Here’s another under-appreciated pleasure of classic television from the Comfort TV age: it makes places you’d never want to visit seem less terrible.
I was in the hospital recently and found nothing pleasurable about it. You’re away from your home and your bed, in a big building full of monotonous hallways and colorless rooms. You try to rest but are disturbed by the buzzes and beeps of strange machinery. And the food is worse than what they serve on Delta’s red-eye from Minneapolis to New Jersey.
But watch any popular situation comedy from the 1950s to the 1970s, and there was probably an episode featuring one of the main characters logging some hospital time. And for them, it didn’t seem so bad.
What’s the difference? Classic TV hospital stays typically begin with the patient safely ensconced in their room, skipping past the multiple blood tests, book-length insurance forms, questionnaires that ask male patients if they’ve ever been pregnant, and being asked one’s height and weight by every doctor, nurse and administrator, all of whom write down the responses but none of whom apparently share this paperwork with anyone else in the building.
Of course, the best of part of visiting a classic TV hospital is that everyone gets to leave. Healthy.
Do you have a favorite hospital episode from a classic series? Here are some of mine.
“Lucy Plays Florence Nightingale”
The Lucy Show
Lucy is a volunteer nurse at the hospital where Mr. Mooney is recovering from a broken leg. From the moment you see Mooney in his hospital bed, his injured leg suspended above him, you know he’s about to be subjected to every form of comedic torture the writers can devise. There’s also an inventively choreographed wheelchair chase that plays like something out of a classic silent movie.
The Mary Tyler Moore Show
Mary has her tonsils out and gets saddled with the roommate from hell, played by the wonderful Pat Carroll. The episode is probably best remembered, at least among the show’s male viewers, for the sexy nightgown Rhoda slips into Mary’s overnight bag before she leaves for the hospital.
“That’s My Boy?”
The Dick Van Dyke Show
A flashback episode in which Rob recalls how, after Ritchie was born, he became certain that the hospital gave them the wrong baby. The final scene received the longest laugh in the history of The Dick Van Dyke Show.
“The Candy Striper”
Cissy gets a candy striper job and the head nurse provides only one warning – never give a patient food or drink without consulting with a doctor. And just like Gremlins, you start counting the minutes until she forgets the rule. On the verge of quitting, she returns to the hospital after a pep talk from Uncle Bill and finds a way to balance her compassion with responsibility.
“Bob Has to Have His Tonsils Out, So He Spends Christmas Eve in the Hospital”
The Bob Newhart Show
The title says it all. Bob is subjected to the indignities of peekaboo hospital gowns, Howard’s hospital horror stories, and an ancient nurse played by the veteran character actress Merie Earle, who gets a laugh with every line she utters.
The Patty Duke Show
Classic sitcom misunderstanding- Patty overhears her handsome doctor praising the trim lines and beauty of his new boat, and thinks the compliments are all for her. The doctor is played by one-time matinee idol Troy Donahue.
“And Then There Were Three”
Tabitha is born in this milestone second season episode, that also features the first appearance of Serena, the ever-acerbic Eve Arden as a confused nurse, and a rare moment in which Darrin and Endora are actually kind to each other.