If the pun of a title didn't give it away, the Emmy-award winning "Grey's Anatomy" is not the first medical show to captivate television audiences with a surgically constructed combination of science, drama and humor.
"Grey's Anatomy" began in 2005 and has exploded on the TV scene. While the first season was an exploration of the medical part of the hospital, the second and now third seasons have brought in sexual tension, Florence Nightingale effects and more Emmy's than ABC knows what to do with.
While this show has brought some new television story-telling techniques, it is a little brother to the previous medical dramas, the greatest of those being "ER" but also including "House, M.D." and "Scrubs."
"ER" first aired in 1994 as a creation of novelist Michael Crichton (an M.D. himself). Starring George Clooney and Julianna Margulies as Dr. Doug Ross and Nurse Carol Hathaway, respectively, this show was able to take the range of drama from relationships to the operating room and meld them together into not only a coherent story, but also a vastly entertaining and engraining series.
This show is also interesting because every original cast member has since left the show to move on in his or her acting careers. Popular actor Noah Wyle, who portrayed Dr. John Carter, left after the 11th season. It is something of an achievement for a show to lose every cast member from the pilot and still be a viable television series, but the ensemble nature of "ER" allows the writers and producers to create new characters and phase out old ones as audiences become attached to the new ones. It seems to be a viable option, as "ER" will be entering its 14th season in 2007-2008.
This ensemble cast idea most definitely had an influence on the construction of "Grey's Anatomy." Even though Meredith's voice-over narrations provide much of the pleasure of the show, viewers identify with many of the characters, while more permanent characters are added every season. The cast began with only eight characters and then grew to 10 for Season 2 and now includes 12 in the current third season. As the show becomes more complicated and the characters' relationships grow, it's only natural that more characters be added to the mix of the show to interact with and change the relationships of the existing characters.
It will be interesting to see if "Grey's Anatomy" will have the longevity of "ER." The NBC show owes its existence to the serious tone of its program. The drama in the show, whether medical - with lives at stake, or relationship-centered - with hearts at stake, appeals to young adults to middle-agers to baby-boomers. "Grey's Anatomy" does not have that same high-class production value or as serious a cast to accompany it. Time will tell how long "Grey's Anatomy" will remain on the air, but for now it is riding the wave along with another medical television series that breaks all the rules concerned with ensemble television.
"House, M.D.," also in its third season, is a character-driven drama, which focuses more on the medicine and diseases than the relationships between characters. This is not to say that no drama exists.
House tears into his interns, who then tear into themselves and, in the end, always seem to be able to find a solution for the problems of their patients. The stodgy House tempers his rapier wit with a vast knowledge of medicine that makes viewers become repulsed and interested in the character at the same time.
The number of medically themed shows on television makes it one of the most popular genres - with at least three on the air right now. However, the television powers that be were able to find variations to make a mix of emotions and dramatic instances.
"ER" may have been the forbearer, but the torch is now in the hands of a newer breed of shows with star power, love and characters just trying to get by with stress-filled jobs and stress-filled relationships.