I’ve gotten cozy with a TV channel with the rather obnoxious name of Cozi TV because each day they broadcast re-runs of the award-winning show “Marcus Welby, M.D.,” perhaps my favorite TV show of all-time. I often tape it for later and find it a perfect background when I’m on the computer doing Facebook or surfing. It’s both soothing and interesting, as cozy things often are.
It has been running 169 episodes from 1969-76, years when I had a black and white television in various studenty apartments. Back then it tackled all the issues of the day – most of them unfortunately as relevant today. Marcus Welby (Robert Young – formerly the dad in Father Knows Best) was a man of principle who would fight for what was right. The stories were often courageous. There was the woman whose fiancé dumped her after a diagnosis of leprosy and the woman surgeon who broke that glass ceiling but whose alcoholism brought her back down. Welby battled prejudice against people with mental health issues and might have had the first show about early onset dementia. He reassured men embarrassed by sexual problems. And he defended immigrants and spoke out against racism.
As I watch these shows today I’m pretty amazed at how right-on their approach was. Nothing’s perfect, though. The writers twice screwed up when it came to queer issues – in one episode conflating homosexuality and pedophilia – leading to one of the first successful protest campaigns by the gay liberation movement against a media representation. On the whole, though, I give a big a shout-out to the three writers of the series Max Hodge, Jerome Ross and Jerry de Bono (who was "survived by his partner, Cliff Berry").
Welby’s younger protégé Dr. Steven Kiley was played by James Brolin, the actor who, twenty years later, went on to marry Barbra Streisand. He was the tall, dark, handsome hip young thing – riding around on his motorcycle and all – but politically he was more conservative and personally more stilted than Welby. He was supposed to bring in some sex appeal pizazz, but frankly I was more into nurse Consuelo Lopez (Elena Verdugo). She was the third key character: she ran the office with competence and wit, using her prodigious people skills in her role as the practice’s anchor. We never did find out if she and Welby were getting it on.
No wonder there were enough patients to fill up all those episodes. Not only did Welby et al make house calls, they seemed to work with just one patient at a time. They visited at their patient’s home, hung out all night long if someone was having a spell, and drove hither and yon to find a missing parent or take a weepy sick person to a nostalgic location. They intervened when a spouse had it all wrong or a child was being misunderstood, and helped figure out how to get the costs covered when the patient was poor. Welby, Kiley, and Lopez all lived together – until Kiley got married in the final season – which made it convenient for the patients who were always turning up on their doorstep – one patient per episode.
Cozi TV knows who is watching Marcus Welby M.D. Or at least their sponsors do. It’s all life insurance, stair lifts, arthritis drugs, and reverse mortgages. It’s a channel specializing in black and white re-runs, but the others hold no appeal for me: Maverick, Lassie, The Real McCoys. I love Welby because I can watch it while folding the laundry or cutting up a fruit salad. I also love it because it’s a stroll back in time to the GP medical practice of this mushy, involved, emotional team. I’m old enough to remember family doctors and their house calls when I was a sick kid. Dr. Welby wasn’t my doctor, but a Jewish version of him was. Oh yeah, that reminds me: one Welby episode even deals with anti-Semitism. He really embraced us all.