What happens when we die? Does reincarnation exist? Are near-death experiences simply hallucinations created by electrical surges in the brain? Or do near-death experiences (NDEs) provide intriguing glimpses into the great beyond?
"I've never worked on a TV show that's been this exciting for me," says Beals. She praises "Proof" for standing apart from other shows about paranormal phenomena because of its grounding in scientific fact rather than speculative fiction.
FULL COVERAGE: Summer TV preview
Beals ("The L Word," "Flashdance") plays Dr. Carolyn "Cat" Tyler, a hard-edged cardiothoracic surgeon practicing at a Seattle medical center. Although she's highly skeptical about supernatural matters, Cat did have an otherworldly vision when she almost drowned during a medical relief mission to Japan.
While submerged in the ocean and struggling for breath, Cat may have briefly connected with Will (Jared Ager-Foster), her teenage son who died nearly a year ago in an automobile accident. After that experience, Cat occasionally spots a figure wearing a green scarf who eerily appears and disappears.
Modine ("The Dark Knight Rises," "Full Metal Jacket") portrays Ivan Turing, a world-famous tech inventor who boldly parachuted off Mt. Everest and launches rockets into outer space. Now he's dying of cancer, speeding toward "the big dirt nap," as he reveals to Cat while trying to recruit her as a researcher.
Ivan share's Cat's skepticism about a hereafter. But he's obsessed with the topic, understandably, and has the financial resources to advance scientific understanding. "I've always hated unknowns," Ivan admits to Cat. "Now that I'm facing the biggest one there is, I want to know what to expect."
Ivan urges Cat to discover "real proof of what happens after we die" by investigating a series of cases that defy explanation. If she's successful, Ivan will give her complete control of his $10-billion estate. That means Cat's favorite charitycould greatly expand its outreach to patients in need.
Plotlines for the show incorporate findings from academic studies conducted in the Netherlands and at the University of Virginia School of Medicine. "It was important to me to hold onto the scientific point of view," says Beals, who underwent a crash course in surgical techniques and terminology from the show's medical advisors.
So where does she weigh in on the life-after-death issue?
"I believe there is something," Beals says. But what's most important right now, she adds, "is the values by which people live."
Modine describes his hipster, tech guru character as a scientifically curious person seeking definitive evidence of what happens to people when they shuffle off this mortal coil. "He really wants to know either way; if there's something or if there's nothing," Modine says. "He's a very pragmatic person.
"I'm curious myself. How wonderful to find a role that can parallel your own life."
Playing Cat's estranged husband, Dr. Len Barliss, is David Sutcliffe ("Cracked," "Gilmore Girls"). Their marriage broke up when Cat caught Len in bed with a twentysomething pharmaceutical rep.
Joe Morton ("Scandal," "The Good Wife") is cast as Dr. Charles Richmond, the medical center's top administrator who attempts — often unsuccessfully — to rein in Cat's maverick behavior. Thinking a sizable donation for the hospital is on its way, Charles coerces Cat into her initial meeting with Ivan.
Edi Gathegi ("Justified," "X-Men: First Class") portrays Dr. Zedan "Zed" Badawi, a surgical intern and former African refugee who incurs Cat's wrath in the operating room when they try to save a young gunshot victim. But Zed's resourcefulness impresses Cat and she asks him to join her in exploring the metaphysical realm.
Zed is sworn to secrecy, however, because Cat doesn't want their controversial, extracurricular activities to jeopardize her surgical career.
Serving as executive producers are Kyra Sedgwick ("Brooklyn Nine-Nine," "The Closer"), Rob Bragin ("Greek," "Murphy Brown"), Tom Jacobson ("Uncle Buck," "Ferris Bueller's Day Off"), Jill Littman and Alex Graves ("Game of Thrones," "The West Wing"). Graves also directs the pilot episode.
For the Record
May 29, 3:38 p.m.: An earlier version of this article said that "Proof" executive producer Jill Littman has also worked on "Dinner: Impossible." A different Jill Littman has worked on "Dinner: Impossible."
"The subject matter is really vibrant," Jacobson says, and much-debated within the scientific community. "We're exploring one of life's greatest mysteries."
Bragin, who created the show and scripted its pilot, hopes "Proof" will appeal to a wide range of audiences — from people of faith, to atheists and everyone in between — by examining supernatural issues from a rational perspective.
"It's really about asking the questions," Bragin says. For instance, what is the nature of consciousness and does it leave the body? "It's really not about death. It's about life. It's about the journey to find answers, not the answer itself."