In the issue of TIME that came out last Friday and that was not about Michael Jackson’s Death, I have a column about the rash of primetime medical shows breaking out (rash? medical? get it?), and how they reflect the health care debate going on in Washington. If you’ll journey back with me to 1994, you’ll recall that the last time we had a big health-care reform showdown in Washington, it came amid the high-profile showdown between ER and Chicago Hope. And TV has a history of subtly (or not-so-subtly) reflecting health-care politics:
In the 1960s the American Medical Association–which was vehemently fighting Medicare–signed off on Dr. Kildare and Ben Casey scripts, seeking to promote a positive image of status quo medicine. (By the 1970s, doctors complained that Marcus Welby was too unrealistically wonderful.) …
What’s interesting about the present crop of new (and upcoming–several on the fall network schedule) medical shows is how few of them are doctor shows: rather, they emphasize nurses, paramedics and the other first responders who patients actually see. And those that are about doctors are focused on the anxiety of medical access: in CBS’s Three Rivers, an elite transplant center saves lives, but the wait is long and not always equitable, while the hero of Royal Pains is basically a feudal servant, providing boutique medical chair to the deflating-breast-implants cases—and other rich boobs—of the Hamptons.
That’s not to say that TV is going to decide the debate—ER’s premise, that underinsurance was turning emergency rooms into primary care, didn’t get the Clinton plan passed—but there will be a lot of new shows defining the terms.