'Trapper John, M.D.' was developed for television by Frank Glicksman and Don Brinkley in association with 20th Century Fox for Sunday night viewing. The show ran for 7 seasons between 1979 and 1986. Set 28 years after the Korean War, "CBS came to Don Brinkley and myself and suggested the title. They asked us to do a show about Trapper John after he leaves Korea. Well, that would have dealt with 1950s medicine, and we'd already done 'Medical Center' (1969-1976), so we allowed Trapper to be 30 years older. The other characters came later," Frank recounted. Don remembered, "We were assigned this thing."
Gregory Harrison played surgeon doctor G. Alonzo (Gonzo) Gates pointed out, "We hadn't even completed the first 13 (episodes in the 1979-80 season). It's unusual to be picked up that fast." In separate interviews, John Forsythe told the press, "I had turned down 'Trapper John' mainly because it sounded like a light comedy show, and I wasn't interested, at this stage of my life, in playing something as easy as light comedy. If I had known … "
"There was residual goodwill from 'M*A*S*H' for us to draw on. But once people tuned in, they found out it wasn't 'M*A*S*H' or anything like it and we had to keep the viewers ourselves. And we have. For instance, Pernell's Trapper John had to stand on its own. The character had to have its own history and style without any reference to 'M*A*S*H'," Gregory Harrison told 'Knight-Ridder News Service'.
Pernell Roberts eventually played the part of chief surgeon doctor Trapper John McIntyre. He worked at the San Francisco Memorial Hospital. "I just turned 51 (in 1979) and I'm aware of the passing of time. I left 'Bonanza' 16 years ago (in 1963 although episodes with Pernell could be seen to 1965) and I have no regrets at all. But times change, my needs have changed," Pernell stated. John Forsythe also mentioned, "I’m 61 and at my age, I don't want to be on a television set at 8, 9 or 10 o'clock at night. I was offered 'Trapper John, M.D.' and it was a good script, but I turned it down and when they asked me why, that was exactly what I told them."
Charles Siebert played doctor Stanley Riverside told Lori Mirrer of 'Scripps-Howard News Service', "Our scripts are twice as thick as 'Fall Guy' or 'A-Team'. We cater to the public's tastes. It's a reasonably entertaining show. It presents a particular side of the medical profession. We work hard at keeping the show medically authentic. Because I don't carry the show, I have a lot of latitude."
Christopher Norris played nurse Gloria Brancusi told 'Knight-Ridder Newspapers', "Nurses have been ignored for decades. Now there's a problem in recruiting nurses. Most come from families which are not well off, and this needs to be addressed. It's a worthy profession. Hopefully, as much as we try to educate the viewers, we're still entertainment. You try to wed reality to entertainment.
"There’s a lot of men with interesting jobs, but not a lot of women. There are more roles for leading men, but when I was 22 (in 1979) there were not that many options." Gregory Harrison mentioned, "I had an easier job because Gonzo was a new character, and there would be no preconceived ideas about him. I've gotten a lot of compliments from people in the medical field, who say they've known characters like Gonzo. He's a very good doctor, as I see him. He's concerned with morality, a code of ethics, but he's not afraid to break the rules."
Christopher continued, "Today (28 in 1984) I wouldn’t make that decision (to take the role of 'Ripples'), but I'm in a different situation, thanks to the series. It was the era of T&A, and they thought that's what the show needed. I started working on them from the first episode to loosen her uniform and refer to her by her real name. By the middle of the second season (1980-81), I started being referred to as Gloria. I'm no longer ever alluded to as Ripples (by the 1983-84 season).
"There's not a lot of role models on TV. Large sections of society need to be addressed. Once you sign a contract, you're obligated to do what they want you to do, and there's not a lot of options women have. I thought it was important to grow and be taken seriously. My character goes from maternity to floor nurse, and Trapper does everything from cancer to heart disease. Six of us have to take all the roles, so it would become boring if it was too much like real life. We have come up short a couple of times, but the series has made it a little easier for people to go to the hospital."
1984 'Knight-Ridder Newspapers': One hears tales of great wealth flowing to those lucky producers, writers and actors who have a series in syndication?
Christopher Norris: The truth is, they lie. They make it sound a lot better than it is. Sure, it's nice to get a check in mail for work you've already done. It's found money. But it means a lot more to the producers and studios. When a show get syndicated, even the actors get excited, until they find out the truth.
In 1977, Gregory Harrison could be seen on the TV series, 'Logan's Run'. He theorized, "I think science fiction is the most difficult thing you can do. It's almost impossible on television if you try to do honest-to-God science fiction because there just isn't time to do it right. I was hoping they would do with 'Logan's Run' what was done with the TV 'Star Trek' – make each episode into a little morality play, where right won, good won. Instead, what they tried to do with 'Logan' was turn it into 'The Fugitive' or 'Run for Your Life'. But they never established enough sympathy for the characters. You didn't learn to care enough what happened to them."
Of 'Trapper John, M.D.', Don Brinkley expressed, "What we wanted to find was a mixture of 'Medical Center' with just a dash of 'M*A*S*H', a sense of humor without being too light. 'Lou Grant' has the ideal mixture of drama and humor, and that's what I think we're close to achieving. There has to be a base of reality. And, we have to keep a measure of hope without being false. People want encouragement but not necessarily a trip to fantasy island on a love boat."