In 1986, actor Peter Bergman, who played Cliff Warner on the popular soap opera "All My Children," starred in a commercial for Vicks Formula 44 cough syrup. His signature line from that television spot was, Im not a doctor, but I play one on TV."
Bergmans line is still remembered by many folks older than the age of 40. Today, with many medical professionals on television talk shows and newscasts, were seeing doctors in an entirely different light.
Thanks to syndicated programs like Dr. Oz and The Doctors, or the many network TV doctors including CNNs Dr. Sanjay Gupta and NBCs Dr. Nancy Snyderman, consumers trust what these medical experts say. This opens up a great opportunity for companies that offer nutritional ingredients or dietary supplements, and that have relationships with medical professionals, to position those experts as resources for television appearances.
Network doctors and several others have made many doctors want to be on television, but most stations already have regular medical reporters. Doctors who have amassed years of experience doing local television spots as "an expert" on occasion get tapped to do a regular segment.
More TV doctors are on the way. In September, health care advocate Suzanne Somers launched The Suzanne Show on the Lifetime Network. Somers weekly show invites viewers to join her expert guests for conversations on how to achieve an ageless and more fulfilling life.
During the shows first 13-week run, four doctors from Life Extension, a dietary supplement brand marketer, will focus on a wide range of health issues ranging from stress, anti-aging foods and food sensitivities to liver detoxing.
According to Michael A. Smith, M.D., Life Extension's senior science health specialist who appears on four segments, the root of the word doctor is docere, meaning teacher. Smith added the earliest use of doctor in written English was in the 1300s, and it was applied to "doctors of the Church," meaning "learned men in the scriptures."
Heres my point," Smith said. As long as the television shows are educational and not sensational, then I think they provide a public service. Its going back to the original meaning of the word doctor."
Another point to consider is many TV doctors have educated millions of viewers about the importance of dietary supplements and adaptations to health issues and diseases. I believe television shows with doctors focusing on health is necessary," Smith said, "especially in our industry as so much of the alternative health information is not found anywhere within traditional or mainstream media outlets."
Being a television doctor can effectively influence millions of people to lead healthier lifestyles. A television doctor can communicate supportive and actionable information. The doctor needs to be enthusiastic, charismatic and, most importantly, believable.
What are TV Media Looking For?
First off, a good story," said Richard Townsend, a former ABC-TV network bureau chief who heads San Francisco-based Townsend Productions. It must be a story that can be told with good visuals, real people and real emotions, all while providing useful information."
Nery Ynclan, a freelance television producer who handles numerous stories for NBC, said doctors who can speak to a current medical story and make themselves available for an interview on short notice is optimal. It takes being comfortable in front of the camera, some acting tendencies, and the station has to have a need," said Ynclan, a media trainer who has worked with many health professionals before theyve gone into a television studio.
Ynclan noted translating good looks and expert knowledge on a subject to being a TV personality is a big leap. It takes broadcast students many years to reach a level of success, but it can be done," Ynclan said. And when it works, its great. The natural stars show themselves pretty quickly."
When asked which TV doctor does the best job, Ynclan said, Dr. Oz won over Oprah and then the rest of the country followed. Hes authoritative, but the warmth and genuine caring comes through the screen. Add being a cardiac surgeon and handsome, and its a grand slam."
She added, At the network level, all the medical correspondents are also medical doctors. Viewers trust an M.D. more than a regular medical reporter."
But does appearing on TV truly categorize you as an expert?
It does, but it should not," said Stacey Nottingham of Life Extension, who will also be on the show. You want a doctor who personally interacts with patients or customers every day."
At the end of the day, sex sells. Somers, who is still known for her role as the blonde bombshell, Chrissy Snow, in the 1960s sitcom "Threes Company" and who has successfully battled her own health issues using alternative remedies, launched her Lifetime program with a series of segments devoted to sexuality and desire. Nottingham brought her own good looks, charisma and knowledge to Somers' first show discussing womens libido issues.
I think bedside manner matters on TV too," Nottingham said. Friendly and an ease teaching in plain language will win over viewers."
The template of TV doctors has proven a valuable tool that has effectively reached a large consumer audience. The format will continue to evolve and provide educational information about public health issues that hopefully will improve the overall health and quality of life for people worldwide.
Sheldon Baker is well-known for creating nutraceutical brand marketing, public relations and media campaigns. He has also provided media training for corporate executives and doctors. Contact him at Sheldon@NutraInk.com, and follow him on Twitter @NutraInk.
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