If you were surprised by last month’s season finale of ”Chicago Hope,” you weren’t the only one. In the episode, series stars Christine Lahti, Peter Berg, Eric Stoltz, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Stacy Edwards, and Jayne Book are all unceremoniously fired by returning player Mandy Patinkin, a drastic casting upset that had some fans reaching for their defibrillators. According to survivor Hector Elizondo, few on the set were expecting the wholesale housecleaning. ”We were in a state of shock, to put it mildly,” says the six-year series vet. ”This was cooking for a long time, unbeknownst to us.”
Even though Berg announced his decision to leave the show months ago — and most of the other exits, including Lahti’s, were made by mutual agreement according to ”Hope” representatives — the abrupt nature of the cast cutback unnerved remaining players Elizondo, Adam Arkin, Mark Harmon and Rocky Carroll.
”It was very solemn and serious,” recalls Elizondo. ”The producers said, ‘We’re looking at the core group of ”Chicago Hope.” Everyone else is gone.’ Just like that. Fifteen minutes later, we went back to work. So much for sentiment, huh?”
Still, Elizondo thinks the upset, which series creator David E. Kelley instigated to make room for new blood including Carla Gugino (”Spin City”), Lauren Holly (”Picket Fences”), and Natasha Gregson Wagner (”Two Girls and a Guy”), is for the best. ”It’ll freshen the show up,” he says. ”And Mandy will be coming back to do recurring shots every three or four episodes, which will add a little mishigas.” Elizondo says that whispers regarding Barbara Hershey joining the cast have been ”floating about” as well.
As for Elizondo, unless Kelley decides to dump him in the biohazard bin with his old buddies, he’ll be sticking around for the long haul. ”Once you’re a New York actor struggling in the theater, there’s a little curb feeler genetically implanted saying, ‘Don’t take it for granted, this may all fall flat,’ so it’s difficult to say no to work,” he says. ”So, more liver transplants!”