Mental Floss

5 Old School Medical Dramas

Kara Kovalchik
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TV hits are cyclic. There will be a span of five years or so when, for example, medical dramas are all the rage. And even though shows from ER to House have been trumpeted as "redefining the genre," every one of them has borrowed heavily from the handful of classic medical dramas that first acquainted audiences with life behind the surgical curtain.

1. The Medic

The first medical television series that emphasized the physician's skills and the latest technology (rather than the steamy goings-on in the break room) was The Medic, which starred Richard Boone and aired on NBC from 1954-1956. The show's creator (and chief writer), James Moser, had previously worked on Dragnet and used Jack Webb as his mentor. The Medic's scripts were based on actual case histories and the scripts were double-checked by medical professionals. Many scenes during the series were filmed in actual clinics and hospitals in the Los Angeles area, and as a result The Medic became the first prime-time series to show film footage of an actual childbirth. The Medic was ground-breaking in many ways and would probably be better remembered today if NBC hadn't aired it Monday nights in the same time slot as the CBS juggernaut I Love Lucy.

2. Dr. Kildare

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3. Ben Casey

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Ben Casey, the CBS series that challenged Dr. Kildare, was created by James Moser, that stickler for accuracy who was behind The Medic. Unlike intern James Kildare, Ben Casey was a full-fledged resident neurosurgeon on the staff of Metro General Hospital. And unlike the warm, fuzzy, compassionate Dr. Kildare, Dr. Casey was gritty, gruff and demanding. "What are you using for brains?!" he'd bark at nurses during surgery, and he was forever at odds with any rule or hospital official that stood between him and an experimental treatment of a patient. Casey's mentor, and the only hospital official who could "tame" him was Dr. Zorba, played by Sam Jaffee, who'd apparently attended the Larry Fine school of hair styling. Dark, brooding Vince Edwards (who played Ben Casey) became a matinee idol in his own right, while Jaffee's intonation of "Man, Woman, Birth, Death, Infinity" during the series' opening credits have become something of a pop culture icon.

4. Marcus Welby, MD

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5. Medical Center

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Who is your favorite TV medico? Whether old school or new, who is the sawbones you wouldn't mind giving you a complete physical?

For more great TV stories, check out Kara's complete TV-Holic archive.

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