restricted access 2. "No Compromise with Truth"
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2 “No Compromise with Truth” When James Moser, the creator of Medic, ‹nally got the show on the air in 1954, it was clear to all who cared that the future of the medical drama on television was at a crossroads. Medic wasn’t TV’s ‹rst doctor show, but it was the ‹rst hit prime-time program about a physician. More important, the program was pivotal in the development of the form, as much for what it failed to change in the formula as for the precedents it set. “Realism” was what Moser wanted the show to be remembered for. He saw realism as so important that he actually insisted on living many of his scripts. He wore a hearing aid when writing about deafness, he lay in an iron lung before turning out a script on polio, and he haunted the corridors of Los Angeles County Hospital in search of the kind of realism for which the show had become famous.1 The realism theme made a good publicity hook. The Dow Chemical Company, the half-hour show’s initial sponsor, recognized this from the start. A full-page ad that Dow placed in magazines and newspapers during Medic’s premiere week carried a drawing of a masked surgeon staring at the reader from a television set. The ad’s headline shouted that “Medic starts September 13! ‘No compromise with truth’ makes Medic top television drama.” The copy below the banner supported the claim by pointing to the program’s lineage: . . . Remember the name. Medic. With unparalleled realism and honesty it portrays case histories and carries the of‹cial endorsement of the Los 44 Angeles Medical Association. It is produced under their technical supervision by Worthington Miner, originator of Studio One; created and written by Dragnet writer, James Moser. The Dow Chemical Company is proud to present a program of such exceptional merit.2 An enthusiastic press spread the claim of high-quality realism quickly. Here was a show “whose camera crews had access to nearly every hospital in the [Los Angeles] area,” and whose stories dealt un›inchingly with subjects such as unwed mothers, toxemia and pregnancy , manic depression, and corneal transplants.3 Newsweek called the series “impressive.”4 Look wrote of Moser’s “well-documented scripts,” and emphasized that “details are checked, then double-checked.”5 TV Guide called the program “a new kind of TV shocker” and said that viewers were calling the series unusual, controversial, startling. The popular magazine said that the series “is telling the story of the medical profession without pulling any punches” and emphasized Moser’s deep commitment to his subject.6 For his part, Moser reveled in the praise and promised to maintain the program’s tone. “So far NBC has been pretty broadminded about it,” he told TV Guide a month after Medic’s premiere. “They’re up against something brand new and seem willing to go along, at least until the roof caves in. I don’t think it will.”7 But a year and a half later it did. To understand why, and to follow its implications for the prime-time doctor shows that followed, we have to back up and ‹nd out how James Moser ‹t into the television and medical systems of his day. As with the Kildare ‹lm series, several organizational in›uences that surrounded Moser helped to shape the program . Where Faust had the magazines and movie studios, Moser had the network; where Kildare’s fate rested partly with nervous theater owners, Moser had to be wary of jittery local broadcast af‹liates. Advertisers , absent in the ‹lm industry, played a new and critical part in Medic’s rise and fall. So did the Los Angeles County Medical Association, which previously had not been involved as a major player in theatrical or TV storytelling. It was, in fact, the County Medical Association’s entry into the TV arena that was Medic’s most important legacy. Medic’s advertisers and network pushed Moser into a predicament that virtually invited the use of a powerful medical organization to help produce a “realistic” show. “No Compromise with Truth” | 45 The result was the beginning of a symbiotic relationship between doctor -show producers and powerful medical organizations that was to shape the boundaries of medical portrayals on prime time for decades. As in Faust’s case, however, none of these organizational in›uences adequately explains the creative spark that ignited the idea or the perspective on medicine...


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