Mark Harmon ties `Hope’ to another doc – It’s check-in time for TV hospital vet

Chicago Hope

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
September 28, 1997

Mark Harmon is hovering by the juniors department at Carson Pirie Scott downtown, but he’s not shopping. The star of “Chicago Hope” is preparing for his next scene, which is being filmed in an unused section of the department store’s second floor.

The cast and crew of the fictional Chicago Hope Hospital fly to the Windy City two to three times each year to shoot on location.

During their first trip to Chicago this season two weeks ago, the producers made sure there was enough local footage shot to use for the first five episodes of the 1997-98 year.

“Chicago Hope” kicks off its fourth season at 9 p.m. Wednesday on Channel 2.

“Generally we try to plot out as many scenes as we can at the beginning of each season,” executive producer-director Bill D’Elia says during a break from filming. “We want to have everything as organized as possible so we’ll know what to shoot here in Chicago while we’re also filming in Los Angeles.”

Adds producer Rob Corn, “I think fans of (`Chicago Hope’) really appreciate the fact that we make the effort to come here (rather than filming it all in L.A.). We’re always looking for ways to show the city off in a really good light and try to put the actors in situations that show we’re in Chicago.”

More than one native has commented on where they believe the various characters live and where the hospital is located.

“A woman at the airport asked us what we had come to Chicago for,” Corn continues. “We told her what we were doing, and she said, `Where is Chicago Hope?’ And we said, `Well, where do you think?’ We try to be very vague about the location. But she was very specific about where (she thought) it was from a scene she saw where somebody left and made a right turn onto a street. It was great. That’s exactly what we’re going for.”

On this afternoon inside Carson’s, Harmon’s character, Dr. Jack McNeil, is at his first Gamblers Anonymous meeting. Wearing a plaid shirt over a T-shirt, Harmon sits in the middle of a dozen or so extras chewing on gum. As the director tells them to smoke, read or drink coffee, the camera zooms in on Harmon’s face, which is dominated by a pair of intense, blue eyes. It is stiflingly hot with the air conditioner turned off (makes too much noise on camera), and some of the spectators are wheezing in the heat. But the actor doesn’t perspire.

“I’m not much of a public speaker,” he suspiciously tells his GA group.

“Cut!” the director says.

Harmon gets up and walks over to the side of the set. His stand-in sits down in the chair Harmon vacates. When the star leaves, the gawkers on the L platform who were peering in through the window lose interest and turn away.

“McNeil is fun to play,” says Harmon, who is married to actress Pam Dawber and the father of two small children. “When they first talked to me about coming to do this show, he was just an idea. The way he has developed over the year has been really fun to play. Is he a lot like me? Probably not, but if he continues to surprise me the way he has, that’s a nice thing for any actor.

“McNeil is a real opinionated guy and he’s very aggressive. He’s got a sign that hangs in his office that says, `No sniveling.’ I think he is perhaps the hardest on himself. I think (viewers) know more about a lot of the characters on `Chicago Hope’ than they do about McNeil. I suspect that will change over time.”

Harmon waves to a crew member and briefly chats about the next scene.

A quick look around the set reveals some familiar faces. Makeup artist Jamie Weiss, who was last seen on the set of “ER” when they filmed in Chicago earlier this month, is dusting light powder on Harmon’s face.

Asked which cast was more difficult to work with – “ER” or “Chicago Hope” – Weiss laughs.

“Oh, they’re both really fun,” she says diplomatically. “They make my job really easy. You take someone like Mark, and he hardly needs anything done to him.”

Which is what she said about George Clooney of “ER” as well.

Corn said well wishers often mistake his show for “ER.”

“People will say all the time, `God! I loved your show last night,’ ” Corn relates. “I’ll say, `That’s not our show. Wrong channel.’ It’s constantly confused, which isn’t really surprising.

They’re both medical shows that take place in Chicago, so that’s just the nature of it.”

Eagle-eyed viewers may even see a little reminder of “Chicago Hope” on an upcoming episode of “ER.” When the NBC drama filmed here earlier this month, George Clooney and Julianna Margulies shot a scene on the L platform at Chicago and Franklin. A huge poster on the platform wall touted the new ABC romantic comedy series “Dharma & Greg,” which stars former “Chicago Hope” cast member Thomas Gibson (Dr. Daniel Nyland). Someone blacked out “ABC.” Both the “ER” and “Chicago Hope” crews den y they did it.

While “Chicago Hope” doesn’t have a flashy premiere like the highly touted live episode of “ER” last week, viewers of the show will be treated to a musical on the third episode.

Asked if this was their take on the old police series “Cop Rock,” Corn jokes, “Well, we call our episode, `Doc Rock.’ We wish for a better term than a musical because there are some musical elements to it and a big Broadway number. But it’s not a musical, per se. Dr. Shutt (played by Adam Arkin) has an aneurism and through this test that they do on him and the drugs being prescribed, he has visions of these characters in unusual situations.”

Which sounds not unlike the last episode of “St. Elsewhere,” where the events all occurred in a young boy’s fantasy.

“Well, I’m not going to say any more about it,” Corn says, laughing. “But we had a lot of fun with it.”

Harmon, who spent four seasons on the critically lauded “St.

Elsewhere,” says he had no apprehensions about playing another doctor on television, as long as the roles were different enough.

“The truth of the matter is this is a very different show from `St. Elsewhere,’ ” he says. “That was really a show about the hospital. `Chicago Hope’ is a show about people. The fact that I’m playing a doctor bothers me not at all. If I’m not playing a doctor, I’m playing a sheriff or a murderer . . .

“(`Chicago Hope’ executive producer) John Tinker was on `St. Elsewhere’ as a writer when I was there and I’ve known Bill (D’Elia) for years. They both called me and said, `Would you come in and talk about this?’ The first thing I said was that I had no interest in doing anything that I’ve done before. They said neither were they.

I’m really happy playing this character and being part of this cast.

And on a personal level, it provides me an opportunity to stay home with a young family, and I appreciate that.”


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