Marcus Welby, M.D

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Marcus Welby, M.D.

A popular and groundbreaking medical melodrama, Marcus Welby, M.D. aired on ABC for seven seasons, from September 1969 until May 1976, with Robert Young in the title role. A star of the silver screen and well-known for his role as Jim Anderson on Father Knows Best, the sixty-two-year-old Young returned to television after a seven-year retirement to play Welby.

The plots of the hour-long weekly series revolved around the medical cases of Dr. Marcus Welby, a kind-hearted family doctor who ran his office out of his home in Santa Monica, California, and was associated with the Family Practice Center at Lang Memorial Hospital. Welby had an old-school work ethic and treated his patients with respect. After suffering a mild coronary, Welby hired a younger associate, Dr. Steven Kiley (James Brolin), to help him with his workload. Unlike the conservative Welby, Dr. Kiley was a handsome ladies' man who rode his motorcycle to make house calls. Although a generation gap existed between Kiley and Welby, the two doctors shared the same heart of gold. Receptionist and nurse, Consuela Lopez (Elena Verdugo), ran their office.

Much of the appeal of the program surfaced in the way that Welby treated his patients. In 1965 President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Medicare Bill, raising many questions about the degree and quality of health care offered in the United States. Americans worried that they were going to be lost in the bureaucracy of the medical system and that their health would suffer for it. Marcus Welby allayed these fears of depersonalization.

Although Dr. Welby was supposed to be general practitioner, he treated much more than the common cold. The program spearheaded medical issues that raised social, moral, and ethical questions. Welby and Kiley treated ailments such as sickle cell anemia, autism, drug addiction, organ transplants, leukemia, LSD side effects, and mental retardation. Marcus Welby, M.D. even dealt with issues such as abortion and interracial marriage, both controversial topics in the early 1970s.

Little was revealed about Dr. Welby's private life, even though much of the show was filmed in his home/office. There was no Mrs. Welby. In both the pilot film, which aired in March 1969, and during the first season, Marcus Welby had a lady friend, Myrna Sherwood (Anne Baxter); this character was dropped. It was not until the last season that Welby's married daughter, Sandy (Ann Schedeen), and grandson, Phil (Gavin Brendan), appeared on the series.

Romance was saved for the dapper Dr. Kiley. Kiley found a love interest in Janet Blake, the public relations director of Hope Memorial Hospital. They were wed on the episode that aired on October 21, 1975.

Marcus Welby, M.D. was a popular and highly rated series. Many attribute its success to the fact that for the first two years it ran against less appealing programming: a CBS news documentary and often against similar type of programming on NBC. Nonetheless, Marcus Welby, M.D. was ranked the top television show during the 1970/71 season and continued to win a plethora of awards, including a Golden Globe for best television drama and an Emmy. The character of Marcus Welby was resurrected for the last time in the 1984 television movie, The Return of Marcus Welby, M.D. Dr. Kiley did not appear in that feature.

—Lara Bickell

Further Reading:

Brooks, Tim, and Earle March, editors. The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network TV Shows, 1946-Present. New York, Ballantine Books, 1981.

Brown, Les. Les Brown's Encyclopedia of Television. 3rd ed. Detroit, Gale Research, 1992.

McNeil, Alex. Total Television: A Comprehensive Guide to Programming from 1948-1980. New York, Penguin Books, 1980.

Steinberg, Cobbett S. TV Facts. New York, Facts on File, Inc., 1980.

Terrance, Vincent. The Complete Encyclopedia of Television Programs, 1947-1976. New York, A.S. Barnes, 1976.