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Friday, September 14, 2012

Doogie Howser M.D.

Every classroom in elementary school had that one kid in there who seemed to know all of the answers. They were always the first ones who had their hands up in class, they were always the ones who turned in perfect homework papers, and they were always the ones who managed to master the multiplication tables faster than anyone else in the class...especially the “sevens” section.

I should know from experience. I was that kid. Or, so a lot of people seemed to believe.

I was the kid who always brought their homework in on time. I was the kid who always managed to score a perfect hundred on spelling tests (I'm actually ashamed to admit that I pitched a fit when I received a 95 one particular week). And, yes, I knew my times tables...especially the sevens.

And yes, I let kids copy off of my work. I think I told this story before...oh it is, in case you want a little extra reading.

But I am also the first to admit that I didn't have an ego about my intelligence either...well, except for spelling tests. Oh, heck, I'll admit it. In my thirties, I STILL cringe over words that are spelled incorrectly. I suppose that's part of the reason why I enjoy writing so much.

Because as far as one would like to think that they are the most intelligent person that has ever existed, there is always someone whose IQ is just a point or two higher.

(That is, if you consider IQ to be a fair assessment for intelligence. I don't.)

Besides, I'm about to introduce you to someone who as far as intelligence goes blows myself and about 90% of the global population out of the water. Although he is a fictional character, it's not that hard of a stretch to believe that there can be people who are just like him in the real world.

I never had to take the SAT's in high school, as Canada doesn't currently have a program like that for entrance into college or university. But our case study for today's blog ended up getting a perfect age SIX! Most people can get through high school in four years. Our blog subject breezed through it in a little over two age NINE! Most people graduate from medical school in their mid-to-late twenties. This person graduated from medical school at fourteen...the same age most kids graduate from junior high!

And by the age of sixteen, our blog subject is a full-fledged doctor in a hospital. Too young to buy beer, but able to prescribe drugs to patients who need them.

Yes, we're going to take a look at the life of Dr. Douglas Howser M.D. (but to most people, he's just known as “Doogie”).

The name of the show is ABC's “Doogie Howser, M.D.”, which ran from September 19, 1989 until March 24, 1993 for 97 episodes. The actor who played the title role was, of course, Neil Patrick Harris, who was just sixteen when he was cast.

The show was co-created by Steven Bochco and David E. Kelley (who were also responsible for the ratings juggernaut L.A. Law which had debuted three years earlier). Initially, Bochco was the only showrunner involved with the program, coming up with the concept himself. But he needed someone to help him write the pilot episode. So, David E. Kelley was recruited for the job, and as a result, he earned a co-creator credit.

When it came time to pitch the show, Bochco ended up locking horns with the executives of ABC. The executives were apprehensive about the program, but were more opposed to the idea of Neil Patrick Harris playing the title role. Bochco explained to the executives that Harris was the only actor that they felt could step into the role of a teenage doctor convincingly, but ABC still didn't like him, and wanted the role recast.

Luckily for Neil Patrick Harris, Steven Bochco had a little ace up his sleeve. You see, there was a teensy clause that was written into Bochco's contract, and that contract stated that if ABC canceled the Doggie Howser M.D. Project before it made it to air (which ABC was considering doing at that time), then the network would be responsible for paying Bochco a penalty fee which would end up costing the network thousands...potentially millions of dollars. So, rather than lose a large chunk of their profits and having nothing to show for it, ABC was forced to greenlight the filming of the pilot, despite their dislike of the pilot, and the show's star.

Luckily, test audiences responded positively to the project, and it went to air during the 1989/1990 season.

When the show aired its pilot episode, we're introduced to Doogie as he is taking his driving test. He has just turned sixteen and wants his license more than anything. And at first, the viewer is lead to believe that we're witnessing a standard rite of passage for any teen boy to experience.

That is until they happen to pass by an accident scene in the middle of a street, and Doogie actually stops the car and jumps out to tend to the injured victim of the crash. That's when the viewer picks up on the fact that Doogie Howser is no ordinary teenager.

Sure enough, we soon discover what his real job is. He works as a resident surgeon at Los Angeles' Eastman Medical Center where he prescribes medicine to patients, performs surgery on them, and other medical related things.

Unlike most doctors though, Doogie Howser still lives at home with his parents David and Katherine Howser (James B. Sikking and Belinda Montgomery), or at least he does in the first couple of seasons. Doogie's decision to go into the field of medicine after an incident that happened when he was a baby. Doogie's father discovered suspicious bruises on his son, and as a family physician, he was concerned about his son's health. It was a good thing that Doogie's father was so diligent about checking the bruises. As a result of this, he ended up surviving pediatric leukemia...twice.

And, by all accounts, Doogie makes a fantastic doctor, and he saved quite a few lives during the show's four year run. But, life was not all roses and sunshine for the sixteen year old physician. With Doogie trying to gain acceptance from co-workers and patients and being under pressure to perform potentially life-threatening medical's hard enough to cope with that stress as an adult. Imagine doing that as a teenager!

And, on top of that, he also had to deal with typical teenage angst. How much more could a kid go through?

Luckily, Doogie had his best friend, Vinnie Delphino (Max Casella) to keep him connected to his teenage side, and kept Doogie grounded. After all, Vinnie was the only friend that he let climb in through his bedroom window. And Doogie also had to deal with the stresses that came from dating, having two girlfriends during the series run. One was Wanda Plenn (Lisa Dean Ryan) and the other was Michele Faber (Robyn Lively).

The show was also a bit of a social commentary of sorts, where certain episodes dealt with the biggest social issues of the early 1990s. These included AIDS awareness, racism, homophobia, sexism, gang violence, and access to quality medical care. I think that the show took a lot of risks talking about such sensitive subjects, but did it in such a way that it was sensitive and compassionate towards those who might have experienced these issues themselves.

Unfortunately, all good shows come to an end, and for Doogie Howser M.D., it came in the spring of 1993, when Doogie resigned from Eastman, and moved to Europe. But if Steven Bochco had his way, the last episode would have lasted a whole season, as his plan was for Doogie Howser to rethink his whole career in medicine. But before Bochco could plan the whole season out, the show was canceled. I wonder if it would have worked had it been allowed to proceed.

I suppose we'll never know. But it would be fun to speculate. But one thing that Doogie Howser and I have in common was that we would write our thoughts down at the end of each day on a computer.

Wow...who would have thought that Doogie Howser would have had one of the very first blogs? You learn something new every day.

Coming up next week, we're looking at a character from another show that Neil Patrick Harris stars in...but not the character that he plays.

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