Dempsey, who starred on Grey’s Anatomy as Dr. Derek Shepherd, and Wyle, who starred as Dr. John Carter on E.R., have joined forces with health service company Cigna to promote annual check-ups as a way to improve an individual’s health.
During their time on set shooting the TV Doctors of America campaign, both Dempsey, 50, and Wyle 45, were awestruck by 80-year-old Alan Alda, who played Captain Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce on M.A.S.H..
“I think we were all in awe of Alan Alda. We grew up with him and it was great to meet him and to see what he’s doing,” Dempsey told PEOPLE of working alongside Alda. “And then to listen to his stories about what it was like for him when he was doing M.A.S.H. and what his life was like after that.”
Dempsey continued to add that the veteran actor played a significant role on him joining the campaign.
“When Alan Alda agreed to do it as well,” he said, “it made a big difference for me.”
Wyle echoed Dempsey’s sentiments of the M.A.S.H. actor, revealing to PEOPLE that he, “would follow Alan Alda to the ends of the earth. Anytime he’s anywhere, I tend to want to show up.”
The E .R. alum also shared a fond memory of Alda during his time on set – where he said “the laughter was infectious” – with his fellow TV doctors, remarking on the 80-year-old’s speed and “energy.”
“I would say the most amusing part about it was we started with this whole sequence where we were pushing a gurney down a hallway and everybody was being very deferential and sensitive to Mr. Alda’s age and saying ‘We don’t have to go very fast’ and ‘We’re only going to go from here to there’ and ‘Do you feel comfortable?’ and ‘Does the floor feel slippery?’ and Alan outpaced us all. He had more energy than the rest of us,” Wyle said.
Though Dempsey and Wyle starred on competing networks’ hospital-centered dramas, the TV doctors can at least now agree on one thing: the other medical series they’d appear on if they had the choice.
“Oh my gosh, M.A.S.H.,” Wyle said without skipping a heartbeat. “I’d have to go with M.A.S.H. I grew up watching [it]. Hawkeye Pierce was a childhood hero of mine. That was the first time that I really sort of saw how comedy and drama can be blended together and in half an hour, you can move an audience from gut-splitting laughter to absolute tears. I thought it was just phenomenal.”
Dempsey said of also selecting M.A.S.H. as his TV pick: “There are only a handful of doctor shows that really have worked if you think about it. M.A.S.H. being one of them. That was the first that sort of tied in the drama, the sense of humor and then, later on, more social issues of that time where they were pushing it more towards the latter part of their run. So it would be nice to go back to that to be on that show certainly.”
Wyle, who appeared on E.R. from 1994 to 2009, recalls the frequent conversations about the need for check-ups from his TV days on the medical drama.
“I remember when I was doing E.R., they were talking about how with so many Americans going without health insurance, emergency rooms were often times being used as the front line as general practitioners for most people’s basic health. People were waiting way too long until symptoms were unignorable before going in and getting them treated. Often times they were going to get treated by an emergency physician,” Wyle told PEOPLE. “I was disheartened to hear that that trend hasn’t really stopped. It strikes home in terms of we tried to get the message out there 10 years ago about how important it is to take a proactive look at your own health and how many lives can be saved annually just with people being in the know about their blood sugar, blood pressure, body mass index and cholesterol.”
Dempsey said of the importance of the campaign, “I think the important thing here is really get into your doctor and get those physicals. You are looking at the data and you’re seeing that there’s a significant change if you just simply go and do that and have that dialogue with your doctor,” and added, “Understanding your family dynamics and medical history and communicating that with your doctor is very, very important.”
Fellow TV doctors Lisa Edelstein (House) and Donald Faison (Scrubs) will also appear in the multimedia platform. The five TV doctors will use their prominence to help influence consumers to get annual check-ups and know their key health numbers for blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar and Body Mass Index with the campaign goal of saving up to 100,000 lives a year.