The doctor is in. And it’s a good thing for television. Ever since the blurry black-and-white tube invaded homes, the medical show has been the palliative that audiences seem to need. From the clean-cut Dr. Kildare to the acerbic Dr. House, the medicine man has been diagnosing TV drama.
Its earliest renderings included “Marcus Welby, M.D.” who was the kind of doctor you WISH you had. Played by movie actor Robert Young, Dr. Welby would actually listen to his patients and with empathy and authority do his best to cure them.
“Dr. Kildare” was a young intern transposed from radio and two movies, and featured Richard Chamberlain as the earnest Kildare working under the guidance of his august superior.
“Quincy, M.E.,” became the first crime scene investigator to prowl the airwaves — a show that gave birth to all the “CSI’s” that followed. There was “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman,” who saw Jane Seymour tending the ill on the postbellum frontier. Chad Everett was the comely young surgeon working under the sometimes combative eye of his mentor in “Medical Center.”
“St. Elsewhere” not only featured some of the best writing on TV, it introduced Denzel Washington and Mark Harmon as young physicians toiling at a Boston hospital that had seen better days. And, of course, “M*A*S*H” followed the book and Robert Altman’s brilliant film with Alan Alda as Hawkeye and Wayne Rogers as Trapper John. The series (which is still in reruns) was set near the firing lines of the Korean War. And while it was a comedy, it did not obscure the horrors encountered in an Army field hospital.
“Chicago Hope” was writer David E. Kelley’s contribution to the healing world with a sizzling ensemble cast including Mandy Patinkin, Christine Lahti, Adam Arkin and Rocky Carroll. “Doogie Howser, M.D.” boasted a 16-year-old genius as a second-year resident surgeon in an L.A. hospital. And, of course, the biggie, “ER,” which not only ushered in seemingly realistic emergency room care, but introduced George Clooney as the ER pediatrician who raised the temperature of fans. The show was so successful that it enjoyed life-support for 15 seasons and made Clooney a star.
“Grey’s Anatomy” seems to have found the secret to immortality with its 19th season beginning this year. Ellen Pompeo plays the chief of general surgery at a Seattle hospital who copes with the exigencies of the job and her personal life. “Private Practice” marked a spinoff of “Grey’s Anatomy” and survived for six seasons.
The British took a brutish look at the backroom politics of a city hospital in “Bodies,” and the Australians found it hard to be serious with “The Heart Guy,” about a cocky surgeon whose frivolous ways demote him to his hometown and (ugh!) general practice.
But by and far the most popular medic on the tube has been the renegade — the one who breaks the rules in order to mend them. That started with “Ben Casey,” who was so unorthodox that he wore his hospital tunic unbuttoned and talked back to his superiors. Twenty-eight years after his service on the war front, “Trapper John, M.D.” (this time Pernell Roberts) found himself at a San Francisco hospital challenging authority while he succored his patients.
Hugh Laurie, as the pill-popping physician on “House,” not only bucked the rules, he ignored them. And Matt Czuchry as the cocky resident on Fox’s “The Resident,” will release its season five finale on May 17.
Ryan Eggold says he finds his character on NBC’s “New Amsterdam,” “very driven and very altruistic and very sort of out-of-the-box and a little contrary to the way things have been going — rebellious — I guess is the word.”
Rebellious is the word for Dr. Max Goodwin on the show, and for the most popular healers ever on TV. But unfortunately, the situation is terminal for “New Amsterdam” as it will have just one more season.
“For me I think five seasons is a great time to tell this story,” says Eggold. “I think that going 10 or 15 or 20 seasons would not help tell this story. I’m sad to let go of this family I’ve been working with for so many years now, but I am so excited to find a compelling ending to these stories and to share that with the audience and to really bring this show home,” he says.
If television has stumbled on the prescription to successful drama, viewers have no trouble picking it up at the flat-screen pharmacy. From “The Good Doctor” to “Good Sam” to Dick Wolf’s carefully nurtured “Chicago Med,” there are also innumerable medical shows practicing on the streaming sites. Among those hanging up their shingles on the streamers are “Scrubs” (considered the most medically accurate), “The Surgeon,” “Code Black,” “The Healer,” “House,” “Night Watch,” “Body of Proof,” “The Knick,” “Emergency” and “Saving Hope.”
‘Magic’ reveals his secrets in documentary
Basketball great Earvin “Magic” Johnson is the subject of a new four-part documentary which begins streaming on AppleTV+ Friday. Titled “They Call Me Magic,” the series follows not only the two-time Hall of Famer’s successes, but also his failures.
Johnson says he’s cool with that. “I want the highs and the lows to be in this doc, and it is,” he says.
“Everything was not great in my life. But at the same time, that’s what I want everybody to know. You’re going to win and you’re going to lose in life. So, it’s how you come back from when you fail is what’s important. And I’ve always come back.”
One of his less successful enterprises was his talk show, “The Magic Hour,” which was canceled after only eight weeks. “I’m happy that ‘The Magic Hour’ is going to be in here,” says Johnson.
“It would teach a lot of young people, a lot of just regular people, everyday people that, hey, you’re going to have challenges. You’re going to have things that happen that it’s not going to go your way. But you can pick yourself back up and try something else. And then if you think that I’m going to have another late-night hour show, no. I’m not a late-night host. I love being a businessman. And I’m going to just stay in that lane right now, just stay as a businessman.”
Man falls to Earth — again
It takes some guts to try to reconfigure Walter Tevis’ novel, “The Man Who Fell to Earth” for TV. After all, Nicolas Roeg made a peerless film from the novel in 1976 which starred David Bowie as an alien who visits Earth in an attempt to save his species. What more is there to say?
There is more, insists Alex Kurtzman, executive producer, writer and director of the series which premieres Sunday on Showtime.
“The thing that’s wonderful about the questions that Mr. Tevis poses in his novel is that they are timeless,” says Kurtzman. “They are essential questions that humanity at every phase has to ask itself, which is: how do we get to this point here, and what choices are we going to make now if we want to choose to survive?
“And we are obviously at a tremendous crossroads. Everybody feels it every day all over the world. And the idea of getting to try and explore and understand what’s happening and how the choices that we have made as a species have aggregated to the sum total of where we are now, was really the task of the show, was just exploring what that means and what it means to be a human being,” says Kurtzman who is best known for his “Star Trek” contributions from “Lower Decks” to “Strange New Worlds.”
“The character of Faraday as an alien becomes a wonderful prism through which we get to view ourselves because every experience for him is a first,” says Kurtzman.
“He’s like a child having a first piece of birthday cake or experiencing color for the first time or looking at the sky or breathing our air. And because everything is a first for him, he articulates it down to its simplest and purest essence.
“And we often get confused, I think, by the way we process things because life is very confusing. And for him it’s very clear and very binary. And I think that was a really interesting thing because, at the end of the day, if the goal of this show is to try to understand who we are right now, there’s no better prism through which to view it than this alien who sees both the best in us and the worst in us.”
Climber challenges the jungle
Alex Honnold, that crazy climber from the documentary “Free Solo,” who scaled the face of Yosemite’s El Capitan without a rope is back at it. Only this time he’s in the Amazon jungle filming “Explorer: The Last Tepui,” honoring Earth Day on Friday.
A tepui is a table-top mountain usually faced by a steep escarpment. It’s the escarpment that intrigued Honnold. But the real reason for the trek was to deliver biologist Bruce Means to the mountain face to see if it harbors some unknown biological specie.
“I would actually say in this particular case with climbing tepuis, the filming on the wall was actually probably easier than the filming in the jungle to some extent,” says Honnold.
“I think once we made the wall and we were doing the first ascent of this new wall, we all felt slightly more in our element than we did in the jungle … but the film crew really struggled with fogging of the lenses and everything being wet all the time and everything being muddy and impossible to keep things clean.
“Basically, everything was a struggle,” he nods. “And then once we got to the wall, I think for most of us, we were like, ‘Thank goodness!’” The documentary, which streams on Disney+, is part of National Geographic’s “Explorer” series.
(Luaine Lee is a California-based correspondent who covers entertainment for Tribune News Service.)
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