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".

Sunday, January 12, 2014

On Call, Vol. 2, No. 3 - From the Personnel Department - Profile: Mark Tinker - Wise Guy With a Heart

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

He was born into television royalty, yet had to make his own success. His work is very public, yet he maintains a low profile. He is boisterous, yet quiet, and sardonic yet sensitive. These and other incongruities are why John Tinker lovingly boasts of his brother, "There's nobody like Mark."

Grant's Gang - Jodie, Mike, Mark, John

Mark Tinker was born in 1951 to mother, Ruth, and legendary television genius Grant Tinker. The oldest of four children, Mark and his siblings: Mike (born 1952), Jodie (1954), and baby brother John (1958) grew up in Darian, Connecticut not far from New York City on Long Island Sound.

RUTH TINKER FRICKE ... "Mark always had a good work ethic, I never had to tell him to do his homework."

JODIE TINKER DeLELLA ... "He was really good in school, he got good grades."

RUTH TINKER FRICKE ... "He watched Howdy Doody and Soupy Sales, but he would not sit there like the kids do today and watch cartoons. We would watch cartoons during supper, because it made the kids eat faster (laughs)."

And the faster they ate, the faster they could get back to the family pastime - sports.

JOHN TINKER ... "Mark played Little League and Babe Ruth when he was very young. I remember swimming. All of us swam on the swim team. And I remember Mark as a very good swimmer. He was very slight, I mean, a good gust of wind would put him across the field."

RUTH TINKER FRICKE ... "He loved athletics, he played baseball, but not football because he was too skinny."

And though skinny, Mark overcame his size to excel in many sports. What he couldn't quite overcome, though, was the divorce of his parents.

GRANT TINKER ... "We lived in Connecticut and I worked in New York - the commuting wasn't very good for the marriage (or the kids). It meant that I left early in the morning before they were up, and got home at night frequently after they had gone to bed. So I had far too little time with them, and I feel like I was sort of an absentee father. I used to spend far too much time working and far too little time doing the more valuable things."

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