“I’m not a doctor, but I play on one TV.” Those words from soap actor Peter Bergman in a 1986 ad for Vicks cough syrup are still some of the most memorable in commercial history, but they also emphasize just how big a role these fake doctors have played in our lives over the years. Medical shows, whether drama or comedy, have always been popular, and the doctors at their core have become some of the most-loved and recognized TV characters of all time.
1. Cliff Huxtable (Bill Cosby, “The Cosby Show”)
Cliff Huxtable was the amiable and bemused center of his household, always ready to deliver advice when he wasn’t at the hospital delivering babies. Bill Cosby’s most indelible character helped the show run for eight seasons from 1984-1992, and it was one of the biggest shows of the 1980s.
2. Doogie Howser (Neil Patrick Harris, “Doogie Howser, M.D.”)
The preternaturally gifted Doogie Howser breezed through school to become a doctor at 16, which meant he had to grapple with the trials of being a teen while also dealing with the adult pressures of the medical world. The show made Neil Patrick Harris a household name, and he’s been in the spotlight ever since.
3. Philip Chandler (Denzel Washington, “St. Elsewhere”)
This NBC drama had its share of young stars on the rise, including Mark Harmon and Howie Mandel, but it was Denzel Washington’s turn as Dr. Chandler that brought an interesting depth to the show and helped catapult Washington to fame.
4. Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce (Alan Alda, “M*A*S*H”)
Adapted from Robert Altman’s 1970 film MASH, the long-running TV series was a slightly softened version of the black comedy about doctors in the Korean War (an obvious allegory for the then-current war in Vietnam). Alan Alda’s Hawkeye Pierce acted as the show’s anchor, using humor to deflect the tragedy around him. The series finale was the most-watched program in American history until the 2010 Super Bowl.
5. Doug Ross (George Clooney, “ER”)
“ER” ran for 15 seasons and rotated a huge number of actors through its cast, but initial star George Clooney was the show’s definining presence early on. Doug Ross was a caring pediatrician willing to break the rules to help people. He left the show during its fifth season.
6. Marcus Welby (Robert Young, “Marcus Welby, M.D.”)
Robert Young’s friendly family doctor first appeared in a movie-of-the-week in 1969 before returning as a series later that year and running through 1976. The themes are dated now, but his character remains one of the most indelible TV doctors of the era.
7. Miranda Bailey (Chandra Wilson, “Grey’s Anatomy”)
“Grey’s Anatomy” has been popular since its 2005 debut, and a big part of that is the supporting work of Chandra Wilson as Dr. Miranda Bailey, whose tough persona helps shape the younger doctors.
8. Julius Hibbert (Harry Shearer, “The Simpsons”)
Always chuckling and seemingly indifferent to the ups and downs of life in Springfield, Dr. Hibbert, a spoof of Cosby’s Huxtable, is one of the most enduring and hilarious characters on “The Simpsons,” and a fan favorite. (Plus he’s the long-lost brother of Bleeding Gums Murphy, and how cool is that?)
9. Leonard “Bones” McCoy (DeForrest Kelley, “Star Trek”)
“He’s dead, Jim.” Leonard McCoy was a staple of the original “Star Trek” TV series and later film franchise, known for his dry humor and comic pessimism. He even put in an appearance in the pilot episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”
10. Gregory House (Hugh Laurie, “House”)
Hugh Laurie was a well-known comic actor in his native England before his performance as the grizzled Dr. House brought him stateside recognition. House is a tough man, but not without compassion for his fellow doctors and for the sick and suffering. The series has remained popular even after six years on the air.