'Dr. Quinn': Good medicine for CBS

January 13, 1993|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Television Critic

Los Angeles -- "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman," starring Jane Seymour, has suddenly become one of the most talked-about shows in the TV industry.

Last September, CBS pulled the drama about a female doctor and her 19th-century frontier practice from the schedule on the eve of its debut. That's how little confidence the network had in the show.

Now it's being called everything from "the one, genuine, new hit of the season," by CBS President Jeff Sagansky to "the show that saved Saturday night" for the networks in trade publications. And all of this after only two outings.

The show has scored the highest ratings of any regular series on a Saturday night since the final episode of the "Golden Girls" on NBC last May, and it debuted with better ratings than any series in 10 years.

More women 18 to 49 years old watch it than watch ABC and NBC combined on Saturday nights. It is already one of the 10 highest-rated shows on all of network TV, doing better than such hits as "Northern Exposure" and "Cheers." And it's earning the record ratings on a night when the conventional wisdom is that everyone rents videos and no one watches network TV any more.

"I've been trying to figure it out, myself," Ms. Seymour said yesterday when asked about the phenomenal early success of the show. "Everyone said it couldn't be done. And I remember being told westerns and period pieces didn't make it. And women starring in series didn't work.

"And the idea of an Englishwoman starring in a western period piece, I think, struck some [network executives] as a little strange. I mean, usually they like to put me stiletto heels and little short skirts and have me kill people.

"But I think what the show represents is that, while it is about 1867 and a woman who's a doctor, it just happens to be about those things. It's really about the human condition, and that's what people are relating to.

"It's about dealing with hardships. And I think, in 1993, everyone is going through hardships. . . . In our series, what we're showing is how, when times were really hard, people worked and lived in log cabins and communicated with one another as a family and individual human beings.

"That's what so excited me. It's not just a woman's condition. It's people in general. And for once, women aren't being depicted just as sex objects, only validated by the size of their bosoms or the length of their legs or the color of their hair. They aren't running three paces behind a man with a gun. . . . This is a TV series about real people."

Early criticism of the show -- mainly from male reviewers, it should be noted -- said that Seymour's Dr. Micaela (Mike) Quinn was too good, too saintly a mixture of Marcus Welby and Wonder Woman.

"She's more a survivor than a super woman, . . . someone who is open and vulnerable enough to learn," Ms. Seymour said in response to a question about those criticisms.

"I try not to ever put in a glib, TV series-type of performance. I say, 'Please don't let me be goody-goody all the time, give me an edge.' . . . I think she is very much a woman who's a real human being.

"Some people wondered why I took this role and wasn't playing a 'superbitch' or a glamorous role [in movies]. I always believed in this character and series. Last year, I told the [CBS] affiliates that our show was different and was going to surprise them. . . . I'm just glad people have turned on their TVs and proved me right."

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