Peyton Elizabeth Lee (third from right) as the new Doogie, with Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman and Mapuana Makia
Doogie Kamealoha, M.D. is a love letter from creator–executive producer Kourtney Kang to her three daughters.
Born in Hawaii to a Korean father and an Irish mother, Kang recalls growing up in the pre–iPad era, when families sat down together to watch TV. So this Disney+ show — a reboot of ABC's Doogie Howser, M.D. — is designed like an '80s family comedy: each episode has a storyline for the parents and another for the kids.
The reboot, renewed for a second season, explores the life of Lahela "Doogie" Kamealoha, a sixteen-year-old prodigy who juggles a medical career and a teenage life. Her family is patterned after Kang's real-life kin.
"My dad's grandparents came over on the first boat from Korea in 1903 to work on the Hawaiian sugar plantations," she says. "My mom came to Hawaii from an Irish family. When I was younger, I would have killed to see a show with a half-Asian girl living in Hawaii."
So Kang made Lahela a half-Asian, half-Irish heroine who has two brothers (just like Kang does). Lahela, played by Peyton Elizabeth Lee, is named after Kang's oldest daughter.
Kang, who says she always wanted to work in entertainment, explored playwriting at Carnegie Mellon but moved to Los Angeles after graduation in search of a TV writing job. She worked as a production assistant, then got her first writing gig on NBC's Coupling in 2003. When that show was canceled, Kang went on to other series, including all nine seasons of CBS's How I Met Your Mother and ABC's Fresh Off the Boat.
The idea for Doogie Kamealoha, M.D. started with two of Kang's colleagues from Fresh Off the Boat, executive producers Melvin Mar and Jake Kasdan. They'd been talking with 20th Television execs about redoing the original Neil Patrick Harris series, but with an Asian female lead.
Mar asked Kang for help, and she suggested the Hawaii setting — and a teen girl who hates being called Doogie. While Hawaii is visually gorgeous, Kang says the show makes it more than a postcard backdrop by sharing the cultural heritage and customs of the Kamealoha family.
As for her real-life family, Kang loved watching the first season of the show with her three girls, waiting for Disney+ to drop a new episode each week — just like the old days.
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine issue #6, 2022, under the title, "Full Circle."