A lot of literary history has been made in these hills, and not all the makers have yet gone to their rewards. For what Melville did for whales and Edith Wharton did for bobsledding, two longtime Sheffield residents, still very much extant, have done for sensitive, dedicated, loveable soap opera doctors.
Yes, the headshrinkers on the Eleventh Hour, Ben Casey, the Interns, the Nurses, and all the other medics of gee-whiz land, are direct descendants of the brain child of two men who sit in a big house back in the wilds of Sheffield and think, think, think, searching for new ways to keep the great American housewife from doing the housework.
They are John Pickard and Frank Provo, old pros of the soaps, who, one historical day in 1939, whomped up a radio serial called “Young Dr. Malone,” the prototype of all those medical types that pass out pills, advice, and tender loving care over the airwaves.
It might be of interest to note here that the basic premise was put forward by that distinguished public servant, Chester Bowles, while he was still with the ad agency, Benton and Bowles.
“He invited us,” Pickard recalls, “to dream up a serial about a doctor. ‘Young Dr. Kildaire’ had been done as a movie the year before, and they had found in their research that the professor or trade most women were interested in was doctor. They chose the title.”
“Subtle, ain’t it,” commented Provo.
The term “soap opera” had already been invented at that time. The first one, according to Provo and Pickard, was “Myrt and Marge,” on which, by the way, they acted.
“Young Dr. Malone” became so popular that it was put on over two networks, NBC and CBS. The writers strove for a standard of literacy above that of the general run of soaps. Pickard says:
“We have never been ashamed of our part in soap opera. We have always aimed at a level of quality, instead of digging down to the lowest common denominator.”