Chad Everett: “Medical Center”

If only I could start with the theme song to Medical Center! If I were telling you this story in person, I’d risk humming a few bars, complete with an ambulance-like scream of notes. But alas, I’m left with mere words to conjure up for you the magic that was Medical Center, an hour-long weekly hospital drama starring Chad Everett as the hip, young Dr. Joe Gannon.

Chad Everett and Medical Center were literally my claims to fame when I was in college in the early 1980s at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, commonly known as UMSL. By this time, the 1970s-era television show was in late-night reruns. My boyfriend and I got hooked on the show when we’d catch it after getting home from our night shifts at work. We got home about 12:30, and Medical Center came on at 1:00. That theme song was a siren call of another sort, calling us to put away the cares of the day and join Chad in fighting for the welfare of yet another patient. It became a game between us to see who could guess the outcome of the episode first, and I learned to play the theme song on my violin.

Both of us were involved in student government, and as we sat in the Student Government Association office one day, we wondered aloud just how ridiculous a group could get recognized by Student Affairs and become eligible for student activity funding.

My boyfriend seized on an idea. “Let’s propose forming the Chad Everett Fan Club of UMSL,” he said. “You can be president, and I’ll be vice president.”

The rest, as they say, is history. In no time at all, we developed a patter, a shtick about why a university needed a fan club dedicated to Chad Everett. We emphasized Chad’s appeal to pre-med students, theater students, and history majors who might want to trace Chad’s role in the country’s transition from the wet look to the dry look. For it was true: in the first season of Medical Center, Chad sported hair full of Brill Cream, but in the second season, he had hair blown dry into a perfect coif. And when anyone questioned the sincerity of our club, we’d sum up by saying that even a third-world country had named itself after Chad.

The club was – as we had suspected it would be – quickly approved as a recognized student organization, and while we never applied for funding, we could have. In the ensuing months, we held club meetings at our apartment and even got the Dean of Student Affairs in on things. We’d say, “Hi, Dean, how’s it going?” He would respond correctly, “We won’t know until we run more tests.”

Soon a story about the Chad Everett Fan Club was published in the student newspaper. (You can still read the original article – see page 9.) Then a national publication for university students, Nutshell, got in on the action. Before I knew it, Rip and Read wire dispatch, known for its zany stories, had picked up the news. It seemed the Chad Everett Fan Club was a sensation.

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A month or so before graduation, I got an unexpected phone call. The woman calling introduced herself as Mira Velimirovic, a researcher for Late Night with David Letterman. It was 1983, and Letterman was still a relative newcomer to late-night TV. His show was a huge hit, so I couldn’t believe it when Mira said that she’d read the Rip and Read article about my club and that she wanted to book me on the show.

Everything happened at lightning speed. I sent Mira all the clips I had about the Chad Everett Fan Club, and we talked another time or two on the phone, as I regaled her with one Chad joke after another. I told her that yes, we did have club meetings and that club members liked to sport surgical smocks. (Conveniently enough, they were also a quite popular fashion item at the time.) I told her we were all thinking of getting vanity plates so that when we lined up our cars, you’d see “I’m only thinking of the welfare of my patient,” a sentiment Chad as Dr. Joe Gannon expressed in virtually every episode.

I made arrangements for my boyfriend to fly out to New York with me, and two of our friends – also officers in the club – drove across country and met us in Manhattan. We stayed – all four of us – in my room at the Berkshire Place Hotel. It was my first time to New York, and I was on cloud nine.

But I was nervous, too. I was going to be on national TV! The morning after we arrived, I got a call from the producer of my segment (who shall remain nameless). He wanted to chat about the segment, which would be taped with the rest of the show that afternoon at 4:00. I immediately launched into my Chad banter. The producer was silent on the other end of the line. Finally, he said we’d have to talk more about my segment later and that he’d meet me while I was in makeup at the NBC studios.

My boyfriend and I went to the studio – and our friends made their plans to be in the studio audience. As I was finishing getting my makeup on, here came the segment producer, wearing – of all things! – a green surgical smock.

We chatted for a couple of minutes, with me inserting my one-liners along the way.

Finally, the producer looked me in the eye and said, “Wait. Be straight with me. You are the president of a legitimate fan club, aren’t you?”

I held his gaze, not blinking. “No, it’s a joke. I’ve been very clear in all the things I’ve sent Mira and all the conversations I’ve had with her.”

It became painfully obvious that he hadn’t looked at anything I’d sent. Apparently, he hadn’t even talked to Mira.

He walked my boyfriend and me to the green room – and then said pointedly, “I’ll leave you here to think about what you want to do.”

The producer had made it clear that I needed to go on the show and act like the president of an actual, straight-up fan club.

My boyfriend and I sat in the green room, joined by character actor Calvert DeForest, who played Larry “Bud” Melman, a regular on the show. Also on hand was actor Daniel Stern. They’d be on the show as well that day.

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Together, my boyfriend and I talked about what to do. No way was I willing to be the butt of my own joke. We finally decided I’d try to play things in such a way that viewers wouldn’t quite be able to tell if I was the president of a bona fide fan club – or not.

Dave announced me in his opening monologue, so this was really going to happen. I was really in the NBC Studios in New York City, and I was about to appear on one of the most popular television shows at the time.

As the time for my segment approached, I grew more and more nervous. I had been anxious enough about appearing on national TV, but now I had the added worry of figuring out how to play things.

At long last, I was brought to the staging spot – the place where you stand until you are tapped on the shoulder and told to walk on the set. My heart pounded. My throat was in my mouth, which of course was completely dry. How was I going to do this?

Suddenly, without warning, the segment producer was at my side. “Look,” he said, “we don’t have people like you on the show to be funny. That’s Dave’s job.”

I looked at him, waited.

“I’m canceling the segment,” he said finally.

“Thank God!” I breathed a huge sigh of relief.

“Why did you say that? No one’s ever said that before!”

I didn’t bother to answer. I’d had enough of this guy.

I returned to the green room just in time to hear David Letterman say, “Linda Tate’s been taken out back and beaten senseless.” When the audience groaned, he said, “No, no. We’ve simply run out of time. We’ll have her on a future show.”

With that, the show was over. We posed for pictures with Larry “Bud” Melman and Paul Shaffer, the band leader. David Letterman came backstage to greet me. Somehow in our brief conversation, it came out that I went to college full time and worked full time. “That’s not possible,” he said, completely dismissing my reality.

After the taping was over, Mira sought me out to see what had happened. I wasn’t in tears, but I was shaken up. Mira was outraged on my behalf, completely blamed the producer for not doing his homework for the segment. She went into their music library and pulled the Chad Everett record album the show owned. It was eponymously titled Chad. My boyfriend and I owned All Strung Out, the other of Chad’s two albums. Mira was delighted to give me the show’s copy of Chad – so now we had a full Chad Everett discography. Let me just say that it’s a good thing Chad was a decent television actor because he surely wasn’t going to make it as a singer. My particular “favorite” was Chad’s cover of “Ain’t No Sunshine.” A classic!

Mira wanted to do more to make it up to me, so she told me to take a cab all over Manhattan to see the city and to send her the bill. She would see that the show reimbursed me.

Over the years, I followed Chad’s career until his death in 2012. Though Chad had guest star roles on a number of made-for-TV movies, shows such as Murder, She Wrote and Touched by an Angel, and Airplane II: The Sequel, he never again hit it as big as he did when he played Dr. Joe Gannon. Even today, I would enjoy pulling up a seat in front of a TV playing Medical Center. It would take me back to our digs at Lucas-Hunt Village Apartments in St. Louis, those late nights when classes and work were done and all we had left to do was figure out how Chad was going to save the patient.

There you have it – a true story of your StoryWeb host’s first foray into mass media – bringing her love for Chad to national TV.

Want to add a few Chad collectibles to your own celebrity collection? You can buy the complete Medical Center series on DVD, a publicity poster of Chad, and vinyl versions of his record albums, Chad and All Strung Out. For more on Chad, check out Warner’s “16 Facts About Medical Center’s Dr. Joe Gannon, Chad Everett.”

Watch and Listen:Watch a clip from a typical episode of Medical Center. And to hear that electrifying Medical Center theme song, check out this clip. Finally, no celebration of Chad’s career would be complete without listening to his rendition of “Ain’t No Sunshine.”

Image Credits: StoryWeb host Linda Tate with Calvert DeForest, as Larry “Bud” Melman, photo by Earl Swift; Linda Tate with Paul Shaffer, photo by Earl Swift.