The Doctors (1963 TV series)

The Doctors
Created by Orin Tovrov
Starring James Pritchett
Elizabeth Hubbard
Ann Williams
David O'Brien
Country of origin USA
No. of episodes 5,155
Running time 30 minutes
Original network NBC
Original release April 1, 1963 – December 31, 1982

The Doctors is an American television soap opera which aired on NBC Daytime from April 1, 1963, to December 31, 1982. There were 5280 episodes produced, with the 5000th episode airing in November 1981. The series was set in Hope Memorial Hospital in a fictional town called "Madison."

From anthology to serial

The Doctors debuted as an anthology series rather than a conventional soap opera, a very ambitious concept for that time. Stories were originally self-contained within one episode and featured various medical emergencies.

Because of the obvious burdens and expense of casting for separate stories each day and due to ratings being lower than expected, on July 22, 1963, stories were expanded to weekly arcs with a new plot introduced every Monday and concluding that week on Friday. This, however, was only marginally more successful than the daily anthology format had been.

Beginning March 2, 1964, The Doctors ceased its experimental anthology format and became a traditional continuing serial, like all the other daytime dramas on air then. For most of the series, storylines revolved around Hope Memorial Hospital and its patriarchal Chief of Staff Dr. Matt Powers (played by James Pritchett), who started on the program on July 9, 1963, although Pritchett originally appeared on the series during its weekly anthology period, in another role. [1]

The cast for the original daily concept, which lasted from the premiere on April 1, 1963 until July 19, 1963, was:[2]

The early cast for the second, weekly concept, which lasted from the premiere on July 22, 1963 until February 24, 1964, was:[2]


In the program's early years, The Doctors was considered to be more risqué in storyline choices than its rival, General Hospital (which premiered on the same day, with a similar premise to TD). While the doctors on General Hospital worked in harmony with one another for the most part and in some cases were intimate friends, the physicians on The Doctors were much more cutthroat. Also, The Doctors incorporated far more incidental humor and realism into its storylines, and remained anchored to actual medical work in its setting far longer than GH did. General Hospital, by contrast, was much more conventional, relying much more heavily on traditional soap devices such as murder trials, melodrama, extensive sexual trysts and affairs, love triangles, and amnesia than The Doctors.

For example, Matt Powers was put on trial for murder, was forced to rescind his Chief of Staff position, and became very depressed. Another doctor took over Powers' spot and immediately schemed to remove his allies, such as Dr. Althea Davis, from positions of influence in the hospital. In another storyline, one doctor's nurse found out that he killed his rival and made it look like suicide. When he discovered that she knew the truth, he tormented her every day at work until she committed suicide herself, allowing him to get away with the murder.

James Pritchett (Matt Powers) and Elizabeth Hubbard (Althea Davis) with ten years worth of scripts on the show's tenth anniversary

Other notable storylines included cancer and drugs. Doreen Aldrich (played by Jennifer Wood and then by Pamela Lincoln) suffered from leukemia, and Joan Dancy (Margaret Whitton) had an addiction to drugs which was believed to have killed her, but it was later revealed that a hospital worker framed a doctor for pulling the plug on Joan's life support machines.

For about the last five years or so, the show began to move away from its early realism and sobriety in plot toward more stereotypically "soapish" writing. For example, one storyline centered around a woman over 60 years old who impersonated her daughter Adrienne Hunt (Nancy Stafford) by taking a special serum that would keep the old woman younger, but caused the death of Billy Aldrich (Alec Baldwin) in the process.

Awards and production

In 1972 and 1974, the serial received a Daytime Emmy for Best Drama. During that period until a new opening sequence was created in 1977, announcer Mel Brandt (who was also known for his announcing the animated "Laramie Peacock" color opening in the 1960s and 1970s) would inform the audience at the beginning of each episode: "And now, The Doctors, (The Emmy-award winning program) dedicated to the brotherhood of healing." The iconic theme song, which stayed with the program through 1981, was composed by in-house musician Robert Israel at Score Productions and debuted with the episode which aired on May 24, 1971.[3]

Episodes of The Doctors were originally taped in black and white at Studio 3B, one of NBC's production studios at 30 Rockefeller Center in New York City. It was the last NBC daytime serial to transition from black and white to color on October 17, 1966.[4] For most of its run, The Doctors was packaged and sponsored by the Colgate-Palmolive company through its Channelex division; in September 1980, NBC took over production in-house when C-P decided to close Channelex. However, C-P continued to buy much of the program's advertising time until its cancellation.

Broadcast history

Original series run

The popularity of The Doctors began flourishing in the late 1960s, when it was featured in advertisements for NBC's 90-minute serial block. NBC first placed the program at 2:30 p.m. Eastern/1:30 Central, where it would eventually air in between Days of Our Lives (starting in November 1965) and Another World (starting in May 1964). When The Doctors premiered in 1963, it replaced entertainment mogul Merv Griffin's first daytime talk show in the 2:30 timeslot, and remained in the slot for nearly sixteen years.

From the late 1960s until the mid-1970s, The Doctors ranked as one of the top five daytime dramas in the United States. It peaked at fourth place in the 1973–1974 television season, behind CBS' As the World Turns and fellow NBC serials Days of our Lives and Another World. However, within a period of three years, The Doctors plummeted from fourth to eleventh in the ratings. The decline in ratings was partly attributed to two serials with which The Doctors shared its timeslot: ABC's One Life to Live and Guiding Light, which expanded to an hour in consecutive years; ABC increased the running time of One Life to Live from 45 minutes to an hour in 1976, while CBS expanded Guiding Light to an hour in length in 1977.

As the 1979 season began, the entire NBC soap opera lineup was suffering in the ratings. While The Doctors was not alone in this, the network began a series of relocations of the veteran serial that year that would amplify the series' ratings trouble. The first move was done to help boost the ratings of Another World, which had fallen off significantly after reaching the top spot in the previous season. In an unprecedented (and since unrepeated) move, NBC decided to extend Another World by an additional thirty minutes in March 1979. The Doctors was moved back thirty minutes to accommodate the switch, but managed to finish just 0.2 points lower in the Nielsen ratings.

In 1980, the producers of Another World launched a spinoff series, Texas. NBC, needing to free up sixty minutes on its schedule and find a place for the spinoff, reduced Another World back to sixty minutes and then chopped thirty minutes off the morning variety series The David Letterman Show, then slotted Texas to serve as the lead-in for its parent series. The Doctors was shifted to 12:30 p.m./11:30 a.m. to serve as the leadoff program for its afternoon serial lineup.

The move, however, did not come without problems. The noon hour would often see affiliates of the three major networks opt not to air their offerings for at least part of, if not all of, the timeslot and usually air a local newscast or some other programming, and The Doctors disappeared from some markets when it made the move. The Doctors finished the 1980-81 and 1981-82 seasons at the bottom of the ratings with a 3.8 rating the first year and a 3.3 rating the next year.

Toward the end of the 1981-82 season, NBC added another soap to its lineup when it acquired the long-running Search for Tomorrow, which had been cancelled by CBS over a dispute regarding its timeslot. NBC was willing to give Search a spot on its schedule at its previously longstanding 12:30 p.m./11:30 Central airtime, and on March 29, 1982 The Doctors moved to noon/11:00 Central. The problems the serial had faced at 12:30 worsened at noon, as local pre-emptions were again problematic. The competition in the markets that did air the series came from ABC's Family Feud and (in some cases) the first half of The Young and the Restless on CBS. The dropoff in ratings, thus, accelerated to the point where the numbers fell below a 2.0. On April 26, The Doctors had its place as the NBC lead-off soap opera taken by Texas, the show indirectly responsible for the drastic decline in ratings; the network made a last-ditch effort to save the struggling Another World spinoff by moving to 11:00 am, which did little if anything to improve its ratings.

NBC eventually cancelled The Doctors (and its lead-in, Texas), and the last episode aired on December 31, 1982. The show once again finished in last place as part of the still-struggling NBC daytime lineup, which failed to see one of its serials finish in the top five in the final Nielsens for a fifth consecutive season. The ratings for The Doctors bottomed out at 1.6, approximately one quarter of what they were just three years earlier.

The ninety minutes freed up by the cancellations of The Doctors and Texas were filled by game shows beginning the following Monday. The Doctors saw its place taken by Just Men!, which was cancelled after thirteen weeks.


For a number of years, there were rumors that reruns of The Doctors would begin airing on The Hallmark Channel, which reportedly had purchased rights to air the reruns. In July 2014, Retro TV announced that it would begin broadcasting reruns of The Doctors in the latter half of the year, starting with episodes from 1967.[5] On September 29, 2014, the network began airing two episodes of The Doctors each weekday, starting at 12 p.m. (ET)/11 a.m. (CT)[6] (which was also the series' last time slot on NBC). Retro TV followed this up by adding two more daily airings of The Doctors reruns at 9 p.m. (ET)/8 p.m. (CT), beginning December 22, 2014.

Just like the reruns of the show which began in September 2014, Retro TV started off with the episode of The Doctors which originally aired December 4, 1967.[7] As of December 2016, episodes airing date from October 1972. The Doctors is distributed by SFM Entertainment, which has 4,865 episodes available for syndication, only 290 episodes short of the entire run.[8]

Proposed spin-off

House of Hope was a proposed spin-off of The Doctors in 1970. NBC Daytime picked up Somerset, the Another World spin-off, instead.A real-life police investigation involving The Doctors was used as the basis for the 29th episode of Cagney and Lacey entitled "Matinee," where a fictional TV soap opera helped solve a murder case.


Core characters during the series' run included:

Several well-known actors and actresses had roles on The Doctors throughout its long run, including:

Among the guest stars on The Doctors were Johnny Carson as himself, Judy Collins as Judith Howard, Tony Randall as himself, and Brooke Shields as Elizabeth Harrington.

Main crew

Some notable writers, producers and directors of The Doctors: Henry Kaplan, Dennis Brite, Douglas Marland, Frank Salisbury, Malcolm Marmorstein, Rita Lakin, Elizabeth Levin, Gerald Straub, Orvin Tovrov, Allen Potter, Joseph Stuart, Robert Costello, Leonard Kantor, Robert Pollock, David Cherrill, Peter Brash, Doris Quinlan, A.M. Barlow, Heather Matthews, Kate Brooks, Ralph Ellis and Eugenie Hunt.

Head writers

Executive Producers

Awards and nominations

Daytime Emmy Award wins

Drama series and performer categories

Category Recipient Role Year
Outstanding Drama Series 1971, 1972 & 1974[9]
Lead Actor James Pritchett Dr. Matt Powers 1978[10]
Lead Actress Elizabeth Hubbard Dr. Althea Davis 1974[9]

Primetime Emmy Award wins


  1. Hyatt, Wesley (1997). The Encyclopedia of Daytime Television (1st ed.). Billboard Books. p. 128. ISBN 0-8230-8315-2.
  2. 1 2 LaGuardia, Robert (1983). Soap World. New York, NY: Arbor House. p. 350. ISBN 0-87795-482-8.
  3. May 24, 1971 theme
  4. TV GUIDE, Volume 14, No. 42, New York Metropolitan Edition
  5. Newcomb, Roger (July 16, 2014). "'The Doctors' Coming to Retro TV Later This Year!". We Love Soaps. Retrieved September 28, 2014. External link in |publisher= (help)
  6. Mulcahy Jr., Kevin (September 28, 2014). "'The Doctors' Debuts on Retro TV With 2 Episodes Each Weekday Starting Monday". We Love Soaps. Retrieved September 28, 2014. External link in |publisher= (help)
  7. Newcomb, Roger (December 22, 2014). "Retro TV Adding Primetime Airing of 'The Doctors' Starting Tonight". We Love Soaps. Retrieved December 23, 2014. External link in |publisher= (help)
  8. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  9. 1 2 "Daytime Emmys - 1974". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2013-02-22.
  10. "Daytime Emmys - 1978". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2013-02-22.
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