Playing Doctor

Playing Doctor : Television, Storytelling and Medical Power

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Prime-time medical dramas have stamped the American mind with an indelible gallery of physicians. Dr. Kildare, Ben Casey, Hawkeye Pierce, Trapper John, and Marcus Welby are more widely recognized than any living physician, and in many cases are more trusted as well. In Playing Doctor, a colorful and highly perceptive history of TV medical series, Joseph Turow offers an entertaining inside look at how these shows were created. He provides a detailed history of the programs, an analysis of changing public perceptions of doctors and medicine, and an insightful commentary on how medical dramas have exploited and even shaped these perceptions. The pressures brought to bear on the creators of prime-time television are various and powerful and, as Turow demonstrates, in no area of TV is this more evident than on medical dramas. Turow excells at depicting the wheeling and dealing among network executives, powerful advertisers, interest groups such as the Catholic Church, egotistical actors, contentious writers and, most notably, the medical establishment. He reveals that, from the very first show--Medic, which premiered in 1954--these programs relied on the medical establishment for authentic locations, expert advice, and official blessing, to convince viewers that what they saw was authentic. But organized medicine's help came at a price--to society as well as to TV storytellers. It gave the AMA and other medical organizations considerable power over scripts. And it encouraged a wide gap between the view of medicine that policy makers (including medical administrators) now hold and the view that TV fiction presents. For instance, television presents medical care as an unlimited resource, but administrators (from the heads of small hospitals to high-ranking government officials) all see medical care as a limited commodity. The gap continues because of TV producers' adherence to outmoded assumptions about the medical world as well as the medical community's reluctance to encourage the public to think about changes in health care. Based on interviews with numerous actors, producers, writers, and television executives--including Larry Gelbart, Vince Edwards, Elliot Gould, Sterling Silliphant, Howie Mandell, and Brandon Tartikoff--Playing Doctor reveals what happens when a powerful American institution tries to guide TV's fictional representation of its members and itself. It is sure to ignite discussion and controversy among people who care about television's role in American society.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 336 pages
  • 157.48 x 228.6 x 22.86mm | 771.1g
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 0195044908
  • 9780195044904

About Joseph Turow

About the Author Joseph Turow is Associate Professor of Communications at the Annenberg School, University of Pennsylvania.
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