Doctors on Display: The Evolution of Television’s Doctors.

Doctors on Display: The Evolution of Television's Doctors.

This article seeks to both draw attention toward and explain the evolution of television doctors. First portrayed as caring but infallible supermen with smoldering good looks and impeccable bedside manners, today’s TV doctors seem to have regressed. If they’re good looking, they’re arrogant. If they’re competent, they have a god complex. If they are well mannered, they are weak. What happened? The answer may be found in an analysis of our relationship with the televised representations of doctors and medicine over time. One major work has addressed this genre previously. Turow’s tremendous Playing Doctor (1989) captured the production stories and public reception to TV doctors from the first program, Medic (1954), up to the late 1980s with St. Elsewhere (1). This paper extends his analysis and deepens it to include, beyond description, a broad understanding of this genre that would both support past data and explain future data. At first glance, television shows are there for our entertainment. However, to entertain requires a connection with the audience. Television may entertain by distortion; it may “amplify and refine the anxieties, hopes and despair of culture and society,” but the substrate is recognizably ours (2). Arthur Caplan, a bioethicist, argued that “viewers get what they want from medicine on television” (3). The fact of popularity on television in any time and space is a signal that the show powerfully communicates a succinct, if stylized, representation of social preferences vis-a-vis the subject portrayed. It is therefore crucial for the clarity of this study to discuss only the most important, most popular shows. The study is further limited to only the most popular primetime programming where medicine and doctoring is central.

Doctors on Display: The Evolution of Television's Doctors.

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