Playing Doctor

Television, Storytelling, and Medical Power
New and expanded edition
Joseph Turow
A classic look at doctors in television, updated with two decades of new shows and research


Playing Doctor is an engaging and highly perceptive history of the medical TV series from its inception to the present day. Turow offers an inside look at the creation of iconic doctor shows as well as a detailed history of the programs, an analysis of changing public perceptions of doctors and medicine, and an insightful commentary on how medical dramas have both exploited and shaped these perceptions.

Drawing on extensive interviews with creators, directors, and producers, Playing Doctor is a classic in the field of communications studies. This expanded edition includes a new introduction placing the book in the contemporary context of the health care crisis, as well as new chapters covering the intervening twenty years of television programming. Turow uses recent research and interviews with principals in contemporary television doctor shows such as ER, Grey's Anatomy, House, and Scrubs to illuminate the extraordinary ongoing cultural influence of medical shows. Playing Doctor situates the television vision of medicine as a limitless high-tech resource against the realities underlying the health care debate, both yesterday and today.

"Joe Turow's Playing Doctor disquiets and challenges the reader's intellect with cogent analysis of the forces that have shaped television's portrayal of doctors and the medical world. For that alone, it is a fantastic read. But Dr. Turow also pleases the mind with well written and amusing stories, interviews, and behind the scenes anecdotes that bring to life, in an eminently readable style, the fascinating world of TV medicine."
—David Foster, M.D., supervising producer, writer, and medical consultant for House

"Joseph Turow takes us behind the scenes of such hit television series as ER, Grey's Anatomy, and House to reveal the complex relationship viewers have with their beloved fictional caregivers. Turow carefully probes the history of TV medical series and presents a compelling argument for telling more truthful medical stories in the future to reflect—and address—the precarious state of our health-care system today."
—Neal Baer, M.D., executive producer of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit

"The great contribution of Turow's book, in addition to providing a highly readable and smart overview of medical shows over the years, is to examine the consequences of the gap between the reality of medical care and the often romanticized, heroic depictions on television. This would be a very good book for professors to use in teaching a range of courses in communications studies, from introductory courses to more specialized classes on health and the media."
—Susan Douglas, Catherine Neafie Kellogg Professor, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor, Communications Studies Department Chair, University of Michigan

Praise for the first edition of Playing Doctor:

"With Playing Doctor, Joseph Turow has established himself as one of the foremost analytic historians of the interplay between television, its audiences, and other American institutions."
—George Comstock, S.I. Newhouse Professor at the Newhouse School of Public Communications, Syracuse University, in Health Affairs

Joseph Turow is Robert Lewis Shayon Professor at the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania. He was named a Distinguished Scholar by the National Communication Association and a Fellow of the International Communication Association in 2010. He has authored eight books, edited five, and written more than 100 articles on mass media industries. He has also produced a DVD titled Prime Time Doctors: Why Should You Care? that has been distributed to all first-year medical students with the support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Cover image: Eric Dane, Kate Walsh, Sara Ramirez, and crew members on the set of Grey's Anatomy © American Broadcasting Company, Inc.

Praise / Awards

  • "Playing Doctor: Television, Storytelling, and Medical Power is a hit—full of information, analysis, fun, and a bit of fury."
    JAMA, The Journal of the American Medical Association

  • "Turow has provided a detailed look into how our relationship with fictional doctors affects the one we have with our real healthcare professionals...and that's just one of the many topics he touches on.", 10/1/2010 

Look Inside

Copyright © 2010, University of Michigan. All rights reserved.

News, Reviews, Interviews

Read: About the Author New York Times | 8/6/2010

Read: Review Variety | 7/6/2010

Read: Review TV Over Mind | 10/1/2010

Read: Op-Ed "A Perfect Doctor, but Behind the Times," New York Times | 6/14/2011

Watch: Joseph Turow in a video produced by the University of Pennsylvania, discussing depictions of medical professionals in popular television shows, with video clips | YouTube

Media Kit

Product Details

  • 472 pages.
  • 16 images.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Ebook
  • 2010
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-02757-6

  • PDF: Adobe Digital Editions e-book (DRM Protected)

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