New Amsterdam and the Enduring Power of Medical Dramas

ER. Chicago Med. House. The Good Doctor. Grey’s Anatomy. And now New Amsterdam. The medical drama has a rich history on television, dating back to the 1950s, and it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. Why is that? What makes the medical drama genre so enduring?

“I think anybody who has a body has an interest in medical dramas,” New Amsterdam star Anupam Kher told E! News. Kher said viewers relate on a human level to what’s happening on screen.

Plus, Freema Agyeman said there’s a “real morbid fascination as well, to see behind those O.R. doors sometimes.” Agyeman, Dr. Hana Sharpe on New Amsterdam, said viewers could also be tuning in to feel better about their own situation—that knee problem pales in comparison to a massive heart attack—”so it’s kind of perspective thing as well.”

Think about it, almost every viewer has seen a doctor at some point, whether it was in a hospital for an injury or an office visit for a physical, healthcare professionals are pretty universally known. And then there’s the high stakes nature of the situation, whether it is a gory operating room or tense psychiatric evaluation, medical dramas deal in life and death every hour-long installment. The drama of it all, even the most absurd cases, and yes, in more than 50 years of medical dramas there have been many, many wacky scenarios, is a perfect backdrop for a TV series.

“I think that medical dramas often work because it’s a melting pot,” Ryan Eggold, Dr. Max Goodwin on New Amsterdam, told us. “You get a lot of different people from a lot of different places and they’re all struggling with very real things and the stakes are often very high, life or death situations. And these hospitals, there’s a great deal of humanity in them. The human spirit is so present because there’s people trying to survive, it’s people trying to help other people, there’s hardship and there’s humor. It’s just a lot of life concentrated in one place.”

ER was certainly a melting pot, as is Grey’s Anatomy, a pillar for diversity on TV. There’s a reason ER ran for 15 seasons and Grey’s is entering its 15th this year. The diversity of the cast, plus the ability to tell a variety of stories—not just medical problems—is what allows for shows like these to remain relevant.

NBC’s New Amsterdam is the latest medical drama to enter the fray, but it’s different from the rest, Eggold said. The new series, which is based on the book Twelve Patients: Life and Death at Bellevue Hospital by Eric Manheimer, is really about the healthcare system in America today, Eggold said.

“The ways in which we’re failing, the ways in which we could do better and so I think it’s very specific to Eric’s story,” Eggold said.

Expect the show to tackle issues at times, issues that are relevant to today’s America, including gun violence and the police.

“Hospitals see everything, and it’s this window into what’s going on outside,” Eggold said.

Watch the video above for more.

New Amsterdam premieres Tuesday, Sept. 25 at 10 p.m. on NBC.

(E! and NBC are both part of the NBCUniversal family.)