When it comes to television dramas, the right medicine isn't so easy to find.

Medical dramas, long a TV staple, waned for the past several years, after an era when NBC's top-rated  ER (1994-2009) competed with CBS' Chicago Hope (1994-2000) and Fox's top-10 drama House (2004-12).

Why the drop-off?

"I feel like it isn't for lack of trying," says Carolyn Finger, SVP Variety Business Intelligence. "It's just harder than it looks to create a successful medical drama."

But even as they remain scarce on cable and streaming networks, Fox's The Resident (Mondays, 9 ET/PT), which checked in this week, is the most recent in a new wave on major broadcast networks: ABC's The Good Doctor (Monday, 10 ET/PT),  the season's biggest new drama from the creator of  Hugh Laurie's curmudgeonly House; NBC's Chicago Med (Tuesday, 10 ET/PT); and CBS' soon-to-return (but expected to depart) Code Black (May 2, 10 ET/PT). They join stalwart Grey's Anatomy (Thursdays, 8 ET/PT), now in its 14th season, which  until Good Doctor came along was ABC's top-rated drama.

And the success of Good Doctor may spur more interest: Among the earliest pilot pickups for fall, NBC ordered a drama that follows a new director of Manhattan's Bellevue Hospital.

Good Doctor star Freddie Highmore, whose Dr. Shaun Murphy has autism, says the key is a balancing act between sutures and soap, that  "the medical storylines are a hanger on which to place more interesting, important, emotional storylines and arcs for all of the characters involved."

And while Finger points out that ABC was able to successfully spin off Grey's with Private Practice (2007-2013), other more recent entries haven't won over viewers. Quickly failed attempts include CBS' Pure Genius, Fox's The Mob Doctor, NBC's Do No Harm and CW's Emily Owens, M.D

"The viewers have to come," she said, attributing the dearth to "how difficult it is at the networks to create that sustainable hit."

David Bushman, TV curator at the Paley Center for Media, says the recurring push for medical dramas is no surprise. "A little bit of this is predicated on trying to duplicate success." 

But he believes public discussion of health care may be sparking interest in the fantasy version. "What you're seeing now is sort of a reaction to all this conversation ...  and how nervous people are about it. It's also why I think you are starting to see less House and more of The Good Doctor — because people are looking for that reassurance — they're scared about being able to afford (medical care). I think they're looking for friendly doctors with bedside manner." 

Life-and-death stakes lend an urgency to hospital series: ABC's daytime soap General  Hospital has been treating patients for 55 years, even if real doctors can see flaws in their TV counterparts' methods. 

"Everyone goes into it with the hope that you're going to make the medical scenes as realistic as possible," Highmore says. "But very quickly, you realize that you're telling a story at the same time, and you have to take certain creative licenses with each procedure."



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