Thursday, May 3, 2012

Trapper John, M. D.

Premiering in 1979 as a sort of spin-off of CBS hit M*A*S*H, TRAPPER JOHN, M.D. featured the long-departed 4077 doctor updated to the modern day but saddled with a younger version of himself as well as various other off-the-wall M*A*S*H-like characters. At least that's what it started out to be. 
Conventional wisdom questioned having such a show and not even getting the original Trapper John actor, Wayne Rogers, for the role. It also questioned casting Pernell Roberts, an almost legendarily problematic actor who quit BONANZA at the height of his TV fame because he supposedly didn't like the weekly series grind. 

Somehow or another, all worked. For 7 seasons in fact! It took a little while to find the right feel and the right balance between drama and comedy but eventually TRAPPER JOHN, M.D. took its place as one of the great medical TV shows.

Actor Gregory Harrison, most recently seen on RINGER but then most famous for the TV version of LOGAN'S RUN, co-starred as Gonzo Gates, Trapper's sidekick and yet perpetual thorn. In later episodes, Timothy Busfield appeared as Trapper's son, also. 

  The writers tried to give Nurse Gloria Brancuzzi the M*A*S*H-like nickname of "Ripples" but as the show veered away from that tenuous connection it was, for the most part, left behind. Actress Christopher Norris co-starred in the role from the beginning. Madge Sinclair was later brought in as the head nurse and added a whole new dimension to the series. 

In nearly all of his TV appearances prior to this, Pernell Roberts, long known to be mostly bald, had worn wigs. He decided to go au natural here and the look worked quite well for him, making the aging actor nearly as much a sex symbol as his younger co-star.

 Roberts went on to create a largely unflappable character who achieved some depth just by virtue of being around as long as he was. He was friendly, funny and yet serious when he needed to be.

Initially set up as vague antagonists, Trapper and Gonzo, for most of the series, were the iconoclastic duo taking on the establishment.

Harrison later suffered some personal issues and Roberts still said weird things in interviews but for 7 seasons the pair presided over the best medical series on TV.

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