||DOOGIE HOWSER, MD
A brilliant doctor faces the problems of being a normal teenager.
97 epsiodes of 60 minutes duration. 1989-1993.
In America, “Doogie” has become shorthand for someone who is considered to be too young to handle responsibility. That’s a rather unfair slap to the television “dramedy” (half-hour comedy-drama) where the term originated.
“Doogie Howser, MD” seems to be implausible on the surface–a teenager who’s a licensed doctor–but there is quite a bit of reality in the situation, and it was helped by the show’s two famed creators–Steven Bochco and David E. Kelley. But credit must also be given to young actor Neil Patrick Harris, who turned Doogie into a flesh and blood character stuck in that space between adulthood and youth.
Bochco and Kelley (see respective Biographies in Television Heaven) created “Doogie Howser” as part of Bochco’s multi-series deal with ABC. Doogie (Douglas) Howser was a gifted child who finished high school in nine weeks, graduated from Princeton University at age 10 and became the youngest practicing physician in the U.S. by the age of 14. His biography was summed up in the opening credits, complete with a synthesizer music theme by Mike Post. And yes, there was a real-life Doogie Howser–sort of. His name was Howard Zucker, and he became a doctor at the relatively young age of 22. (Zucker reportedly had a cousin who worked as an ABC programmer. Bochco has also said the show was inspired in part by his father, who was a violin protégé.)
When the series premiered on September 19th, 1989, Doogie was 16 years old and practiced medicine at Los Angeles’ Eastman Medical Center. He lived with his parents Katherine (Belinda Montgomery) and his father, Dr. David Howser (played by James B. Sikking, who also portrayed gun-ho SWAT Lieutenant Howard Hunter on “Hill Street Blues”). Yet while Doogie had adult responsibilities, physically and emotionally he was a teenager–too smart for his age group yet too young for some adults to take seriously. And as with most teens, Doogie experienced the ups and downs of love and adolescent lust.
His closest friend was Vinnie Delpino (Max Casella), a fellow teen who climbed the tree outside the Howser home and entered Doogie’s bedroom through the second-story window. A budding film director, Vinnie was also an eternally sex-crazed teen. The more mature Doogie had a girlfriend, Wanda Plenn (Lisa Dean Ryan). For most of the show’s run, though the pair went through the usual adolescent angst. (And as was typical of series at the time, Doogie lost his virginity--with Wanda in Season Three.)
Each episode concluded with Doogie typing the lessons he had learned in that episode into his computer diary. Done on an early IBM PC clone, Doogie’s “journal” was an early example of blogging (before the Internet, no less!)
“Doogie Howser, MD” was a moderate hit but ran for just four seasons; Bochco later said he was unable to write a series finale because ABC abruptly cancelled the series. If he had the chance, Bochco would have created a storyline where Doogie becomes disillusioned about being a doctor and switched careers to become a writer. As it was, the final episode was shown to American audiences March 24th, 1993.
Harris took on various roles in television, stage and film after “Doogie;” he parodied his television persona in the 1994 movie comedy “Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle” (aka “Harold and Kumar Get The Munchies”) by playing himself as a drug addict who steals the main characters’ car!
In 1999 Harris returned to television with the short-lived NBC comedy “Stark Raving Mad” (which also co-starred a pre-“Monk” Tony Shalhoub”), and later guest-starred on “Will & Grace” as the head of a group for “former” homosexuals. But in 2005, he came back to TV with a very funny performance as womanizing Barney Stinson on the CBS ensemble comedy “How I Met Your Mother.” (Barney’s catchphrase: “Suit up!”) In 2006, a Canadian website reported that Harris was having a relationship with a fellow actor. A day later, Harris confirmed to “People” magazine that he was a “very content gay man living my life to the fullest.”
Yes, “Doogie” remains a negative shorthand in US pop culture. What should not be forgotten is that Doogie Howser (and “Doogie Houser”) was a few steps above the typical TV portrayal of a teenager, and was a well-produced series with its heart in the right place. Even if the kid could perform heart surgery after homeroom.
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