FAMILY FORUM: TV Lore Can Last For Life
The Desert Woman, Palm Springs, Calif.
By Pamela Henry
March, 2004

We named our firstborn after a TV show character in 1998, so when CBS canceled Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman that year, after six seasons, the disappointment felt untimely.

Reruns in syndication satisfied us with the stories about a pioneer Boston doctor who sets up her practice in the old western town of Colorado Springs. But eventually even those episodes were struck down from the airwaves. This left no record, no visual, for us to tell our daughter how or why she came to be named after Jane Seymour's character, Dr. Michaela Quinn.
In the show, Michaela's father had wanted a boy. They added the “a” to Michael when she turned out to be a girl. In our case, we'd been searching for names during my pregnancy, and nothing fit ~ until one night, while watching one of our first few episodes, my husband became inspired after hearing the doctor's first name. "I've got it ~ Michaela," he said to me. At that moment, we knew that would be our daughter's name.

Until that point, I couldn't see why people named their children after celebrities, let alone fictional characters. But, like everything, that changed with motherhood; even TV took on new meaning. Suddenly Dr. Quinn had become a role model for "mother," and the show a teacher of wholesome family values, progressive thinking, and good character, unlike anything we had seen on TV before. Way better than Bonanza growing up, but the same family feeling. Then they go and cancel it to air a show filled with gratuitous violence. Fans campaigned for CBS to save Dr. Quinn, but to no avail.

But signs kept showing us that Michaela Quinn's spirit was alive and well in the New West. A friend turned out to be a sister of a writer and director on the show. She's Florence Vollstedt, 50, of La Quinta. Her younger brother is Carl Binder of Chino Hills. As a favor, he sent us two videos of his episodes and a copy of an original script. I gave it to my husband one Father's Day.

Even Florence agrees about television these days, as a big fan of her brother's work. "I wish we had more shows without the sex, senseless violence, and just plain bad behavior," she said. "Carl always wrote good messages into his stories. I especially like the story about the preacher who goes blind and the town prays for his sight to return. The bandages are taken off, he is still blind, and they all question the power of prayer. Then the preacher says something to the effect that maybe they should not be praying for his sight to return, but rather that he has the strength and wisdom to handle whatever the outcome. So many people pray for ‘things’ rather than the virtues to be good people. I was most impressed with Carl's insight, understanding, and compassion with that episode."

Flash forward to January of 2004. The show still has a following of fans through its Web site, Visiting for old time's sake, my husband discovered the first two seasons were available for sale on DVD and ordered them for us. (The third and fourth seasons are also now available on DVD, with seasons 5 and 6 expected in 2005.)

We watch almost every night, making up for lost time. Only now we have five-year-old Michaela watching the show as well, with curiosity about her parents' choice of a name. Michaela and her younger sister Kristen nestle between us as the episodes introduce themes of racial equality, our nation's treatment of American Indians, the struggle of women for equal rights, issues of love and grief, and perseverance against ignorance and injustice.

In today's realm of TV technology, families can choose their entertainment purposefully, and because so much is available, it's easier to find programs that become part of family lore during the growing years. We found attachment to this show to be like a hearty meal. While there's so much undesirable about television programs today, it's equally heartening to discover treasures on television. Too bad we don't have more new seasons of Dr. Quinn, but it produced enough family lore to last us a lifetime.

Pamela Henry is a freelance writer in Redlands, California. Email