The genre of "medical show" has been a TV staple almost from the beginning (with Dr. Kildare being the first of note). Oftentimes the melodrama can overwhelm, and some scenes were "complete nonsense." Still, the genre created some memorable fictional physicians. Here are a few of the most notable.
“They say that 90% of TV is junk. But 90% of everything is junk.”
I am a product of the TV generation. I’ve watched a lot of television (though not nearly as much lately). And one of my usual viewing partners back then was my physician-dad. It was easy to tell that he enjoyed the medium fully and got much relaxation out of it.
The genre of “medical show” has been a TV staple almost from the beginning (with Dr. Kildare being the first of note). Oftentimes the melodrama can overwhelm, and some scenes were “complete nonsense,” according to dad. Still, dad knew that TV could communicate an important medical fact to a mass audience.
Regarding television viewing, as with most everything else dad advised as a physician: “all in moderation.” That point made, here are 4 TV doctor shows of no particular importance other than dad liked the first 2 and I liked the other 2.
• The Fugitive (1963-1967)
This ABC gem really launched the TV-doctor show into Hollywood lore. It was a smash hit with the TV-viewing nation. Dr. Richard Kimble was “an innocent man falsely accused” of murdering his wife (a one-armed man did it). On the way to the gas chamber, he escapes, only to be relentlessly hunted by the law.
David Janssen, a deeply intense actor, played the doctor on the run. For his performance, he’d become a star and the highest paid TV series actor of his time. The 2-part final episode, "The Judgment," is a cliffhanger action legend—still among the top 3 most-watched TV programs ever (the audience included my dad).
• Medical Center (1969-1976)
For some reason, this one by CBS was a real favorite of dad’s. He probably never missed an episode, and back then they did about 25 a season. I sort of had to watch; dad ruled the TV.
Darkly handsome, confident in his medical reasoning, and something of a fun-lover—not unlike my dad—Dr. Joe Gannon was a physician right out of central casting. Playing the part with gusto was heartthrob actor Chad Everett.
Set in an LA teaching hospital, the program had lasting power, being the longest-running TV medical show in its era. The show mostly advanced the medical profession’s ultimate mission: saving lives every day, which was just fine by dad.
• House, MD (2004-2012)
Dr. Gregory House was a brilliant, drug-addled, misanthrope; played to TV perfection by Hugh Laurie. He was a doctor with genius diagnostic skills, but one who hated patient contact. The program was a tease from the great Sherlock Holmes, who was also a doctor.
A ratings and award winner for many years, I came to the show late, mostly discovering it through re-runs and on Netflix. For a while I was really hooked; I don’t think my father saw one episode.
Laurie, an English native, did remarkable things with the character (epic highs and lows). Seems he had a lot to live up to—his father was not only a distinguished physician, but an Olympic Gold Medal winner (for rowing).
• M*A*S*H (1972-1983)
This CBS program, set in a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital during the Korean War, arrived just as I was discovering the tube on my own. The plot mostly centered on Dr. “Hawkeye” Pierce. The irreverent but skilled US Army surgeon was played with zeal by Alan Alda. It was my first look at a doctor other than my dad.
Perhaps the best-known TV medical show, MASH could be very funny. And many of the program’s actors, and thus the characters, had depth. The show became a ratings and award-winning TV juggernaut. My father watched but wasn’t generally a fan. As a doctor who saw real war, I don’t believe he thought it was a subject for much humor. I know he flat-out hated the 1970 Roger Altman movie on which the series was based.
Which TV doctors are your favorites? Comment below.