The year is 1963. The show is called AMERICAN DOCTOR (all caps). Here’s the pitch:
A gritty, patient-of-the-week medical drama that shows the real side of hospital work. The star of the show is a real doctor. That’s right — a real doctor. One who has no acting experience whatsoever. His co-star is a washed-up movie star who has a personal beef with him. In fact, she’s blackmailing him on the down-low in lieu of suing him for malpractice over the death of her son.
No, that’s not the plot of the show. That’s what’s actually going on with the cast behind the scenes.
To continue, the star of the show is an average-looking guy with no acting experience and zero on-screen charisma. The guest star of the pilot episode is a ditzy sex-pot whose sleazy steakhouse-owning boyfriend is funding the series. Additional funding will come from various Los Angeles hospitals in a weird Hollywood payola scheme.
This is not a reality show.
What could possibly go wrong?
Oh, by the way, the star of the show will change every week. Each episode will star a new real-life doctor with no acting experience. The producers haven’t put out a casting call or held auditions. They will just swoop down on hospitals that are up for some good old-fashioned graft and misappropriate a member of their medical staff. Remember, this is not a reality show.
WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO RIGHT WRONG?
Happily for us, AMERICAN DOCTOR is a fictional show dreamed up by author Jane L. Sears in her book Television Nurse. Or possibly TELEVISION NURSE (all caps).
Television Nurse is a wild ride.
Joan Shipley, the titular Television Nurse, is an uptight, joyless young woman who spends her days working as a nurse at an L.A. hospital and her nights pining for the highly Caucasian and barely likeable Dr. Duncan Manley (yeah, that’s his name: Dr. Manley. In case his rugged mid-century virility and stoic reserve gave you any doubts). Dr. Manley has been strong-armed into becoming an actor on a new TV series, AMERICAN DOCTOR (it doesn’t make any sense how or why this happened, so let’s not bother delving into it). Joan, too, has been forced to work on the set of the show, but as a consultant, not an actor.
Joan and Dr. Manley were once an item, but then he went off to Europe and Something Happened. When he returned to the city of angels, he was A Changed Man. His new catchphrase is “I don’t want to talk about it.” It’s his thing.
Joan is not delighted by this turn of events.
The un-Manley competitor for her affections is sentient Relationship Red Flag and steakhouse tycoon Ad Cartwright. Joan thinks very little of Ad … but he makes her laugh and charms her in ways that Dr. Duncan “I don’t want to talk about it” Manley cannot. And though Ad could win a blackout playing the Bad Boyfriend Bingo card, at least he’s interesting.
He’s a bold dresser:
“He was dressed in a bizarre fashion that didn’t surprise Joan. He wore tapered black pants which made his legs look unbelievably long. On his feet were chamois shoes a light coffee shade with the laces untied. His shirt was opened almost to the waist to reveal a V of tanned shining chest. She wondered how many hours he spent in the sun each day.”
He’s emo as hell:
“He began to play his rhapsody, a terrible sadness filling him because he knew it would never sell, that Joan would never hear it or know about it. … She’d created a desire in him to play the melody as he had never played it before, the dramatic swell of chords filling the room, at times subsiding to a sweet, soft, misty melody that was Joan, Joan, Joan!”
He’s a petty, uneducated freeloader:
“His mother had once told him he was constantly dissatisfied because he was lazy and no-good. … Not once had Ad ever helped her [run her restaurant chain], causing her to worry instead by cutting school or getting into street fights or growing a mustache when he was fourteen. He regretted that now, but only faintly. What he regretted most of all was not finishing high school. If anyone found out the truth about him and his background, he’d be ruined. He’d be a laughing stock. That, to Ad Cartwright, was worse than death or bankruptcy.”
And he calls Joan “baby.” A lot. He calls everyone “baby,” in fact. It’s his thing.
In the end, Television Nurse Joan Shipley chooses American Doctor Duncan Manley after she forces Mr. I Don’t Want to Talk About It to talk about it.
The upshot of this disaster of a novel is that author Sears inadvertently invented the reality show genre when, at the climax of the story, Dr. Manley performs thoracic surgery on his detested blackmailer/co-star when she collapses on set, and the director captures it all on camera.
It seems a bit graphic for an early-1960s viewing public, but what do I know? I’m just a regular novelist, not a TELEVISION NOVELIST.
Want to read more like this? My new book, False Memoir: Based on an Untrue Story, combines the high stakes of a gritty psychological thriller with the guilty pleasure of a sensational true crime tell-all. Check it out on Amazon.
Originally published at the-delve.com on February 11, 2019.