Monday, March 24, 2014

On Call, Vol. 3, No. 1 - From the Hospital Review Board: Romance, Nepotism and Fraternization at St. Elsewhere

From On Call: The Official Newsletter of the St. Elsewhere Appreciation Club, volume 3, number 1, June, 1999.

From the early days of soap operas, hospitals have provided the perfect venue for the art of love, with doctors and nurses proving that they really could "operate" while on duty. In the 1960's, Dr. Kildare and Ben Casey prescribed raging hormones for prime time, and they were followed by '70s hunks Chad Everett (Medical Center) and James Brolin (Marcus Welby). Today, love in the TV hospital is commonplace, as romantic relationships offer us a more rounded view of characters in shows like Chicago Hope and ER.

But it was St. Elsewhere in the 1980s that elevated medical drama libidos to a new high. Nearly every member of the St. Elsewhere ensemble became romantically involved, and many did so several times. The irony is that St. Elsewhere was and still is the model for how television dramas deal with serious, topical issues, and the model for how those issues are advanced primarily inside the four walls of a hospital. Christina Pickles used to hear from fans that St. Elsewhere was "only good when the characters stayed in the hospital." Yet, Tom Fontana, John Masius and the gang managed to fill each season with sex (either direct or implied) that helped to better define the characters and give them deeper meaning to the motivations behind their actions. Speaking with ON CALL publisher Jim Longworth for his upcoming book, Above the Line: Conversations with TV's Top Producers, Tom Fontana explained his approach to character development.

TOM FONTANA ... "Every character that I create, I create three parts to him or her. One is the mind, one is the heart, and one is (for lack of a better word) the genitalia. In other words, what do they think about? What makes them weep and laugh, and what makes them want to make love? That is universal whether they're doctors, cops, criminals, or my Aunt Tilly."

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