Excuse the pun, this week marks the end of an ERa. Since 1994, Thursday night’s 10 o’clock hour has been ruled by the NBC medical drama ER, the brainchild of the late doctor-turned-bestselling novelist Michael Crichton. The show, the darling of the Emmy awards (it holds the all-time record with 108 statuettes), takes its final bow this week with a three-hour sendoff.
In honor of the event, Fancast’s editors put together a list of TV’s top 10 doctors. You might be upset that some great practitioners have been left off the list, namely Dr. Kildare and Marcus Welby , M.D. But hey, this was a toughie. We wrestled with some big questions, i.e.: should Dr. Hartley (‘The Bob Newhart Show‘) be included alongside Dr. House? How did ‘Love Boat‘ doc (Dr. Adam Bricker) rate against Dr. Troy of ‘Nip/Tuck‘? We could go on. But in lieu of further debate, we present our TV’s 10 all-time healers – stat!
What do you think?
1. ER: Dr. Doug Ross
When ER debuted in September 1994, George Clooney had been laboring in virtual anonymity, bouncing around movies and sitcoms before achieving mild buzz as rogue bachelor Booker Brooks on Roseanne. It wasn’t until female viewers got a look at his bedside manner as Dr. Ross that his career took off like a runaway EKG.
And despite denials ever since he left the show in 1999, we all knew ER would never have a proper send-off without a last visit from Dr. Doug, just the right prescription for a healthy, sentimental goodbye. Make sure you have plenty of kleenex…
The fictional Boston hospital St. Eligius earned the nickname “St. Elsewhere” because it was the kind of place even doctors were quoted as saying was “a dumping ground, a place you wouldn’t want to send your mother-in-law.” But for Denzel Washington‘s Dr. Chandler, the hospital was home for the entire series run, one of the few characters on the show who stuck it out to the memorable end.
Fortunately for Doc Denzel, he stayed away from the down elevators in the aging building and his career took off soon after the show ended, straight to the penthouse suite.
3. Doogie Howser, M.D: Dr. Douglas “Doogie” Howser
Dr. Doogie (Neil Patrick Harris) was every parent’s dream child. Perfect SATs at six, graduate of Princeton at age 10, and a fully licensed M.D. at 14. What could go wrong? Plenty. When the show aired from 1989 to 1993, Doogie, like all of us, was immersed in the controversies raging at the time: AIDS, racism, sexism, homophobia, senseless violence, acne and, of course, losing one’s virginity.
Still, Doogie managed to have some fun. After the daily rounds, he was really just like every other teenager in America, climbing in and out of bedroom windows in the middle of the night, and trying for a little down time with his favorite squeeze Wanda Plenn (Lisa Dean Ryan.) When the series ended abrubtly mid-season, we never got to know how Doogie turned out. But his alter-ego Harris is doing just fine, still bending time in the futuristic love story How I Met Your Mother.
Poor Mandy Patinkin. The acclaimed Shakesperean duelist had a huge lead over rival Dr. Ross of ER in the name department when the series started. But CBS proved to be too confident when they threw Chicago Hope head-to-head against the NBC series that would come to define the medical drama for the Me Generation. When Chicago Hope moved to Monday nights, the series finally hit its stride.
But Mandy was off to the movies by that time. He shoulda stuck to the PDR. After an unremarkable string of films, Patinkin returned to series TV in Criminal Minds for its first 2 seasons. But nothing since approaches his early promise, except for his channeling Dr. Geiger in those creaky Crestor ads.
We all know Dr. Drew Pinsky is a real doctor who practices on television. It makes for a compelling twist. “My goal was always to be part of pop culture and relevant to young people, to interact with the people they hold in high esteem,” he told the NY Times. After a long career as a radio Doc, with some acting jobs sprinkled in, Dr. Drew finally achieved his goal by making life hell for washed-up Taxi actor, Jeff Conaway.
At least that’s the way it seemed at first glance. Addicted viewers got to see the real Dr. Drew by season’s end, a compassionate, intelligent, and very sober physician. The remedy worked so well, the show even has a spin-off, Celebrity Rehab Presents: Sober House. Now that’s a miracle cure.
Veteran character actor Ho Chow perfectly embodies the kind of Doctor most of us are more likely to see these days, rather than the grandfatherly Dr. Welby or the self-assured Dr. Ross. He’s foreign-born, educated in the U.S. and refuses to return to his home country to treat his native Chinese – a stipulation of his first-class education.
Instead, he’s secure in his perpetual motion practice as head researcher at Testico, a firm dedicated to finding the next Viagra. He shines as the mad scientist for two slacker-roommate-buddies, Peter and Ron (Stephen Markle and Jeff Kassel) who dream of striking it rich as career guinea pigs. Barely concealed contempt for such a forgettable pair is the core of this Doc’s compassionate heart, and as such, he plays as real a Doctor as you will ever see on TV.
If you’re gonna do surgery, you’d better be brushed up on Gray’s Anatomy, the bible for any aspiring cutter with magic hands. The lesson was not lost on series creater Shonda Rhimes when she decided to make the title a play on titles, and the intelligence carries through to main character Dr. Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) who started the show as a lowly intern and steadily rose through the ranks at Seattle Grace Hospital.
But it’s really the non-O.R. lessons learned that captivate audiences, sifting through the upwardly mobile hook-ups (especially with the hunky Dr. McDreamy (Patrick Dempsey.) In fact, the sedative works so well, Shonda wears two surgical caps, helming the popular spin-off Private Practice in her down time.
8. Private Practice: Dr. Addison Forbes Montgomery Shepherd
Any successful Doctor will tell you that after you’ve slogged through years as an intern or a resident, paying your dues, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is the day you open your own private practice. But so far it hasn’t exactly turned out that way for Dr. Shepherd (Kate Walsh.)
Not even the sunny climes of Oceanside can brighten the opposition the good Doctor battles over her “alternative” methods. And, as Doc Shepherd is finding out, it’s not necessarily her enemies she should be most worried about… it’s her friends and family that really need some treatment.
9. Scrubs: Dr. John Michael “J.D.” Dorian
Advertised as “half as long as ER and twice as funny” this medical comedy looks like it’s wrapping up the seven year internship at Sacred Heart teaching hospital in May with a rare one-hour episode entitled, apropriately enough, “The Finale.” Not bad for a show that started out on the peacock network, and was resuscitated after the Writers strike this season on ABC.
If the last show is anything like the first, Dr. Dorian (Zach Braff) will be talking to himself, his love life will still be in shambles, the still-unnamed Janitor will be cleaning his clock and the ending will be both hilarious and heartwarming. Is CBS looking for a few good Doctors?
10. House: Dr. Gregory House
As many shows have proven over the years, nothing lasts forever and the end of ER makes the point all over again. But fans of the medical drama can take heart that the genre is more popular than ever, and House is the reason why. The anti-Dr. Welby character, played to painkiller-addicted perfection by Britcom veteran Hugh Laurie, has fans rooted to the couch every week, five years in to a spectacular run.
Despite his arrogance and feelings of mental superiority, House has obviously learned an important lesson from the staff at County General: surround yourself with the best talent around, shake things up now and then and you’ll find yourself chasing ambulances for years to come. It just goes to show that the world needs a weekly dose of incurable disease, especially the one where we become addicted to great TV.