TV, heal thyself

Burt Prelutsky
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Posted: Aug 18, 2006 6:58 AM
TV, heal thyself

I enjoy watching baseball on television, especially when the Yankees are playing. It’s not just the opportunity to watch Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez play the game the way it’s supposed to be played, but the opportunity it provides to listen to the best team of announcers in the business -- Michael Kay, Jim Kaat, and Ken Singleton. Even on those occasions when the Yankees lose, it’s my favorite form of TV fare. As a matter of fact, it’s one of the very few things I bother watching.

Once in a while, I’ll tune in an old movie if it’s on Turner Movie Classics because it means I won’t have to suffer through a slew of commercials. And I’m certainly not immune to the temptations of the “Law & Order” franchise.

But, clearly, I’m not the norm. Understand, I’m not making judgments. If after a hard day at work, you feel like devoting several hours a night to “American Idol,” “Desperate Housewives,” and the mélange of so-called reality shows, it’s no concern of mine. I say, live and let live, watch and let watch.

However, there is one genre whose popularity totally mystifies and even, yes, annoys me. What is it with you people and medical shows? How is it that I and every other normal human being hates going to the hospital even if it’s just to bring candy and flowers to someone who has to be there, but when it comes to TV, you can’t seem to get your fill of smocks and surgical masks?

Let some actor with a stethoscope dangling from his pocket holler, “Code red!” or let some actress run down a corridor carrying those electrical paddles, and you folks start drooling like Pavlov’s dogs.

Westerns came and went, variety shows enjoyed a vogue, even sit coms sort of disappeared until “The Cosby Show” put them back on the map, but even as far back as the 50s, medical shows have been a staple of the medium. Off the top of my head, without resorting to reference material, I bet I can come up with a dozen of them, even though I didn’t watch them. That’s because almost without exception, they were hits, and they hung around for so long that one couldn’t help being aware of them. There was “Medic,” “Marcus Welby,” “Dr. Kildare,” “Medical Center,” “Ben Casey,” “St. Elsewhere,” “AfterMASH,” “Emergency,” “The Nurses,” “ER,” “Chicago Hope,” “House,” and “Grey’s Anatomy.”

I even wrote for a couple, “MASH” and “Diagnosis Murder,” but one was essentially a comedy and the other was a mystery. But, even so, I had to spend a fair amount of time talking to technical advisors to find out, in the first case, what drugs could get a heart started; in the second, what drugs could make one stop; and, of course, to make certain I got all that boring technical jargon down right.

I’ve asked people to explain the appeal of these medical dramas. Boiled down to its essence, the answer seems to be that people live in such dread of falling into the clutches of the medical profession that they require constant reassurance that doctors, surgeons, and nurses, are all dedicated and compassionate. Of course there are always, for the sake of comic relief, those occasionally cynical curmudgeons, but even they are depicted as being, beneath their crusty facades, loveable miracle workers. And if, by chance, you should wind up in the capable hands of that notorious cut-up, Dr. Hawkeye Pierce, he’ll have you busting the stitches from your gall bladder operation with his non- stop wisecracks.

But I have another theory. I suspect that the best thing about these shows is that it allows the audience to spend an inordinate amount of time in hospitals without worrying if their HMO will cover the visit.