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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, Nov. 27, 2014

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In Movies & TV Commentary

Jack Klugman and Peggy Crosby attend the TV Land Awards in 2008. Klugman, 90, died on Monday. (PHOTO: shutterstock.com )

Quincy was fictional, but Jack Klugman changed medical world


If you enjoy watching "CSI," "Bones" and "Castle," then you have "Quincy" to thank for that. If you or someone you know has taken medication to help fight ALS, muscular dystrophy, AIDS or Tourette's, well you have Jack Klugman to thank.

The character actor, best known for his work on "The Odd Couple," died on Monday, he was 90.

If you are like me, then you are a fan of TV shows, both current and in the past. You will also know the ties that current shows, and their plot points and formulas of long and short story arcs, have with trailblazing shows of the past.

"Quincy, M.E." was one of the trailblazers, where Klugman played the title character, solving mysteries each week through his work as a medical examiner. The medical drama was very popular in the early 80s, and numerous well-known actors in Hollywood would appear on the show. Also, may writers in Hollywood would work on shows like this one, writing a few episodes that would be pitched for each season.

One of those writers was Jack Klugman's brother, Maurice. Maurice caught a report on orphan diseases, and penned an episode on Tourette's syndrome.

The definition of an orphan disease, in its simplest form, is something that only affects a small percentage of the population. Pharmaceutical companies, because they are in the business to make money, usually avoid research and development of drugs of orphan diseases. Because of such a small number of people who need the drugs, the profit margins were never enough to invest in the scientists working on the efforts.

In the 80s, Congress was working on a bill to offer tax incentives for work on these needed drugs. To help raise awareness of the issue, Jack Klugman was invited to the Capitol to testify. In those days, it was rare to see a celebrity get involved in politics, unlike today.

The Orphan Drug Act sailed through the House in 1982, but stalled in the Senate. Because of the roadblock and amendments to the bill, the Klugman brothers wrote and produced a second "Quincy, M.E." show portraying a senator who needed to be convinced of how needed the medications were.

The show and its message was heard, the bill was passed and the Office of Rare Diseases was established. The Washington Post outlines Klugman's secret legacy here.

It is always amazing to see the small ways our lives are impacted by TV shows. For instance, iPod developers got the idea of a large musical memory device from "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and our use of mobile phones was inspired by the agent's shoe phone in "Get Smart" (not sure how much I believe the latter). Anyway, it is always more amazing to find how our lives have been shaped by an idea that originated from all places, a pair of brothers using a TV show to put a spotlight on a medical issue.

Klugman's work in bringing the medical world into living rooms, or just giving us laughs in "The Odd Couple," are notable. What he did to turn the political tide and extend the life of many, that, my friends, is remarkable.

R.I.P.

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