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 more

Product details

  • Hardback | 336 pages
  • 157.48 x 228.6 x 22.86mm | 771.1g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • 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 more

Review Text

From Medic (1954-55) to St. Elsewhere: a behind-the-scenes look at how hospital/ doctor prime-time TV shows have been created, and how societal mores and sponsors, the medical establishment, and other special-interest groups have influenced them. Turow (Communications/Purdue) interviewed a number of TV executives, writers, producers, and stars, and in a sprightly fashion he details the history of over a dozen medical series from story-concept and research to final episode, laying bare the conflicts, compromises, frustrations, personality quirks, crises, and so on that made the shows what they were. Early series - e.g., Medic, Dr. Kildare; and Ben Casey - were filmed in hospitals, in return for which the AMA, ever alert to the threat of "socialized medicine," reviewed scripts to make sure that the fee-based doctor-patient relationship remained sacrosanct and that the doctor-heroes presented a proper image. (Attempts to tone down Vince Edwards' swaggering, sexy Dr. Casey met with little success.) In those days, advertisers and the networks imposed a number of taboos: cancer, aspirin overdose, V.D., abortion, and the use of black actors as interns. Medic ran afoul of the Catholic Church, which claimed that an episode showing an actual Caesarean delivery was "part of sex education" and hence unacceptable; a number of affiliated stations refused to air it. In the 1970's, shows like M*A*S*H and later Trapper John, M.D. and St. Elsewhere were irreverent, freewheeling, and willing to tackle formerly taboo material. In 1974, even staid Marcus Welby, M.D. had a show featuring a teen-age boy who'd been raped by a male teacher. (This cost the show several sponsers because of gay activist outrage.) A lively, anecdotal, well-researched study that should appeal strongly to media and medical personnel, and to TV buffs. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

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