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.


  1. Thanks fr posting these videos.... While White was portrayed as an ex-drug addict and very unlikeable, these scenes were dramatic particularly because of Westphall's unwavering support of him. It was good acting, all around. It goes to show that the cast of St Elsewhere was so well done, and a huge reason why the series was so well received, despite its low ratings. That, and the writing. Hope you continue to post new videos. I like how you are tackling different characters and their dilemmas through video excerpts over multiple episodes. Good stuff!


  2. Glad you're enjoying them! One of the things I loved about St. Elsewhere was the way the characters evolved in response to their experiences, so video series are a good way to celebrate these great stories and performances. I plan on continuing this one all the way to "After Life"!

  3. Cool. Would love to see a look at the evolution of Westphall, Craig, and Erlich (separately).


  4. As much as I loved St Elsewhere, I gotta say that I didn't like the Peter White plot. While anything is possible, I just didn't find the idea of a junior doctor being a hospital rapist realistic or likely. There were enough interesting storylines without resorting to this melodrama.

  5. I just started watching the series on Hulu. Towards the end of the first season, White quite clearly rapes his estranged wife. She is protesting throughout and he is holding her down on their kitchen table. I was shocked that they tried to rehabilitate him.

  6. Hiya, I'm Terry knox, and I didn't like it one bit when the writers did that to my character. Even now, reading these comments these many years later, it pisses me off.
    But the show was good.
    T. Knox

    1. Wow, hey, thank you very much for sharing here. I'm honoured when someone connected to the show contributes here.

      Myself, I'm kind of weird about the whole storyline. I grew up emotionally damaged, and I hate to say the character was kind of triggering for me in ways I'm not crazy about--difficulties with women and staying inside the lines. And it's strange because I don't feel that way anymore, now that I've been through therapy and healing.

  7. Wow, so glad to find this site. I work in the field, doing research and training. I've worked at two "St. Elgius" institutions. I'm sorry to say that this storyline is realistic (as was Wendy's fate, which is sadly more common). The last hospital campus I worked at, a friend in the administration revealed the history of assaults in a particular medical education building, and for me to never get caught there alone. All the violence, weirdness of the show - people being "turfed" - was even more common. More than once I spotted people who went AMA on the street, with their butt hanging out of their medical gown, still hooked up to an IV. And watching Erlich, Jack, others, correctly shows what Hojat calls "the the third year". Students and residents who start out caring, and become burnt out and disillusioned.

    To Terence Knox: I find your character terrifying on SE, which is a testament to what great work you did; but you were also great on TOUR OF DUTY, and in our favorite MURDER SHE WROTE episode of all time. You have such energy. Sincerely hope to catch you doing theatre sometime. Very unpleasant to have your character go into that direction, but in the long run, seeing SA played as the terrifying experience it is, has helped with some of the stigma, I truly hope that helps.

  8. How many women did Peter White rape?two? and then Wendy was asaulted, but not raped. And was the rest were committed by the copycat rapist?


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