Television and No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

We were unable at USA Studios to come up with a project that satisfied the executives (and I soon learned that a lot of ideas, and a lot of shows, never make it to air). I was therefore free of that commitment and interviewed for the job on NBC, a show that was to be known
as “The Other Half.” It starred Dick Clark, Danny Bonaduce, myself, and Mario
Lopez. I learned a lot about television from Dick Clark. “The most important thing to understand”, he said  “is that when you’re talking to that camera, you’re really only talking to one person. So relax and have a conversation with them.”

That was key and a wonderful insight. It gave me a comfort level that helped me to
relax and made me a more effective host.

I lasted only one season though. The concept didn’t seem to fly. People loved when we would simply discuss issues that concerned them, but the producers were determined to put us in positions that they believed our audience would find funny, things like wearing
tutus, or bikini waxing. They didn’t.

Also, as the skits got sillier and sillier, I began to feel out of place. The executive producer, Susan Winston, came to me and said, “Jan, I need you to do me a favor.”

“Of course.” I said.

“Well,” she continued, “I need you not to know the answer. Some of the affiliates think you talk down to the other guys and I just need you to not know the answers sometimes.”

I was shocked. “How could I not know the answer?” I asked. “You’ve got Bonaduce at the other end of the podium screaming, ‘you’re Dr. Jan, a Harvard-educated plastic surgeon.’ How can I look stupid under those circumstances? Besides, I’m not talking down to them. We’re all playing roles here. I’m supposedly the sensible, sophisticated
professional.”

In actuality, it turned out that “the affiliates” – those who owned and operated the individual stations – were uncomfortable with the black guy being the reasonable one. Psychologically, that was devastating for me. I thought we had clearly evolved past that, but I guess we hadn’t. That caught me off guard, especially coming from Sue Winston. I was in love with her. She was smart, pretty, and very knowledgable about TV. I like her
immediately also.

Nevertheless, going full circle, I was now available to do “Plastic Surgery: Before and After” on Discovery Health Channel. That, however, presented another problem that I had not anticipated. The problem was jealousy amongst other plastic surgeons.

If you called me and said, “I have this or that symptom, what should I do?” it would be very easy for me to address. However, I’m not sure how you deal with other people’s jealousy. If you treat them well, they say you’re condescending. If you avoid them, they say
you’re stuck up.

“Plastic Surgery: Before and After” really made me a target. Every plastic surgeon who thought it should be him, or her, rather than me on TV explaining plastic surgery procedures, essentially saw me as the target. There were the occasional interactions where people were happy that someone had put plastic surgery in such an honorable and academic light, but those people were the silent majority. Many plastic surgeons across America (but especially in Los Angeles), the vocal few, would call the offices and offer to debate me on issues concerning plastic surgery. The problem was we weren’t looking for a
debate. We just wanted to offer good sound advice outside the realm of controversy. Unfortunately for me, stardom was creating enemies I didn’t even know I had. And even more frightening was that they were not remote. They were right outside my window.

Incidentally, it’s important to note that all of this took place before the issues of DUI’s, divorce, malpractice suits or the Medical Board of California. In fact, in terms of malpractice suits and the Medical Board of California I would argue that TV was in fact the cause, because it had not happened, none of my patients in the years leading up to “my
celebrity” had ever even complained. In fact, my malpractice carrier was surprised that I had gone as many years as I had without a complaint.

I mention this because it’s very important to put a time frame on what Harvey Levin was saying on Larry King Live. The lesson is not in discussing the confidential information regarding my patient. The lesson is in looking at the behavior of those people outside that
relationship after her death. In his interview Harvey Levin opined, “But,
Larry, What’s interesting about this is that he was on “The Oprah Winfrey Show”
almost as the go to plastic surgeon. He was on the Discovery Channel. He was on
NBC on a show they had there. And no one-none of this, none of this surfaced.
And, clearly, you know, had they known, this would have raised a red flag in
terms of putting him on the show because it’s almost like a Good Housekeeping
stamp of approval.” Sounds to me like Harvy is jealous, or heaven forbid,
racist.

I’m concerned for Harvey because once again he demonstrates his laziness, or his stupidity. None of this showed up at that time because none of it had happened at that time. My casting for these shows took place in 2000, 2001, and 2002. The acquittal of the DUI, and the conviction for a BAL greater than .08 took place in 2006. By the way,
“Plastic Surgery: Before and After” had been cancelled already. Its five years
were up. Oprah could not have considered it because it hadn’t happened.

And certainly for completion’s sake take a look at all these so-called malpractice suits. You’ll see they coincide with my decision to try and help those people who otherwise would not be able to afford plastic surgery. You see, the guy on TV, the go-to guy, makes
an easy target.

I was proud of “Plastic Surgery: Before and After”, at least until the tragic death of Donda West. It was at that time that the public relations people at Discovery Networks called (for
the first time in six years) and asked that I don’t mention them should I go on
Larry King Live. They were distancing themselves from me before they had even
heard my side of the story.

And yet, one of our major sponsors of the show was the American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. They paid to advertise the services of their members to the general public on our show (one I was now starring in and producing) because it offered an advantage for them: a well-done, informative show demonstrating the medical problems that plastic surgery could solve. Not once, in five years of programming, had anyone from their organization challenged any of the information I shared. They all wanted to be on the show, but they could not find fault with us (or me) and surely most of
their members tried.

In terms of private practice, John Williams’ predictions had been correct. People were more demanding, less inclined to be happy with results, and just meaner. I grew increasingly unhappy.

I searched for other alternatives including reducing the amount of time that I spent in the office doing plastic surgery. Every day got to be too much. At a certain level, I was beginning not to like the patients. That was more devastating than any other factor. I needed these people. I wanted to help them. It was important for me to help them in
order to feel good about myself.

That weighed heavily in my decision to work in Fountain Valley, California at Euclid Surgery Center. With my TV career taking off, less administrative time running an office looked very attractive. I still needed to practice medincine, for that was my platform, but
the freedom to explore other alternatives was very enticing. My job would only be to do surgery. I would come in, evaluate a patient, discuss procedures with them, schedule them for surgery, do the surgery, and then do the follow-up.  The staff at Euclid would do all the
administrative work including scheduling appointments, the paperwork, collect the money, and act as a liaison between the doctor and the patient.

This worked wonderfully, but soon we became victims of our own success. There were more patients than time could accommodate. The patients, even though they were getting cut rates to do premium surgery, were becoming more impatient and more demanding. There were constant threats of malpractice suits because patients had to wait an hour or two to be seen. Things like infections became malpractice rather than an unfortunate
mishap. Hypertrophic scarring, which is known in women of color, became something the doctor did rather than a known complication of healing in people of color.

It did, however, inspire us to take a critical look at what we were doing. I reviewed 530 cases that we had done from July 2006 to June 2007. In that time period, there had been four infections. The national average for infections is 3%, which meant that statistically
we should have at least 16. We had experienced only four, which was a fourth of that. Yet all four of these people were threatening malpractice suits. For me, that was more than enough. If I was going to have to deal with people who were angry, and wanted to see themselves as victims, then I would return to my old fee scale. I was not going out of my way to perform these procedures on people who otherwise might not be able to afford them, and then be wrongfully threatened each day (hence, Harvey Levin’s “malpractice suit after malpractice suit” comments.) With that, I returned to Brentwood and solo practice.

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