Despite promising “a brand new way to talk about medicine,” “The Doctors” — a syndicated hour under the aegis of Dr. Phil McGraw — actually recycles several old ways, all of them daytime TV or radio staples. The four telegenic doctors on display engage in “The View”-style discussions (“Viagra vs. Birth Control”), interview guests with sob stories (“I know — choke — I shouldn’t smoke and risk losing my family!”) and answer questions from ordinary folks who can’t get their HMO doctors on the phone. There’s a show in here somewhere, but two days in, the producers clearly haven’t found it yet.
Never trust a medical series whose de facto host, ER doc Travis Stork, gained attention by participating in “The Bachelor.” He’s joined by pediatrician James Sears (the most natural TV presence in the bunch), gynecologist Lisa Masterson (the Linc and Julie of this “Mod Squad”) and plastic surgeon Andrew Ordon — who presents something called “the O lift,” offering a skin-tight face in three days. Just what a bunch of bon-bon eating daytime viewers need to see.
Take a scalpel to the show, and there is decent information buried underneath all the schmaltz (as well as a lengthy disclaimer advising viewers to consult their own physicians). Animated images depict what cigarettes do to the lungs, and parents get answers about issues in the news, such as properly medicating children, acne treatments and whether to administer the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine to young girls.
Yet given the hunger for healthcare insight and the general disenchantment with the existing system, “The Doctors” works too hard at embroidering its basic attributes, wrapping problems and procedures in daytime melodrama. There’s also a transparent mandate to keep things absurdly high energy (Stork, in particular, needs a sedative), which feels forced compared to a radio personality like Dr. Dean Edell, who dispenses common-sense diagnoses with wit but none of the window-dressing.
The bottom line is that “The Doctors” arrives weighed down by too many of “Dr. Phil’s” bad habits, including a customary injection of “General Hospital” storytelling flourishes to keep the women coming back. It’s a marketable formula, to be sure (premiere ratings were OK by syndication’s lowered expectations), but at this point the sort of placebo no M.D. more concerned about his patients than his Q scores would feel comfortable prescribing.