Two Chicago doc-u-dramas -- E.R. and Chicago Hope -- go head-to-head. Will one of them be D.O.A.?

By EW Staff
Updated September 16, 1994 at 04:00 AM EDT
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Not since CBS and ABC aired simultaneous Amy Fisher movies have programmers set up such a vexing choice: which of the new Windy City hospital dramas, NBC’s E.R. or CBS’ Chicago Hope, to watch on Thursdays at 10 p.m.? The decision may not be as hard as it seems. ”If it’s possible to have two medical shows set in Chicago be completely different, we’ve done it,” says Noah Wyle, who plays an E.R. medical student and has viewed Hope’s pilot. ”I don’t see a conflict, quite frankly.”

* Wyle’s diagnosis is surprisingly accurate. The two programs differ in at least five significant ways: *The Meaning of the Titles. E.R. stands for emergency room, where overworked-and underpaid-docs handle a constant influx of indigent inner-city patients. Chicago Hope is the fictional name of one of the finest hospitals in the country, where wealthy surgeons perform groundbreaking operations. Hope star Mandy Patinkin describes a typical scene filmed during a recent location visit (both shows are shot mostly in L.A.): ”(These doctors) are so connected they go hit golf balls at Wrigley Field.”

* The Makeup of the Casts. The physicians on E.R. are younger than those on Hope (which counts E.G. Marshall, 84, among its costars) and include a woman (NYPD Blue escapee Sherry Stringfield) and an African-American (Eriq LaSalle). To compensate for its all-white, all-male roster of sawbones (Roxanne Hart plays a nurse), Hope will add a black surgeon in the second episode (Victoria Dillard). ”I’d be lying if I said there weren’t some demographic motivations, but that starts more with the network,” admits executive producer David E. Kelley.

* The Role of the Auteurs… Even as he continues to work on Picket Fences (and raise two kids with wife Michelle Pfeiffer), Kelley will write many of Hope‘s scripts. E.R. executive producer Michael Crichton, who penned the pilot based on his experiences as a med student, will be much less hands-on. ”Will he sit down and crank out a script? Probably not,” confesses NBC Entertainment president Warren Littlefield. ”He will conceive story lines and give notes. And he has a very active fax machine.”

* The Look of the Shows. ”A ’90s style of dramatic storytelling is developing,” says E.R. executive producer John Wells (China Beach). ”You can look at NYPD Blue and see there’s a different rhythm, pace, and visual requirement.” E.R.’s jerky camera work and quick-cut editing are bound to be described as ”gritty,” but Kelley feels his show, even with its steady images, also deserves the tag: ”To the extent it means realism, we’re very gritty.”

*The Possibility of Nausea. While E.R.’s Wells promises his show won’t ”get too clinical with the gory medical stuff,” Hope revels in close-up depictions of surgery. Yet no one on the series seems worried about grossing out viewers. ”When we’re shooting it, we can’t take our eyes off it,” says Patinkin. ”I don’t see what makes us different from the rest of America.”

Although the two shows are competitors, the casts hardly view each other as enemies. In fact, E.R.‘s Anthony Edwards and Hope‘s Adam Arkin are pals from Northern Exposure, and Patinkin’s wife (actress Kathryn Grody) is tight with Wyle’s mom (a former surgical nurse). ”I have absolutely no interest in getting into a pissing contest,” says Patinkin. ”It’d be great if those guys could come on our show and we could go on theirs.”

Arkin’s outlook is more realistic. ”The chances are good only one of these shows will hit,” he says. ”Maybe this (head-to-head scheduling) simplifies matters. It forces everyone to make a choice early on.” –BF

Chicago Hope

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