Based on novelist Max Brand's stories, Dr Kildare made its TV debut in 1961 having already appeared in several films since the 1930's.
The TV series was cast with Raymond Massey as Doctor Gillespie, a senior doctor who would be the young Kildare's mentor and William Shatner as the central characters. However, Shatner opted for another part in another show, leaving unknown Richard Chamberlain to step into the central role.
The series began with Kildare and two other doctors, Simon Agurski (Eddie Ryder) and Thomas Gerson (Jud Taylor), taking up new posts at the Blair General Hospital, although the others left after just one season. Blond, blue-eyed, six-foot tall Chamberlain, who in real life had graduated from Pomona College with a degree in philosophy, became an instant hit (especially with the series female following) and within a year the show had an audience of around 15 million viewers.
The programme tackled real-life issues of the moral and ethical dilemmas faced by the medical fraternity, whilst relieving peoples anxiety about doctors and hospitals. The standard format was to have at least two or three storylines per episode. Its closest rival in the US was Ben Casey, which began at around the same time and ended just a few months before Kildare.
After 142 hour-long episodes the dramas gave way to a thirty-minute format. However, with audiences dwindling and the star voicing his dissatisfaction ('I'd worn out every facet'), NBC cancelled the show in 1966. Chamberlain returned to the TV screens with a string of mini-series throughout the 1970's (Shogun, The Thorn Birds) and in 1972 MGM tried to resurrect the series as Young Dr. Kildare, but without success. This was one patient that couldn't be revived.
Published on December 8th, 2018. Written by Laurence Marcus for Television Heaven.