It seems viewers can’t get enough of them. To date, there have been more than 100 TV medical dramas and hospital shows produced to sate fans’ appetites: that’s more than one doctor drama a year since people owned TV sets, and counting. But why are we so fascinated with medical shows? Probably for the same reason you get stuck in a three-hour traffic jam after an accident. It’s not because the road is blocked – it’s all the rubbernecking that goes on, with people slowing down to get a better look. Yes, it’s a little sick, and insensitive, but we’ve all done it.
Yet unlike the gore of horror flicks, the (often prime-time) hospital genre has a superiority complex. Both feature heroes, suspense, resolution, emotional attachment, highs, lows and corn-syrup special effects, but the doctors are portrayed as educated pillars of society and, on TV at least, they are painfully good-looking. While viewers enjoy watching them succeed, they also get selfish pleasure in watching them fail (maybe it’s jealousy that they always have the moral high ground, perhaps).
Cue Private Practice. Another offering in the recent bout of successful US doctor dramas (think ER, Scrubs and Nip/Tuck), Private Practice is what Angel is to Buffy the Vampire Slayer – a direct spin-off from Grey’s Anatomy. Kate Walsh plays the central crossover character, Dr Addison Montgomery, a wealthy, world-class neonatal surgeon. So what has happened since the end of season three, and where do we stand as the new series kicks off? ‘There is a little bit of a time jump, but we’re not clear how much time,’ she says. ‘I’d say anywhere between three days and three weeks. I got highlights done in my hair, so it’s been some time.’
The scriptwriters ease viewers back in to the story and promise there’ll be a lot of coupling up in the coming season. ‘There’s Violet and Pete’s wedding,’ says Kate. ‘It’s really lovely and amazing. You kind of see it throughout the first episode, but the question is in the air – what about Sam and Addison?’ Last time we saw these two characters, Addison had just taken her dress off. ‘But it’s very ambiguous,’ Kate recalls. ‘All I would say is for that first episode, you really want to watch every single minute, including the last couple of minutes.’
Creator Shonda Rhimes carefully plans what we’ll see in the show way ahead of time, although Kate doesn’t always agree with her logic. ‘She has an open-door policy and whenever we have questions, at least from my personal experience, we can chat it out. There’s always a reason for the choice a character makes.’
As much as the writer pulls characters in certain directions, there are Twitter groups, forums and blogs dedicated to characters Sam and Dr Addison, urging them to get together. They’ve even developed a Brangelina-style nickname – ‘Addisam’ – but their relationship comes with a twist. ‘I’d love to see Addi and Sam in a relationship, but that’s pretty far-fetched in my world,’ says Kate. ‘It’s a very interesting thing to be like, Okay, I’m going to date my best friend’s ex-husband. I don’t know how anyone does that. But that’s the great thing about being an actor on TV – you get to put yourself in the mind of someone who would do that, and have compassion for them enough to get through the scene.’
There’ll definitely be loads of drama in season four, ratings are high, and it’s easy to tune in mid-season. ‘Sometimes being on Private Practice is like being on eight different movies,’ explains Kate. ‘Each episode is a different movie, in a way.’
Private Practice season four airs on Wednesdays at 7pm on Showseries.
Our top doctor dramas
1 Casualty The longest-running doctor drama in the world was first broadcast in the UK in 1986, and follows the goings-on at the fictional Holby City Hospital (itself the focus of a spin-off series – see below). The show has launched the careers of many aspiring actors: stars who featured before becoming famous include Orlando Bloom, Sadie Frost, Kate Winslet and Minnie Driver.
2 Scrubs This series manages to combine two unlikely bedfellows: hospitals and comedy. Created in 2001, Scrubs plays on the roles of low-ranking surgical interns. Comedy favourite Zach Braff shot to fame playing John ‘JD’ Dorian; Braff and the other cast members were encouraged to ad lib during filming, producing wickedly funny results.
3 Grey’s Anatomy This Seattle-based drama is a controversial entry, overtaking ER – it took all of that show’s best bits and combined them with back-stabbing and mistake-ridden interns. Genius. Now in its seventh series, it has received a slew of industry awards, including three Emmys.
4 Holby City Where do former UK soap stars end up when they’re written out of their show? Holby City, of course. Created in 1999, it has become so popular that guest stars have included Patsy Kensit, Jane Asher and Adrian Edmondson.
5 ER It redefined the doctor drama and jazzed up the genre (spawning movie stars like George Clooney). Set in Chicago and written by Michael Crichton (who also penned Jurassic Park), it began in 1994 and has since won 23 Emmys.
All available to order on DVD from Virgin Megastores.