Original Airdate:March 20th, 1978
If I could insert the sound of a car braking right here I would. As is stands, I just have to giggle at Gavin’s comedic response to starring in one of the most overwrought melodramas I’ve seen in some time. In his defense, Gavin does not play it tongue in cheek during the film, and it’s all the more entertaining for the straight-faced, and genuine performances from an amiable cast of wonderfully familiar faces.
And anyway, Gavin had me at Donna Mills.
Gavin is Dr. Jeffrey Latimer, a gorgeous and successful professional married to the equally sublime Frances (Barbara Anderson looking ridiculously divine), who is just as ambitious with saving the world as he is with saving lives. The one hiccup in an otherwise perfect relationship is that they have no children. This obstacle doesn’t seem like that much of an issue, until Jeffrey embarks on an extramarital affair with Dr. Beth Demery (the perfectly perfect Donna Mills), a widow who can’t fight her attraction to Jeffrey (I don’t blame her). Strangely, and maybe sadly, Jeffrey loves his wife, but has an affair just because he can. The scoundrel (and he's our hero)!
While all of this is going down (insert dirty joke here), Dr. Mike Wise (Ed Nelson, dusting off his Peyton Place dialog delivery) is dealing with a divorce and the generation gap, which is driving his son Kenny (Leigh McCloskey) away from medical school. Kenny has an adorable girlfriend named Sheila (Robin Mattson), who quickly throws him over for his dear old dad, creating even more tension in the house. And in-between all of this, people die, there’s blackmail and an airplane full of Korean orphans (!) crashes! If that’s not an overflow of awesome, I am not sure I know what is.
Yessir, from the ski slopes to the operating room to the bedroom, Doctors' Private Lives is one of those glamorous 1970s telefilms that I live for. It’s got philandering, conniving, and well to do professionals who wear the best clothes, drink the best wine and sometimes deliver the best lines. Although, admittedly, I was surprised to see it was released in 1978, only about one month before Dallas premiered, setting the bar for high drama. Dallas is far more nuanced and complex, but Doctors makes the best of what is has, and what is has is pretty good. Along your journey through soapland, you’ll catch John Randolph as Mike’s gregarious uncle, Elinor Donahue as Mike’s grumpy ex, and Anne-Marie Martin as a sexy nurse secretly romancing her friend’s man. And for the record, Randy Powell, who went on to Dallas, plays one of the worst extortionists ever. That's how you do it!
And I’m apparently not the only one who feels this way. Doctors' Private Lives was successful enough that a 4-part followup mini-series aired the following year, featuring much of the same cast, and the addition of another familiar Dallas face, William Smithers, who played the contemptible Jeremy Windell. It makes the whole affair feel full circle (emphasis on affair).
And remember, in an era of car chases and gun fights, Gavin points out, “[There’s] no violence in this show, except in the bedroom.”