If Marcus Welby were on call today, he'd probably have a heart attack. Today's TV doctors are too busy juggling psychotic patients, sleep deprivation, drug addiction, budget-slashing bosses, supply-closet trysts, ER shootouts, helicopter crashes and hallucinations to practice bedside manners.
There's one matter, though, that they don't have to worry about: employment.
Medical series have never been healthier, with three new network dramas - "Three Rivers," "Mercy" and "Trauma" - joining an already crowded field that includes "House," "Grey's Anatomy," "Private Practice" and "Scrubs," which returns midseason.
"With the big three - the legal show, the cop show, the medical show - they all have kind of built-in stakes," "Trauma" creator Dario Scardapane said. "It's life or death, and nobody's numb to life or death."
MORE ACTIONScardapane doubles down on his bet that viewers won't be bored by ratcheting up the action. The paramedics and docs of his San Francisco-based "Trauma" move at speeds that make the "ER" staff seem to be operating in slow motion. The series kicked off with an in-air explosion that must have cost as much as half of Jay Leno's salary. In "Three Rivers," the Pittsburgh team appears to be fueled on Red Bull, racing cross country in thunderstorms to procure organs in "Beat the Clock" fashion.
REALISM RULES The success of "CSI" has also convinced networks that they can take audiences into the belly of the beast - literally. "I'm struck by how realistic today's medical shows are," said Alfre Woodard, who earned two Emmy nominations in the 1980s for her work on "St. Elsewhere" and now punches in at "Three Rivers." "I don't think we ever actually saw a heart or lung on 'St. Elsewhere.' Now, you know, some of the viewers could practically help with the procedures."
NURSES, TOO. "Mercy" separates itself from the majority of past efforts by concentrating on the nurses rather than the doctors, an approach also taken this past summer by cable's "Nurse Jackie" and "Hawthorne." These underpaid, underappreciated figures, toiling away in New Jersey, offer a blue-collar version of "Sex and the City," with grumblings, gaiety and grogginess exchanged over beer rather than Cosmopolitans.
It's a radical, and welcome, departure from past decades, in which the profession's main function appeared to be servicing the doctors, both in and out of the operating room. "In working on this role, it's become more and more clear that nurses are sort of the backbone of our hospital system," said Taylor Schilling, who stars in "Mercy" as a caretaker who's just back from Iraq. "There's this period of time before the doctor comes in and after the doctor leaves when a patient is with their nurses. It's very, really exciting."
WHERE TO SEE THE SHOWS
"Three Rivers" (Sunday, 9 p.m., CBS/2)
"House" (Monday, 8 p.m., Fox/5)
"Trauma" (Monday, 9 p.m., NBC/4)
"Mercy" (Wednesday, 8 p.m., NBC/4)
"Grey's Anatomy" (Thursday, 9 p.m., ABC/7)
"Private Practice" (Thursday, 10 p.m., ABC/7)
"The Doctors" (weekdays, 9 a.m., WCBS/2)
"The Dr. Oz Show" (weekdays, 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., WNYW/5)