doogie Howser, M.D.” — with a teenage Neal Patrick Harris in the title role — aired.
But when she got the audition for the reboot, “I remember my parents being so excited because they loved the show. I had to sit down and start watching it immediately.”
Executive producer Kourtney Kang (“Fresh Up the Boat,” “How I Met Your Mother”) came up with a simple but genius idea for the shared first names of the lead characters in the two versions — the reboot takes place in the “real” world, where “Doogie Howser” was a show. And the new Doogie gets stuck with the nickname because of that show, “which apparently is a thing that happens sometimes to young doctors,” Kang said.
As production on “Fresh Off the Boat” was winding down, executive producer Melvin Mar was searching for “another show we can do that featured an Asian American lead,” he said. He pitched the idea to the widow and son of Stephen Bochco, who produced the original series. And when they responded enthusiastically, he “called Kourtney Kang, who I equate to a 16-year-old genius, and she did everything else.”
Kang “grew up watching” the original “Doogie” and was a “huge fan. ... And, separately, I’ve always wanted to do a show about my family and my experience.”
Kang — who grew up in Philadelphia, not Hawaii — is the daughter of a white mother and an Asian American father. Doogie’s parents (Jason Scott Lee and Kathleen Rose Perkins) are based on Kang’s parents; the family is based on Kang’s family.
Bochco’s son, Jesse, is a producer/director on the new “Doogie,” and he was instantly taken with Lee during casting. “Peyton blew our faces off, and here we are,” he said.
And the teenager-formerly-known-as-Andi Mack is thrilled to take on a another role that echoes her own life. She, too, is the daughter of an Asian American father and a white mother. (Her father, actor Andrew Tinpo Lee, guest stars in the final two episodes of the 10-episode season.)
“I still have that youthful excitement about it all because this is my dream,” Lee said. And portraying a character this complex “is just all I’ve ever hoped for.”
She feels Doogie/Lahela is “so complex and has all these different layers to her.” Her research for the character included many conversations with Kang. “It was very important for me to know her story and … to keep the spirit of her journey alive.”
And, for the whole team, it was equally important to hold on to the original spirit of Doogie Howser. The producers have been in touch with Neil Patrick Harris, who has been “so supportive of this project and so lovely,” Kang said. They had hoped to have him make an appearance in Season 1, but because of COVID restrictions “it didn’t work out.”
“But he was, like, ‘If there is a Season 2, I would love to come out,’” Kang said. Assuming things go well, the show’s writers are “so excited thinking about all the possibilities of what that could be.”