I'm Not a Doctor, but I Play One on TV
Trust him, he's a doctor. On TV.
"You're a credulous git, Mr. Pepperdyne; a stethoscope and a plausible manner do not make a doctor."
Sometimes, it would be really great to get a doctor or other medical authority to say something nice about your product and or service on TV. However, for some reason — FDA approval, budget, truth-in-advertising laws prohibiting advertisers from passing non-doctors off as doctors, etc. — it will not be possible to actually get a real doctor to do this.
The solution: dress an actor up in a white lab coat
, and give them a stethoscope. Even if he is a dentist. If possible, put them in a set that looks like a waiting room, pharmacy, or hospital. As long as you don't say they're really a doctor, you aren't going to get in trouble, and you still get the subliminal boost in believability that comes from associating the trappings
of real medicine with your product.
Trope named for a commercial from the 1980s in which Chris Robinson, who played a physician on General Hospital
opened his pitch for Vicks Formula 44 cough syrup with this very line, which became a pre-Internet Memetic Mutation
. (How does playing a doctor on TV
give someone any authority to prescribe actual medicine?)
See also Trust Me, I'm a Doctor
No relation to Playing Doctor
or But I Play One on TV
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- Subverted in a Jack in the Box commercial where a guy in a lab coat rattles off a bunch of preposterous health claims about cheesy fries on a TV screen being watched by the Jack character and a suit. When Jack asks the suit where he found this guy, the suit replies, "Tobacco company."
- Someone at the Old Spice marketing department looked at this page and went "Hey, I think I have an idea..."
- Basketball player Dr. J has started doing Dr Pepper commercials, concluding with "Trust me, I'm a doctor."
- Gene Simmons (as Dr. Love) and Dr. Dre.
- Retired American football player Michael Strahan has been doing "Trust me, I've sent people to the doctor".
- Many Male Enhancement ads combine this with Hot Scientist. According to her, 66% of men can't satisfy! Wait but she's not a doct- hey boobs.
- From July to August 2009, Australian television has ads for some functional food. At first a female doctor is introduced, saying that as a doctor, a healthy diet is important to her - then the camera in one fluent motion moves to a second, similar woman (although with different hair color) who will continue where the other woman left of in mid-sentence and happily endorse a specific product. Probably because a doctor may not be allowed to endorse a product directly on tv.
- Played with in a Venezuelan commercial for a headache/flu medication, where two animated mosquitoes says that the medicine in question can't work in dengue patients and the two models dressed as doctors are not of trust because they "only play as doctors on TV". Cue the "doctors" saying that the medicament indeed works even on that disease, and the narrator saying "Even TV doctors know it; [Brand Name], your best choice to relief even in suspected dengue".
- One commercial for Trivial Pursuit had the game being played by a series of celebrities, including DeForest Kelley, the actor who played Dr. McCoy on Star Trek: The Original Series. When asked a medical question by one of the other players, he answers, "How should I know? I'm An Actor, Not A Doctor!"
- Bizarrely, Daniel Tosh from Tosh.0 has appeared in sports commercials wearing an atrocious wig and calling himself a professor. It's like they wanted him to help get them attention, but they also didn't want people to know that it's him.
- Alec Baldwin in a Capital One Venture Card commercial assures (an actor playing) a pilot, "Don't worry, I've played a pilot before," when attempting to take over the controls.
Anime and Manga
- Parodied on Pokémon - Ash is disguised as a Mr. Mime for a circus act and gets kidnapped by Team Rocket who aren't aware of this. Upon revealing his disguise to them, Ash says "I'm not a Mr. Mime, I just play one on TV."
- This being Pokémon, this could easily be a complete coincidence.
- Dr. Wattage from Wildguard is not a doctor, but the name sounds cool.
- Used as a plot point in the Michael Douglas movie The Game: Douglas' character sees the CRS representative that signed him up for The Game in a drug commercial and realizes he's an actor. He then makes a series of phone calls pretending to be a guy interested in hiring him so he can get his whereabouts.
- One of the cut-away commercials in RoboCop (1987) parodies this type of advertisement with an advert for an artificial heart.
- Parodied in the episode "Fallen" of Stargate SG-1, when Teal'c said that he wasn't the First Prime of Apophis as he was introduced to the nomads.
Khordib: He is Jaffa.
O'Neill: No. But he plays one on TV.
- Sam Quantum Leaps into a TV-Doctor who gets kidnapped by an insane fan who believes him to be the character he plays on TV. He forces her to admit he is not a real doctor by having her husband fake a heart attack while he acts like he is about to perform Open Heart Dentistry on him. (Interestingly, Sam actually was a doctor himself, and presumably could have performed the procedure if necessary.)
- Johnny's new gimmick, once WKRP in Cincinnati changed to a rock and roll music format, is this.
- The third season of Royal Pains has lead actor Mark Feuerstein begin a heart disease PSA with "I'm not a doctor, but I—" before co-star Reshma Shetty cuts him off with "You're not really going to say it, are you?". He settles for "Take it from a guy who plays a guy who knows what he's talking about."
- In Community episode "Epidemiology" the study group starts to seek help on the plague from a young man dressed up as a doctor before asking the doctor dressed up as a banana.
- An episode of The Puzzle Place in which the characters spend all day watching TV featured a commercial for the "Global Express" credit card in which a puppeteer opens with "Hi. I'm not a puppet, but I play one on TV." The fact that all of the characters on this show are puppets, and everything they've been watching stars live-action humans, makes this either particularly surreal or brilliant.
- A Kermit-the-frog-themed parody of Five for Fighting's "Superman" that opens with the verse: "I can't stand to swim / Swamp soaks right through me / I'm not amphibian / I just play one on TV."
- The Amazing Superpowers webcomic strip depicting a flight stewardess asking if there were any doctors onboard as the pilot had just had a heart attack. A man says "I'm not a doctor, but I play one on TV". The air stewardress replies "good enough". The last panel is a cover of a TV magazine mourning the tragic death of the star of the comedy series "Dr Oops".
- David McCallum (Ducky in NCIS) isn't a doctor, but has spoken at forensic conventions. He does the research.
- Same goes for Randolph Mantooth, who played firefighter/paramedic Johnny Gage on NBC's Emergency! from 1972-79. Furthermore, he was trained in the profession for verisimilitude up to the point where he could have taken the professional certification exam if he wanted to. He still speaks at firefighting and EMS conferences promoting safety in the fire service.
- David Tennant has and wears a T-shirt that says "Trust me, I'm a Doctor"
- Odd real life example tied into Royal Pains. Reshma Shetty was out shopping when someone near by collapsed. She immediately went into "work mode" and started telling people to call 911, helping the guy out, getting his history, etc. She was able to give a very good medical history to the EMTs who arrived and had to explain to everyone she wasn't a doctor, but played a physician's assistant on TV.