On my search for the first television show to have referenced the Internet, I got to thinking about Doogie Howser, M.D. The show aired in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but part of the titular character’s backstory is that he’s been keeping a computerized diary since 1979.
“I think you mean 1989,” a colleague offered after reading my story.
Which, I know, totally seems more realistic. The personal-computer craze went mainstream in the 1980s. But I carefully fact-checked this one! (And then double checked because, really, 1979 seems too early.)
Here’s what I found: At the very end of the episode, “Thanks for the Memories,” Doogie clicks back through some old journal entries—all the way back to this one:
March 21, 1979... This is my new computer. Dad would only buy it if I promised to keep a stupid journal every night. I hate this! What a fruitless exercise!
(Naturally, Doogie updates the entry: “April 27, 1992... Journal Entry No. 4,773. Thanks, Dad.” Aww.)
Okay, so he definitely had a computer in 1979, but what kind of machine was Doogie using for all that time? I know my family used our first computer, an Apple IIc, for years—but that model didn’t come out until 1984. (I loved that thing.) Let’s take a closer look at Doogie’s:
In an online thread about vintage computers, someone suggests Doogie’s machine had an IBM 8513 monitor—but that model didn’t come out until 1987. (I guess it’s possible Doogie saved journal entries on a floppy disk and transferred them to his new machine when he upgraded.)
It definitely looks like an IBM—you can even see that little oval logo on the top left corner. Kinda like this one:
And it’s definitely a different computer than the machine featured in the pilot episode:
But I don’t know nearly enough about classic IBM computers to call this one. (I’ve asked some folks at IBM if they know and will update this space when I hear back.) In the meantime, anybody have any good guesses? Drop me an email.
Thanks to everyone who’s been writing and tweeting ideas about the great Doogie mystery. Here’s a sampling of your responses so far:
@AdrienneLaF The blue background always made me assume it was an Amiga or a Commodore 64.— Patrick Ho-grim (@phogan) October 13, 2015
And, via email, from Frances Clee: “If we're talking 1979, not a Commodore 64. And certainly not an Amiga which was later than a Commodore 64. How about a Commodore PET? It apparently had a blue screen.”
@AdrienneLaF strike the Apple II+ idea. If the 1979 journal entry had lower case letters, the II+ did not.— Andrew Langmead (@alangmead) October 14, 2015
@AdrienneLaF I'd think a Commodore PET, it was the first personal computer I ever saw somewhere about 1978 or 1979.— Jack Teague (@jackdteague) October 14, 2015
@AdrienneLaF he had a fictional one--it's no computer that existed in 79 I believe— Paul Bruneau (@ethicalpaul) October 14, 2015