Thursday, August 7, 2014

On Call, Vol. 3, No. 1 - Personnel Profile: Howie Mandel - "Prankster and Pathfinder"


From On Call: The Official Newsletter of the St. Elsewhere Appreciation Club, volume 3, number 1, June, 1999.

"YUCK, YUCK, CANUCK"

Canadian Ham Mandel
In baseball jargon, a "triple threat" is someone who can run, throw, and hit. In the entertainment world that would be anyone who excels on stage, in films, and on television (hats off to Rita Moreno). But there's no catchphrase to describe Howie Mandel. He's a stand-up comic, a comedic film actor, a dramatic television actor, a producer, a voice-over talent, a writer, and, he's been a talk show host. In fact, the only show biz gig he hasn't done is Opera, and if asked, he could probably do that too. Yet with all of this talent, don't look for one, defining moment in his early life at which point he knew what path to take. Mandel's is a life full of quirky twists and turns - each of them leading him down a multi-faceted career path and us to discover why he is truly one of the most gifted performers of his generation.

Howie Mandel was born in Toronto, Canada to Albert and Evy Mandel. His father, now deceased, was a lighting salesman and his mom a real estate agent. He has a brother Steve who is three years his junior.

HOWIE MANDEL ... "I had a great upbringing, a normal, middle-class, Canadian suburban upbringing. Once a year we would drive down to Florida and I would sit for three days of driving, and my parents would sit things between me and my brother so we wouldn't smack each other. And that was the extent of our family outings."

Unfortunately, Howie's parents couldn't monitor his actions 24 hours a day, and, as a result, his career as a student turned prankster was legendary, with his having attended (and subsequently been asked to leave) a myriad of schools, including Don Mills Collegiate, North View Heights, and York Mills Collegiate where he once hired a contractor over the phone to build an addition onto the school library. The contractor showed up and commences work until halted by an irate Principal.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

St. Elsewhere featured in PBS's Pioneers of TV: Doctors and Nurses

St. Elsewhere gets a nod in a PBS retrospective on medical dramas airing Tuesday, April 22.

Richard Chamberlain on the set of Dr. Kildare.
Fans of classic TV medical dramas are in for a treat this week. PBS.org's page on the upcoming program Doctors and Nurses includes a few paragraphs on St. Elsewhere. Check it out!

There's a video preview there as well, but I have to assume that it is only viewable in the United States (where I do not live). If it contains any bits on St. Elsewhere, feel free to remark upon it in the comments thread.

Monday, March 24, 2014

On Call, Vol. 3, No. 1 - From the Hospital Review Board: Romance, Nepotism and Fraternization at St. Elsewhere


From On Call: The Official Newsletter of the St. Elsewhere Appreciation Club, volume 3, number 1, June, 1999.

From the early days of soap operas, hospitals have provided the perfect venue for the art of love, with doctors and nurses proving that they really could "operate" while on duty. In the 1960's, Dr. Kildare and Ben Casey prescribed raging hormones for prime time, and they were followed by '70s hunks Chad Everett (Medical Center) and James Brolin (Marcus Welby). Today, love in the TV hospital is commonplace, as romantic relationships offer us a more rounded view of characters in shows like Chicago Hope and ER.

But it was St. Elsewhere in the 1980s that elevated medical drama libidos to a new high. Nearly every member of the St. Elsewhere ensemble became romantically involved, and many did so several times. The irony is that St. Elsewhere was and still is the model for how television dramas deal with serious, topical issues, and the model for how those issues are advanced primarily inside the four walls of a hospital. Christina Pickles used to hear from fans that St. Elsewhere was "only good when the characters stayed in the hospital." Yet, Tom Fontana, John Masius and the gang managed to fill each season with sex (either direct or implied) that helped to better define the characters and give them deeper meaning to the motivations behind their actions. Speaking with ON CALL publisher Jim Longworth for his upcoming book, Above the Line: Conversations with TV's Top Producers, Tom Fontana explained his approach to character development.

TOM FONTANA ... "Every character that I create, I create three parts to him or her. One is the mind, one is the heart, and one is (for lack of a better word) the genitalia. In other words, what do they think about? What makes them weep and laugh, and what makes them want to make love? That is universal whether they're doctors, cops, criminals, or my Aunt Tilly."

Saturday, March 15, 2014

YouTube Playlist - The Ski Mask Rapist

Watch the saga of Peter White on YouTube with this convenient playlist.

Dr. Peter White (Terence Knox) shows us how not to behave
towards our colleagues.
I've been quite busy lately in my personal life, and unfortunately, this has meant that I haven't had time to devote to publishing new posts here on The St. Elsewhere Experience. This business has also halted the flow of new YouTube clips for the time being.

So if you haven't stumbled across this already, here is a link to a YouTube playlist with all the videos thus far posted in my latest video series, The Ski Mask Rapist:

St. Elsewhere - The Ski Mask Rapist YouTube Playlist

I was expecting a lot more negative comments on these videos, like there were when the whole season two episodes were up on YouTube. I think when you string it all together, White actually comes across somewhat sympathetic--to a point. Anyway, your opinions are welcome in the comments threads!





Monday, February 3, 2014

The Ski Mask Rapist, Parts 1 & 2

St. Elsewhere got nice and dark with this season two storyline--a serial rapist stalks St. Eligius.

Dr. Peter White (Terence Knox) lends an unwanted hand to
Nurse Shirley Daniels (Ellen Bry).
In my previous video post, Peter White's Downfall, the disgraced doctor (Terence Knox) had been censured--stripped of his license to prescribe drugs after being bamboozled by an undercover police officer in the E.R. His testimony protected Nurse Shirley Daniels (Ellen Bry) from punishment, but the price he paid was stiff: he's been transferred to pathology, his career prospects have been curtailed, and his permanent record is forever marred.

The season two episode "Drama Center" (aired February 15, 1984) opens in the St. Eligius parking lot. A woman is having trouble starting her car in the cold weather when a man in a ski mask appears at her window, offering to help. She declines, but he reappears at the other window and smashes it.

The woman, Roxanne Reid (Allyn Ann McLerie), enters the E.R. reporting a broken wrist. When Dr. Wayne Fiscus (Howie Mandel) tries to take her for x-rays, she confides that she was raped as well, and Dr. Annie Cavanero (Cynthia Sikes) examines her. As she recovers and is visited by a social worker (Jenny O'Hara), she seems to be handling the ordeal remarkably well, despite her husband's discomfort. But at night, she is plagued by nightmares of the assault. Ms. Reid benefits from a therapy session where she works through her trauma.

Elsewhere, Dr. Peter White visits the emergency room and snaps into action when an unconscious man is carried in. While Dr. Wendy Armstrong (Kim Miyori) and Nurse Daniels treat the patient, Peter, the former E.R. physician, pitches in to help, even though he's not allowed to. When they remind him of his restricted status, he grabs Shirley's arm, angry over being stuck in the morgue, and reminds her of the favor he did for her. Later, Peter's friend, Dr. Jack Morrison (David Morse), visits him in his new digs. Peter is bitter, and not appreciative of the support. And he has resumed his addiction to painkillers.

  • This episode was included in the VHS collection The Very Best of St. Elsewhere.
  • For me, I will always identify Allyn Ann McLerie with her role as Carmen Carlson, wife of General Manager Arthur Carlson on WKRP in Cincinnati. I've been a fan of Jenny O'Hara since her role on Beverly Hills 90210 as the grieving mother of accidental suicide victim Scott Scanlan.
  • Jack asks Peter for the Spelling autopsy.
In the next episode, "Attack" (aired February 22, 1984), Peter is performing an autopsy in the morgue with his more experienced colleague in pathology, the flaky vixen Dr. Cathy Martin (Barbara Whinnery), ignoring her spiel about the benefits of Tibetan ginseng. Peter's skills are in need of work, and when his drug-fuelled clumsiness results in the destruction of her IPG stains, Cathy gets upset with him for ruining six weeks of work. But the compassionate Dr. Martin can't help but notice that something is off with Dr. White, who fidgets nervously and says he's fine.

Dr. Victor Ehrlich (Ed Begley, Jr.) returns from his honeymoon and is shocked to learn from Nurse Lucy Papandrao (Jennifer Savidge) that a woman was raped in the parking lot and another was grabbed on the way to the elevated train, but got away. Later, a young candy-striper (Amy Resnick) nervously approaches Nurse Helen Rosenthal (Christina Pickles) and breaks into tears as she describes how a man lured her into a supply closet--the ski-mask rapist has struck again.

The ski mask rapist picks his moment.
Director of Medicine Dr. Donald Westphall (Ed Flanders) orders the hospital locked down and hires extra security to interrogate visitors like City official Joan Halloran (Nancy Stafford), who wants to hire undercover cops to pose as orderlies. In the cafeteria, Rosenthal, Dr. Jackie Wade (Sagan Lewis), and Dr. Wendy Armstrong (Kim Miyori) debate whether they should fight back if attacked. Wade has seen too many women beaten up for resisting, while Armstrong wants to fight back, as she has read that women who fight back are less likely to be depressed afterwards. Rosenthal doesn't want to rearrange her life and give away her power.

The female staff are treated to a rape prevention meeting from the security consultant, who advises the women not to "get hysterical". They are not assured by his statistics about the unlikeliness of being murdered or the airhorns he hands out to them for protection. Cathy Martin, on the other hand, feels that her aura will protect her--rapists seek out victims, and she doesn't project a "victim aura".

Dr. Wayne Fiscus tries to help out by organizing an escort service for the women at the hospital, but Dr. Annie Cavanero points out the flaw in the plan--"how do you know you haven't signed up the rapist?"

Nurse Shirley Daniels has obtained a license to carry a can of mace for self-protection. When she enters a secure prescription drug storage room, she hears noises and springs into action when a man rushes at her from the shadows. The attacker, however, turns out to be merely a thief who picked the wrong drug closet on the wrong day, and he is charged only with criminal trespassing, to Shirley's dismay.

Meanwhile, Dr. Peter White  is not having a good night. We join him as he fails to perform with a prostitute at a seedy motel, and he explains that it was the night of his wedding anniversary, and he and Myra were all set to go out and have a good time when their kids started acting up, triggering the same fight they always have--Myra feels Peter is too lenient on the children and he feels she's too hard on them. He expresses his frustration with family life and leaves.

Back at St. Eligius, Dr. Cathy Martin is at work in the morgue when a ski-masked face appears at the window. The assailant enters, and despite Cathy's aura, he advances on her. In the struggle, she pulls off the ski mask and reveals the identity of the rapist--Dr. Peter White. The clip cuts off the ending, but after she pulls off the mask, he threatens, "If you tell anyone, I'll kill you." Roll credits.


  • To keep the clips shorter, I decided not to include the "red herring" storyline. In "Drama Center", Dr. Annie Cavanero is dating Dr. Christopher Rant (Michael Goodwin), the moonlighting physician who dumped an indigent patient on St. Eligius in "A Pig Too Far". At Annie's place, Chris won't take no for an answer, and Annie has to fight him off with a face slap. In "Attack", we see Annie enter the rape prevention seminar--she has just had one last fight with Chris, who was getting grabby again, and left with a "to hell with you." Goodwin has a similar build and height to Terence Knox, and both characters kept grabbing women forcefully, so the guy in the ski mask looked like it could have been either of them.
  • "That's why lions sleep in trees." I always enjoyed the show's dark humor. I hope rape prevention lectures are delivered with a bit more sensitivity nowadays.
  • Wendy intends to fight back because she's heard that victims are less depressed afterwards if they resist. This is some pretty brutal foreshadowing, as we shall see.
  • Some even more brutal and amazing foreshadowing--Wayne says to Jack about the panic that has gripped the women at St. Eligius, "I guess we'll never know what the women are going through." In season four, Jack gets raped while doing community outreach work at a prison, and is then stalked by the assailant after he is released in season five.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Classic 1980s TV: Cynthia Sikes vs. Heather Locklear on Battle of the Network Stars

Video of Cynthia Sikes, who played St. Elsewhere's Dr. Annie Cavanero, taking on Heather Locklear on Battle of the Network Stars in 1983.

Cynthia Sikes, Heather Locklear, and Howard Cosell
Here's some quintessential 1970s-80s nostalgia--remember Battle of the Network Stars? Television stars from CBS, ABC and NBC would compete for network television supremacy in physical challenges. Someone has graciously preserved several clips of these contests on YouTube.

St. Elsewhere is represented in the following video clip by Cynthia Sikes, who played Dr. Annie Cavanero in the show's first three seasons. She takes on a young Heather Locklear in the obstacle course, with a play-by-play and post-contest interview conducted by legendary ABC sportscaster Howard Cosell:


Sikes falls behind after the monkey bars, but Locklear, then 22 and starring on T.J. Hooker, stumbles after clearing the wall and loses her lead. Sikes pulls away after this misstep, and Locklear can't compete with Sikes's long, graceful stride. Victory to NBC!

And as a bonus, here are two clips of Mark Harmon, Dr. Bobby Caldwell himself, representing his pre-St. Elsewhere series, the prime-time soap Flamingo Road (which also featured Sikes in a recurring role). In both clips, Harmon, the former starter on UCLA's football team, demonstrates his prowess on the obstacle course. In December 1981, he dominates against Falcon Crest's Lorenzo Lamas, and in the second, from May 1982, he sets an event record against Dynasty's John James. Cosell is in fine form, especially in describing the agony of Lamas, who injures himself.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

New Videos - Peter White's Downfall

The St. Elsewhere Experience presents a series of videos chronicling the show's most controversial storyline.

Dr. Peter White (Terence Knox) breaks down after learning
he has lost his drug-prescription privileges.
If the Emmy Awards were ever to hand out a Special Jury Prize for audacity like they did at Cannes in 1996 for David Cronenberg's Crash, they would be hard-pressed to top the 1983-84 season of St. Elsewhere.

Terence Knox's Dr. Peter White was originally supposed to get killed off early in the first season since he was such a screw-up, but Knox proved compelling enough to earn quite a bit of screen time as he cheated on his wife with multiple partners, separated from her, and got himself hooked on painkillers.

At the end of season one, he had hit rock bottom, but when season two (miraculously) rolled around, it looked like Peter was getting his groove back. He reunited with his wife, kicked his drug habit, and began developing a talent for diagnosis. But nothing stays good for too long at St. Eligius. Especially when the writers decide to push the envelope...

Yes--for the first and possibly only time in network television history, St. Elsewhere made a regular character a serial rapist. (Correct me if I'm wrong.)

I am posting these videos for a few reasons. For one, I want people to be able to comment on this one. A popular sentiment I've heard is that the writers went too far on this one, and it's just not believable that a character would do something like this. I would imagine that nowadays, a story like this would be grounded in a deeper understanding of the psychology behind sexual assault. So feel free to tear this one apart!

Another reason--I found Peter White utterly fascinating. Like a train wreck. One that takes out three main characters. I wouldn't be surprised if NBC execs felt the opening credits were too long and they wanted the producers to thin the herd. Or if they wanted to themselves. (Sounds like the Sword of Damocles hung over every actor's head, unless the producers liked them... you can tell which ones, because they stuck around, got screen time, and didn't get raped in prison.)

So I'm starting the series with a pair of videos that set the scene for Peter's dark descent.

Peter's good fortune comes to an end in the seventh episode of season two, "Entrapment":

His poor judgment lands he and Nurse Shirley Daniels (Ellen Bry), his unwitting accomplice, before the Medical Review Board for dispensing prescription drugs without a license in the season's twelfth episode, "Hearing":

For me, Dr. Peter White is one of the worst bad guys ever to appear in the opening credits of a network television series; probably the nastiest villain of the decade. Knox is very effective at making Peter downright awful, yet strangely watchable.

I also enjoy Conrad Janis as Ralph Tanney, who, judging from his courtroom skills here and in upcoming episodes, is possibly the single greatest lawyer in the history of the world.

By the way, there are a few more articles left from On Call: The Official Newsletter of the St. Elsewhere Appreciation Club. Those are coming (they're long!). I also plan on resuming episode recaps after the newsletter is fully preserved online.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

On Call, Vol. 2, No. 3 - Hospital Directory


From On Call: The Official Newsletter of the St. Elsewhere Appreciation Club, volume 2, number 3, December, 1998.

As promised, ON CALL has compiled a list of folks who had anything to do with St. Elsewhere. Where possible, we have contacted crew members and performers to update their careers and/or credits. The first item of each entry refers to the person's position on St. Elsewhere. If you know of anyone we left out, please let us hear from you.*

(*From the Webmaster of The St. Elsewhere Experience: No, please don't.)

Video: Dr. Auschlander Tries Medical Marijuana

St. Elsewhere broke ground with this story about using medical marijuana to treat chemotherapy symptoms in 1984.


Dr. Daniel Auschlander (Norman Lloyd) sees "what all the
fuss is" about cannabis.
This is one of the many reasons Norman Lloyd is awesome--his comedic chops and pathos in this episode from February 3, 1984. His character, Dr. Daniel Auschlander, fights a battle with liver cancer throughout the entire run of St. Elsewhere. He was originally slated to die off after four episodes, but Lloyd proved to be too good to jettison so early, so his cancer went into what Lloyd has described as "the longest remission in television history".

Auschlander's recurrent chemo cycles affect his ability to do his job, and by the middle of season two, he's feeling particularly beaten. In the season's twelfth episode, "Hearing", his oncologist, Dr. Morton Chegley (Arthur Taxier), suggests several options for relieving his patient's pain, and laments that he is not legally permitted to prescribe THC caplets, which, he hears, are quite effective.

Auschlander is not warm to the idea of circumventing the law, but his symptoms push him to take action. He spots Dr. Wayne Fiscus (Howie Mandel) in the cafeteria, and asks if the young doctor might be able to point him in the right direction. Wayne, delighted by the notion of the septuagenarian taking a walk on the wild side, has no luck with his old connection, but enlists the help of orderly Luther Hawkins (Eric Laneuville), to whom Wayne must admit he approached because he assumed that an African-American ghetto-dweller would be able to score some dope.

His assumption was correct, and soon after, Fiscus and Hawkins are supervising the elderly experimenter on a trip to a convenience store, to find the ideal munchies for the occasion. They have some serious explaining to do to a skeptical police officer when it becomes clear that the test subject can't handle his smoke.

The next day, Dr. Auschlander confides to Dr. Fiscus that the whole experience--the undignified behaviour, the night of sleep lost to hallucinations, and the ill effects of a junk-food-munchie-binge--was not worth repeating, and that he'll endure his chemo symptoms without chemical enhancement.

Enjoy the clip!


  • I don't know if this was the first "medical marijuana" storyline on network television, but it certainly brought up the issue long before there was such a thing as the "medical marijuana industry".
  • A lot of TV shows have done the "pot" episode, where the joke is that the characters get high and act stupid. For me, this is one of the better ones. Credit that to the writers (Mark Tinker, John Masius, Steve Bello, Robert Daniels), director Charles Braverman, and, of course, the great Norman Lloyd.
  • When the police officer asks Dr. Auschlander for "his story", Auschlander relates that when he was a boy, his father used to take him to the Metropolitan Opera House. This is the same story, almost word for word, that he tells Dr. Westphall at the end of the series' third episode, "Down's Syndrome".