Dr Travis Stork of the popular TV programme The Doctors talks to Jeffrey Sipe about his leap from the emergency room to the small screen.
The talk-show host is in
It doesn't take a lot of sophisticated research to figure out that the most essential ingredient for the success of a TV talk show, especially those of the American daytime variety, is sincerity. Oprah rode that quality to the top. So did Ellen DeGeneres. Dr Phil did, too. Success tends to spawn success. The seeds for Dr Phil's popularity were planted in his intermittent appearances on Oprah. When he spun off his own show, he began inviting medical doctors to appear with him. The four who proved the most popular - Dr Jim Sears, a paediatrician; Dr Lisa Masterson, an OBGYN; Dr Andrew Orden, a plastic surgeon; and Dr Travis Stork, an ER physician who had previously planted himself squarely in the public eye as the star of season eight of The Bachelor - now find themselves sitting before studio audiences on their own show, The Doctors, which airs on MBC 4 Saturday to Wednesday at 8pm.
The tall, good-looking and laid-back Stork, the designated host, called his trajectory from the emergency room of a Nashville, Tennessee, hospital - a job he still holds for half the year - to the TV studio "organic". "I was actually approached in a restaurant by a casting director from The Bachelor," he explained "and after some encouragement from friends, I decided to go ahead and do it. Then Dr Phil began to have me on his show and The Doctors just flowed from that."
The high ratings that The Doctors enjoys in the US, however, goes back to the idea of sincerity. None of the show's mainstays, least of all Stork, display egos any larger than most of your friends. When asked to name a favourite of the 300 or so episodes thus far taped, Stork struggled for a moment before naming a programme that ran down a list of remedies for ailments beginning with A to Z. "That kind of show is full of information and it's fun to do," he says. "Notice that I didn't say my favourite was the show in which Barbra Streisand appeared."
But wait a minute. The Bachelor? A regular on Dr Phil? Host of his own show? Isn't Stork a celebrity himself? "I don't use that word," Stork says before chuckling through a clarification. "I consider myself a relatively well-known doctor." All four of the principals continue in private practice in addition to doing the show, which demands three weeks of taping two shows a day with one week off. Despite the attention and the glitz and glamour that accompanies a successful stint on TV, the quartet maintain their admirable bedside manner.
"We all consider ourselves doctors first," Stork says. Although he clearly could have "gone Hollywood" following his exposure on The Bachelor, he instead returned to his job in Nashville, where he still spends about half of his time. "I love my ER work because it really allows me to see all of America," he says. Despite Stork's good looks, his lofty academic background - he graduated magna cum laude from Duke University and got his medical degree from Virginia University - and, for all intents and purposes, star status, there is a strong populist tone to his world view.
"Our aim is to provide information about health to, say, a mother who might see the show during the day - information that would be helpful to her but also over the dinner table she might be able to pass along to her husband or to her children," he said. "Anyone who watches the show should be able to come away with five to 10 things about how to maintain their health." Regardless of how the show fares - and it has been guaranteed a run at least through its third season - Stork recently found himself in the midst of the realisation of a dream that he had harboured since medical school, the kind of dream that indeed prompts many a future doctor to apply.
Following the devastating earthquake in Haiti, the show's four doctors went off to the impoverished island to lend their hands to the international effort. Some of the footage taken during their visit has already aired. "It was a life-changing experience even if, at times, it was terrifying," Stork says. "It makes you realise how lucky we are. They have nothing there. It was also career-affirming. As a med student, I felt like I really wanted to help people. That was what being a doctor was all about. And I really felt like I was able to do that in Haiti. Also, with all the doctors and aid people from all over the world working together, and the Haitians themselves really coming together, it was a truly uplifting experience."
Move over Jerry Springer. There's a new game in town. The Doctors airs on MBC4, Saturday to Wednesday at 8pm.