Oliver Sacks-based medical drama, Dr. Wolf, coming to NBC—Zachary Quinto stars

British neurologist, naturalist, historian of science, and author Oliver Wolf Sacks (1933 – 2015), Milan, Italy, 11th April 2002. (Photo by Leonardo Cendamo/Getty Images)
British neurologist, naturalist, historian of science, and author Oliver Wolf Sacks (1933 – 2015), Milan, Italy, 11th April 2002. (Photo by Leonardo Cendamo/Getty Images) /

A show titled Dr. Wolf has just been given the green light for NBC and will be based on the extraordinary life and studies of Dr. Oliver Sacks. The show will star Zachary Quinto.

If the name Oliver Sacks sounds familiar, that’s because you’ve probably seen the late, great doctor and author’s work on the shelves at your local bookstore. If you’re curious, you should most definitely pick up a copy.

Especially if understanding how the human brain works and why it does those things it does that baffle us, interests you. Sacks’ writings will surely keep you enthralled.

As far as the big screen is concerned, I have no doubt that medical drama fans are no stranger to his story, as he was portrayed also by the late, great Robin Williams in the film Awakenings, which also starred Robert De Niro. In that story, the fictionalized Dr. Sayer (Sacks), experimented with L-Dopa, a medication used for Parkinson’s patients, to treat those suffering from what seemed at the time, like a permanent vegetative state.

If you watched the film or read Sacks’ book—SPOILER ALERT—the patients emerged from their catatonic state only to re-submerge into the depths of the prison they had just briefly escaped from.

What is Dr. Wolf about?

This show will be based on two of Dr. Sacks’ books: The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, and An Anthropologist on Mars. As with Awakenings, for the sake of the show, the main character’s name will be changed to Dr. Oliver Wolf, and as stated above, will be portrayed by Quinto.

Sacks’ obsession with neurological disorders comes through in his writing and in his life. He interned and worked at various hospitals throughout his incredible career and researched the human mind in depth and perhaps beyond it, with a dedication that shone through in every interview, every piece of writing.

He once wrote in his book, The Mind’s Eye (published in 2010), about the wonders of the human mind:

"“The brain is more than an assemblage of autonomous modules, each crucial for a specific mental function. Every one of these functionally specialized areas must interact with dozens or hundreds of others, their total integration creating something like a vastly complicated orchestra with thousands of instruments, an orchestra that conducts itself, with an ever-changing score and repertoire.”"

The incredible life of Dr. Oliver Sacks and why it would make for some epic TV

Born in London, Sacks obtained his medical degree from the Queen’s College in Oxford; that was before moving to the United States to complete his residency at UCLA later on. He did abandon his work early though, deciding first to fly to Montreal in Quebec, Canada.

There he tried to enlist in the Canadian Air Force, but after being rejected he decided to travel and ride his motorcycle across Canada. He later spent years working out his body on Venice Beach’s infamous Muscle Beach and broke a few weightlifting records while at it.

He then returned to his true calling and dedicated himself henceforth to the study of the human brain, as was reported by PBS in 1989 (full documentary below). His life is tailor-made for Hollywood, as the late and tremendously talented Penny Marshall undoubtedly saw when preparing Awakenings for the screen.

Now, with Quinto in the role, we’ll see a different version of the good doctor and set in a different setting entirely.

According to a report at Deadline, this isn’t the first time the doctor’s work has been a point of interest for a series. The project was picked up in another form in 2013, then again in 2019.

The show will focus on the daily life of Dr. Wolf and his team as they delve deeply into the human mind, all the while struggling with their own lives and minds. It’s an interesting concept and if they stick closely to the writing of Dr. Sacks, they should be more than fine.

Awakenings was a hit and is now a classic beloved by many, so the show should do just as well. It’s an exciting time for fans of Sacks and fans of medical dramas in general.

The show has been written by Michael Grassi, who also serves as executive producer for the show. Of course, a lot needs to be hashed out with this whole strike business, but the green light has been issued for this show and the air date is in the future.

Exactly when that will be is still unclear. Fingers crossed though, dear readers.

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Let us know in the comments if you’re as excited as we are about Dr. Wolf!