List of Medical TV Shows

By Robert Russell ; Updated September 15, 2017
Alan Alan starred as Hawkeye on M.A.S.H., a TV drama of a mobile army surgical hospital set in '50s war-torn Korea.

Medical dramas have always appealed to the television public. The first medical drama was “City Hospital” that hit the airwaves in 1951. “Medic” was on the air from 1954 to 1956. In the 1960s, “Dr. Kildare” and “Ben Casey” helped to popularize the medical television drama. Medical dramas have evolved over the years, but they continue to remain appealing to the TV-viewing public.

"Marcus Welby, M.D."

"Marcus Welby, M.D" debuted on ABC on September 23, 1969. Robert Young, formerly of "Father Knows Best," starred in its title role. James Rollin played Steven Kiley, the younger doctor on the show. In addition to being highly regarded as a television drama, the show was praised with helping to educate the American public about important health issues. Dr. Welby and Dr. Kiley adopted different approaches to the practice of medicine, and much of the drama revolved around the personality differences of the two doctors. The younger doctor was more conservative and by-the-book, while the older doctor was more unorthodox. The program remained on the air until July 29, 1976.

"M.A.S.H." -- From Movie to TV

"M.A.S.H." first appeared on the big screen in 1970 in a film directed by Robert Altman. The movie was based on a novel by Richard Hooker. The television version aired on CBS on Sept 17, 1972. The program's first-year ratings were so low it came close to being canceled. But in its second year, "M.A.S.H." made it into the top ten and it remained in the top ten for the remainder of its run. Its final episode was a special two-and-a-half-hour event that attracted the largest audience of any television program at the time. "M.A.S.H." blended drama and tragedy with lighthearted humor and comedy, sometimes all in one show. Each episode incorporated multiple plots and story lines. The show featured a large ensemble cast that included Alan Alda, Henry Morgan, Loretta Swift, Wayne Rogers, Jamie Farr, and Gary Burghoff as Radar.

"St. Elsehwere"

"St. Elsewhere" began its NBC run on October 26, 1982 lasting until May 25, 1988. It featured a case of seasoned actors: Ed Flanders, Norman Lloyd and William Daniels with young up-and-coming actors, David Morse, Ed Begley Jr., Mark Harmon and Howie Mandel. Set in a Boston teaching hospital named St. Eligius, “St. Elsewhere” is a slang term used by better-equipped hospitals to speak disparagingly of lesser-equipped ones. The show featured serialized story lines combining realistic drama with elements of black comedy, often carrying over week to week. The show explored personal and professional problems and dealt seriously with life and death issues. "St. Elsewhere" broke new ground in medical television drama and influenced the many medical-based dramas that followed it.

The Drama of "ER"

As an emergency room drama set in Chicago, "ER" is one of the most successful medical television dramas -- it ran for fourteen seasons from 1994 to 2009. Like "St. Elsewhere," "ER" explored the inner workings of an urban teaching hospital. It dealt with critical issues of life and death and the politics of a highly stressed emergency room. According to NBC, "ER" remains the most Emmy-nominated series in the history of television, winning the 1996 Emmy for Best Dramatic Series. The show launched the careers of many now-famous actors including "Falling Sky" star Noah Wylie, Sherry Stringfield in "Under the Dome," "The Good Wife" Julianna Margulies and big screen A-lister George Clooney.

TV's "Scrubs"

"Scrubs" first aired October 2, 2001 on NBC. The show stayed on NBC until 2010 when it switched over to ABC. "Scrubs" represented a different type of television medical show. It emphasized slapstick and humor over television drama. The primary characters on the show were medical interns rather than seasoned doctors. Part of the appeal was the way the show unfolded. The story line was shot and told using daydreams and little vignettes rather than a chronological or soap-opera format. The main character on the show was Dr. John "J D" Dorian played by Zach Braff.

About the Author

Robert Russell began writing online professionally in 2010. He holds a Ph.D. in philosophy and is currently working on a book project exploring the relationship between art, entertainment and culture. He is the guitar player for the nationally touring cajun/zydeco band Creole Stomp. Russell travels with his laptop and writes many of his articles on the road between gigs.