Thursday, 26 August 2010

Wonderland Revisited Part II

Wonderland, the eight part television series about a fictional psychiatric Hospital in New York City evoked a strong response when the first two episodes aired in 2000, and ABC decided to took it off the air.

Many of the reviews and debates are hard to find on the Internet or apparently lost. Thanks to it was possible to recover substantial parts of the discussion. This second part of 'Wonderland Revisited' will solely focus on these documents, without any further commentary, pictures or videos.

TV Guide April 8, 2000 issue
Next Stop, Wonderland by David Handelman

Forget the emergency room - welcome to the psychiatric ward. The extreme hospital drama has arrived
It's just another morning on the hospital ward. Doctors Robert Banger (Ted Levine) and Neil Harrison (Martin Donovan) are leading an entourage of medical students on their daily rounds from bed to bed, waking up the patients and assessing their status. Today, there's a patient who says he's "depressed." Banger asks him why. "Something happened," the man says evasively. Turns out he poured gasoline on his mother and set her on fire.

OK, this isn't your everyday hospital ward. It's got prison bars, uniformed guards and signs warning: NO WEAPONS BEYOND THIS POINT. Doctor Banger runs the forensic psychiatric ward of a New York public hospital, tha place where crime suspects displaying mental disorders land between arrest and their ultimate destinations.
Nor is it your everyday network drama series. But Wonderland (Thursdays, 10 P.M./ET), created by former Chicago Hope star Peter Berg, got the go-ahead from ABC to air as an eight-week, mid-season tryout. "There's no question this is a very risky show for us," says Lloyd Braun, cochairman of the ABC Entertainment Television Group. "But it's unlike anything else on television right now."
The risky, gritty Wonderland further blurs the line between cable and network programming. Like The Sopranos and Oz, the show takes a decidedly non-glossy approach to its volatile subject matter. It's shot in a documentary, improvisational stye; its writing staff includes literary humorist Mark Leyner and Scott Burns, an advertising executive who had never written for TV before; and it's filmed in New York on locations that include the Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in Queens, which radiates an institutional creepiness that set decorators could never fake. Even the actors' dressing rooms are former solitary confinement cells.
"It's the real deal," Levine says with a bit of a shutter. "There's some ghosts in those walls for sure." When Berg left ChicagoHope after four years, he swore he was done with hospital drama and was convinced that his taste was too extreme for the networks. (One Hope episode he'd written about family psychoses was deemed so disturbing that CBS has vowed never to rerun it.) Yet just a year later, Berg, 38, is behind an extreme hospital drama on ABC. He was inspired watching the 1975 movie "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" on TV and, he says, "It occured to me that there'd never been a show that took a realistic approach to the psychiatric concepts of medicine."
When Berg was 13, his mother, Sally, who voluteered at New York Hospital's psychiatric unit, introduced him to Frederick Wiseman's "Titicut Follies," a 1967 documentary about a Massachusetts mental institution that made a profound impression on him. Growing up in Chappaqua, New York, he had always heard about the city's notorious Bellevue hospital, where the corrections department and psychiatry met. "It represented a scary, forbidden place," he says, "and there's something irresistable about scary, forbidden places."
When Berg got a deal with Ron Howard and Brian Grazer's Imagine Entertainment to create a pilot, he spent six months there following the doctors on their rounds. "From the minute I walked in, I was hooked," he says. "It's a very dramatic and dynamic place. I felt like I'd stumbled onto some uncharted territory."
After securing stringent non-disclosure agreements, Bellevue opened its doors to the writers (including veterans of Law & Order and Homicide) and actors (Homicide's Michelle Forbes, Joelle Carter, Michael Jai White and Billy Burke), who spent time with patients whose sordid crimes had landed them on the covers of New York tabloids. "It was amazing," recalls Forbes. "I walked away with enormous respect both for the doctors and for patients who are devastatingly ill and have families broken apart by this illness."
Despite the harrowing backdrop, what will ultimately drive the show will be the doctor characters' personal struggles. "Their lives are very complicated; there's a lot of pressure," says Donovan. "When they get a high-profile case, like subway shovers, they have to deal with the D.A.'s office, the press and all the pressure to, quote-unquote, fry these people. And they have to be able to steer clear of the politics of it and fight for what they believe in."
The toughest problem has been fashioning plot resolutions. "It's not like a cop show or a traditional medical show where you can cure a patient or convict a criminal in one episode," says Berg. "Mental illness is a bit more ambiguous than that. So it's a curse and a blessing for the show that we're trying to portray it as realistically as we can."
But realism still has its limits in network TV. When Berg submitted the pilot to ABC, the brass found some scenes too disturbing. So he wrote and filmed a softer first episode, which emphasized the family lives of the principals. After much debate, the network decided to go with a toned-down version of the original pilot. "It was the best example of what the show is and the version Peter had in his head," Braun says. "Some scenes were tough for me to watch, too, but it also was extraodinarily gripping television."
ABC's view, says Braun, is that "it's not about mental patients; it's a much broader show than that. It's about very multidimentional, flawed and yet heroic characters who work in this world." Even if it's toned down, the show is certain to spark debate -- which is fine with the cast. "The worst thing you can do," says Levine, "is be half-baked."
Besides, Donovan has a foolproof plan for selling Wonderland to the public: "We're thinking of bringing in Regis to run the hospital."

NOTE: This episode never aired. TV Guide was published before ABC put Wonderland on hiatus.

Toronto Sun
Actor in Wonderland By CLAIRE BICKLEY

You'd expect Martin Donovan to be disappointed by the cancellation after a mere two episodes of his ABC-TV series, mental hospital drama Wonderland. And you'd be right. But he wasn't as surprised by that harsh outcome as you might assume.
"I wasn't totally shocked. This profession is 90% discouragement. It's 90% rejection and disappointment and bad reviews or people dismissing your work or ignoring it. It's really not even 10% of the time where you get the rewards," Donovan told me a few days ago, on the set of Lifetime movie Custody of The Heart.
"Which is why you have to do it for yourself. You have to really love the work. It has to be a very personal thing. If you're relying solely on outside (feedback), which I'm not saying you don't need, but if that's all you're looking for, you're going to be a really bitter, disappointed person."
------------------------------- April 12, 2000 - ABC axes 'Wonderland'

NEW YORK -- ABC is burying "Wonderland"after just two episodes, but don't rule it dead yet. The network says it may resurrect the drama after the May sweeps.
Set in the criminal psychiatric ward of a fictional Manhattan hospital, the gritty drama won high critical praise -- if few viewers.
Blame the competition from NBC's "ER," which is in the same time slot. Last Thursday it had about twice the combined audiences of "Wonderland" and CBS' faltering new series "Falcone."
"Wonderland" has had troubles on other fronts, too. Mental health professionals argued for a boycott of the series, saying it demonstrated "reckless indifference" to the mentally ill.

E! Online TV Scoop

When NYPD Blue Meets ER Leery about yet another medical drama on the tube? I was, too, but I confess I'm hooked after watching the first two episodes of ABC's Peter Berg-produced/written/directed Wonderland, which premieres Thursday at 10 p.m. (opposite ER). The intense, fast-paced show takes place at a New York City psychiatric hospital, and in the first episode, a crazy man opens fire in Times Square, killing two cops, wounding pedestrians and eventually causing a shocking trauma to one of the medical staff members in the ER. The show, which stars Ted Levine (Silence of the Lambs), Martin Donovan (The Opposite of Sex), Michelle Forbes (Homicide: Life on the Streets) and Michael Jai White (Spawn), only gets better in the second installment.

New York Magazine - April 3, 2000 issue
Dark Shadows
"Wonderland," set in a fictionalized Bellevue (think "ER" meets "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" filmed by Quentin Tarantino) is spellbinding TV.
Since nothing else seems to work, why not throw excellence at ER and see what happens? All at once like a speed-freak rush, Wonderland (Thursdays, starting March 30; 10 to 11 p.m.; ABC) is simultaneously an ensemble series set mostly in the psych ward of a public hospital in New York City; a handheld inquiry into the nature of madness and mercy; a savage critique of the politics of justice; a dream-tracking of fault lines and fissures in the seething self; a descent by bathysphere into a therapeutic hell that makes Girl, Interrupted, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and The Snake Pit look like summer camps; and -- as if it were possible to hear the music of wounds whose edges crave to heal, played on strings of raw nerve -- a cantata of the damned.
It is a Wonderland in which Alice herself is stalked. Executive producer Peter Berg, who used a knife on people in Chicago Hope, has written and directed the pilot. Co-executive producers Ron Howard, Brian Grazer, and Tony Krantz have apparently spent time in places like Bellevue. But they also seem to have consulted Robert Altman (on cross-cutting scenes, overlapping voices, and extreme behavior) and maybe Paul Thomas Anderson (an excess of everything except frogs). And the shrinks they've rounded up to staff this frantic intensity are as frazzled as the clientele.
Dr. Robert Banger (Ted Levine), chief of forensic psychiatry at "Rivervue," is fighting his estranged wife (Patricia Clarkson) for custody of their two children. Dr. Neil Harrison (Martin Donovan), a specialist in psychiatric criminology, worries about his wife, Dr. Lyla Garrity (Michelle Forbes), who, besides being in charge of a critical-response facility for patients suffering broken-mind emergencies, is five months pregnant and feeling deprived of caffeine and nicotine. Dr. Derrick Hatcher (Michael Jai White) goes home from boot camp for med students to single fatherhood. Dr. Abe Matthews (Billy Burke) is the compulsive womanizer. Dr. Heather Miles (Joelle Carter), as you'd expect with a name like Heather, is the nubile resident.
All these doctors, and their nurses, and their security guards, talk all the time, and only occasionally hear one another, because their patients are screaming. And so are cops, the media, and the D.A.'s office screaming, because Rivervue's patients are usually suspected perps. Outside the psych ward, their gaudy derangements are grisly crimes. They are what one doctor calls shadow people, who embody society's worst fears -- to be wished away or put down like a mad dog. "I catch ghosts," Lyla tries to explain to a review board. And those ghosts don't show up in the blood work; medical technology can't see the misfiring of a neurotransmitter that turns into an instruction from Gaia, Zeus, or Satan.

Lyla is explaining herself to a review board because she turned away a walk-in patient named Rickle (Leland Orser), who will later on take rejection in the Coliseum Books store from a young woman looking at a paperback copy of Pindar's Odes as a paranoid-schizophrenic excuse to gun down six people in Times Square. Lyla turned him away because the computer was down, she didn't have access to his previous history, and she made a judgment call that he wasn't dangerous. On the other hand, as she admits to her husband, she was sick and tired and just didn't like him: "I wanted him gone." On a third hand, she will never be 100 percent successful catching ghosts because she isn't psychic. And on a fourth, one would think she's already been punished enough for her mistake by what happens in the emergency ward. I'm not going to tell you what happens in the emergency ward in the very first hour of
Wonderland, but it might be the most shocking thing I've ever seen on commercial television, especially for those of us who felt that Homicide never quite recovered from the departure of Michelle Forbes.
Meanwhile, between competency hearings on his parenting skills, Dr. Banger must try to persuade a babbling Rickle to take his medication against the advice of an attorney who wants him in "psychotic free fall" to bolster his insanity defense, while an A.D.A. seeks to choreograph the gunman as a "poster child" for capital punishment in what Banger refers to as "the Giuliani death dance." And a Morgan Stanley investment banker (Jay O. Sanders) is so distraught at his wife's leaving him that he isn't safe so long as he's still attached to his own wrists. And if a 71-year-old grandmother really attacked her silent husband with a pair of scissors, what about her knitting needles? And rising all around these screaming wounds, these manic arias, is a choral movement of Greek myths and French bras, of flying-saucer wallpaper and hypodermic syringes, of handcuffing and channel-surfing -- a liturgy of panic disorder, sexual dysfunction, substance abuse, and suicide. This is the sort of series so craftily written that after a ballpoint pen fails to work in the first hour, in the next hour we can count on a fountain pen's being used to kill somebody.

If shrinks are generally reviled in novels and films, they are more often valorized on the small screen -- maybe because an intimate medium is predisposed to believe, like a Freudian, that most of our ogres live at home, under the bed, instead of outside in the lousy weather of politics or history. Still, it's a friendliness to the profession that not only includes Hal Holbrook and Tom Conti in TV movies but goes back to Bob Newhart's therapy group, Allan Arbus as Sidney Freedman on M.A.S.H., Elliott Gould in Sessions, Robbie Coltrane as Cracker, and Carolyn McCormick on Law & Order, as well as forward to Frasier and Dr. Katz. Even in this distinguished company, Wonderland, like The West Wing, is as good as television gets.

Time Magazine
Shadowland: A drama looks at mental illness, with empathy by: J.P.

There's no lack of crazy folks on TV. As in Stark Raving Mad, as in "cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs," as in, that Dharma? Woo, is she cra-a-zy! Mentally ill, though, that's another story. "The shadow people," as the psychiatric drama Wonderland (ABC, debuts March 30, 10pm ET) calls them, pervade overstressed hospitals and precincts in real life, yet lurk invisible in prime time's institutional dramas. This literate and impeccably executed series, alas, may prove why. From the opening scene of a patients' group session developing into a shouting match, to the story of a multiple murderer with a Zeus complex, Wonderland all but begs viewers to flip to the comparatively cheery bloodbaths of ER.
That would be a shame. Wonderland is not about craziness. Its much repeated mantra and true theme is "balance" - mental, professional and personal. It's a frustrating gal for both patients and the well-cast staff, such as Dr. Robert Banger (Ted Levine), who juggles chaotic patient evaluations with Zen cool (he's the Phil Jackson of psychiatry) which fighting for custody of his kids in his spare time.
Ultimately, Wonderland disturbs not because it is violent or loud - though it can border on pathos - but because, unlike crime or injury, its subject defies easy blame and explination. But creater Peter Berg (Very Bad Things) balances its starkness with writing of remarkable empathy. As Banger says at his custody hearing, "I have a tremendous respect for [my children's] minds, for the beauty of their minds." Wonderland has a tremendous respect for its audience's minds, and for the beauty of even a shattered psyche.

MSN CultureBox - Why We Need Wonderland
By: Judith Shulevitz
Posted Friday, March 24, 2000, at 7:28 a.m. PT

Every once in a while, a talented person takes a threadbare television formula, turns it inside out, and finds something extraordinary in the lining. Peter Berg has done this with Wonderland, the E.R.-like hospital drama that makes its debut opposite that show on ABC next Thursday night, March 30, at 10 p.m. Eastern time. (Berg is an actor turned writer, director, and producer who played a doctor on Chicago Hope.) Concept-wise, the twist is minor--a switch in setting, from a public general hospital modeled on Cook County Hospital in Chicago to a public mental hospital modeled on New York City's Bellevue. But the ramifications are enormous.
To begin with, there's the messiness of it all. Emotional disturbance defies easy television-style closure. The people who show up in the admitting rooms of public mental hospitals are people for whom happy endings are no longer imaginable. Having lost spouses and jobs and sanity, or never having had any of these things in the first place, they're living lives of unthinkable complexity. And unlike emergency-room doctors, forensic psychiatrists can't cut, snip, or even medicate their patients' pain away. No one gets better by the end of the hour. The human detritus keeps pouring in.
But so do the dramatic possibilities. Dealing with this much raw suffering puts doctors under extraordinary strain, so naturally they sprout personal problems. The people they treat are going through similar stress and trouble, just on a vastly larger scale. Since the doctors and patients have something in common, the writers can establish a powerful rapport not just among the physicians, as on most hospital dramas, but between them and those they treat. The one-on-one encounters between the psychiatrists and their charges unfold like musical duets running up and down the scales--they're variations on emotional themes--and a rich sense of the main characters' inner lives accrues scene by scene, show by show, with the slow, serial development that only television allows. A handsome young doctor grappling with his fear of emotional involvement conducts several intake interviews in which nightmarish relationship stories emerge. One man has tried to kill himself because his wife just left him. A husband and wife married for 50 years have begun to drive each other, literally, mad. We begin to understand why the doctor is afraid.
Have I mentioned that the actors are good? They are, especially the two lead male psychiatrists, the understated Martin Donovan--the star of many Hal Hartley movies and also a character in the recent Portrait of a Lady--and Ted Levine, who played the killer in The Silence of the Lambs. Levine brings the same kind of scary concentration to his portrayal of Dr. Robert Banger, a man who's overinvolved with, and almost too compassionate toward, his violent patients, but who is himself weirdly bottled up, with several flavors of impatience and rage waiting to erupt.
Another reason to watch this show is that it's important. I know that sounds portentous and implies that the series is secretly boring. It isn't, though, because it does something rare. How long since you saw a network television series accord the mentally ill--including those who have committed heinous criminal acts--anything like dignity? How long since a network television series treated anybody on the wrong side of the law with respect? The main story line in the first two episodes of Wonderland deals with a psychotic who's a barely disguised version of Andrew Goldstein, the young New Yorker who, having been unable to obtain care and medication from state mental hospitals, lapsed into schizophrenia and pushed a young woman off a subway platform into an oncoming train. In the somewhat more overwrought Wonderland version of events, he's a graduate of Columbia University with a classics degree who shoots two cops and kills three civilians in Times Square, then in a struggle at the hospital plunges a needle into the belly of a pregnant psychiatrist, who happens to be the admitting doctor who turned him away four days earlier.
Goldstein was convicted of murder last week, despite his plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. The Wonderland writers would probably take issue with that outcome, but in their adaptation of the story, they stay focused on the difficult questions: the unbearable amount of damage the man wreaks, the failure of the mental-health system to stop it, the terrible sadness of a person driven to do things he doesn't understand by voices in his head. By reminding us of the humanity of the violently ill, Berg has found a way to sneak onto television a political agenda infrequently furthered by the popular media, because it depends on the ability to get beyond stereotypes. I hope Berg can resist the pressure of time and ratings to cheapen his vision. Call me crazy, but I think shows like this are our salvation.

San Francisco Gate - Next stop, "Wonderland' by Tim Goodman
Wednesday, March 29, 2000

ABC's riveting new hospital show is shaping up as TV's next great dramatic series
When "ER" first burst onto the scene, it was a mix of supreme drama and over-the-top hospital theatrics - yelling, running, cameras swooshing around the room. The worry then was that even though you couldn't take your eyes off it, who could bear the clatter?
A lot of people, apparently. "ER" has been the most dominant drama on television since it debuted. With two other hospital dramas already on the schedule - "Chicago Hope" and "City of Angels" - a cynic might say a fourth is overkill. But ABC's new midseason replacement series, "Wonderland," is a special kind of hospital drama, one that recalls all the greatness of "ER" without having yet fallen into the soap-operaesque storylines of a tired front-runner. In fact, "Wonderland" is the new "ER," the fresh take with a twist. Anyone with an inkling that "ER" has played itself out and needs a discharge should take a look at this show's premiere (10 p.m. Thursday, Channel 7). Yep, a head-to-head battle with the champ - conventional programming wisdom would call that a suicide mission.
However, "Wonderland" is worth skipping "ER" for. It isn't about ruptured spleens and heart attacks. It's about the mentally ill, the psychotics and schizophrenics and the severely depressed. It's about the doctors who take care of these special cases, the so-called gatekeepers holding the barbarians back from society.
Produced, written and directed by Peter Berg (himself an alum of "Chicago Hope," as well as an independent filmmaker), "Wonderland" is a riveting if challenging bit of television. Berg and a team of writers spent months at New York's Bellevue hospital, where they were allowed to witness and interview doctors working with the mentally ill. They've borrowed storylines from there and have gained a convincing knowledge of psychiatry and its terms, much as "ER" mastered the fine art of yelling for drugs and clinical tools with the right words.
To further the effect of being in what is essentially an asylum, Berg uses hand-held cameras and lets the actors improvise when needed. This gives "Wonderland" a gritty, realistic feel. But the technique also adds a sense of chaos to the viewing experience. Watching "Wonderland" is a sensory overload, as patients scream at the top of their lungs, bang on things, turn TV channels rapidly and provide a kind of non-stop white noise over the show's dialogue.
Parents who have put to bed unruly children will find no relief here, nor will anyone else seeking to unwind from the day's work. "Wonderland" makes the frenetic talking-and-walking banter of "The West Wing" look like a mime show.
In fact, "Wonderland" has more in common with Martin Scorsese's "Bringing Out the Dead" than any hospital drama on TV.
But those who hang in there will discover the potential of television's next great drama. The doctors and patients in Rivervue Hospital's psychiatric and emergency wards are an engaging bunch. Dr. Robert Banger (Ted Levine, "Silence of the Lambs") heads up the forensic psychiatry department. He's the calmest in the storm - a trait he needs with a crumbling marriage and the impending custody loss of his two beloved young sons. Levine is brilliant, by the way.
Another forensic specialist is Dr. Neil Harrison (Martin Donovan, "The Opposite of Sex"), who is married to Dr. Lyla Garrity (Michelle Forbes, "Homicide: Life on the Street"). The two are expecting their first child - and for two tightly wound people, that's just added pressure. Donovan has been wonderful in every movie he's been in and Forbes' intensity is her greatest asset. She heads up the Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Program - meaning she has to decide if people checking in to the crowded hospital are really disturbed or not. A misread in the pilot leads to the dramatic crux: A mentally ill man who thinks he's taking orders from Zeus guns down five people in Times Square.
Also in the mix: young Dr. Abe Matthews (Billy Burke), whose womanizing and fear of intimacy sometimes cloud his psychiatric evaluations; Dr. Derrick Hatcher (Michael Jai White), a physician (as opposed to a shrink) at the hospital; and resident Heather Miles (Joelle Carter), who is bright and understanding (and a potential romantic partner to Dr. Matthews). Like any good series, "Wonderland" is littered with smaller characters giving fine performances, and its "crazy people" truly get into their parts.

The writing and acting in this series are superb. And Berg hasn't tried to tell too many stories too quickly, so we can get to know the characters slowly. That said, the pilot has an explosive subplot that kick starts everything.
If you've been attracted to the reality feel of "NYPD Blue" or the fine writing of a show like "The West Wing," you'll see the potential in "Wonderland" right away. This thing is just dripping with quality. The question is whether you can adjust to the in-your-face chaos and, more importantly, if you can give up "ER."
You ought to at least give "Wonderland" a chance. It's time to switch hospitals.

US News - A prime time for madness
TV takes on the world of the mentally ill - By Joannie Schrof Fischer

The man lies strapped to a gurney, screaming gibberish about Hercules, as five people he has just shot are dying all around him in an emergency room. Then, still in a fit of delirium, the schizophrenic grabs a hypodermic needle and stabs himself. A pregnant psychiatrist rushes in to wrestle the needle away, and in the struggle it pierces deep into her abdomen, through her developing baby's skull, and into its brain.
This scene of bedlam is the dramatic peak of the première episode of Wonderland, a one-hour drama set in a psychiatric hospital that will debut this Thursday on ABC. Whether critics and viewers will decide that this psychiatric version of the popular ER makes for good television, nobody knows. But even before the first episode airs, some members of the mental health community who have previewed the show believe that it dangerously misrepresents both the mentally ill and the professionals who treat them. "The show is all caricature and stereotype, and plays to people's worst fears about mental illness," says Michael Faenza, president of the National Mental Health Association, a group that represents the nation's 51 million who suffer from some kind of mental disorder.
Playing up violence. The most strenuous objection to Wonderland is that it portrays too many of its mentally ill characters as violent. One young man bites off his mother's finger and eats it, then bloodies his own head against a wall. An elderly woman obsessed with killing her husband lifts scissors above her head, Psycho-style, and when doctors pry them away she finds some knitting needles instead. Mental health professionals say this kind of depiction does enormous damage at a time when the largest cause of stigma borne by the mentally ill is the fear that they will become violent. In truth, they say, not only are the vast majority of the mentally ill not violent, but they are more likely than most to become victims of violence.
Wonderland creator Peter Berg says that he intends the show to be constructive, shedding light on the many struggles and indignities that the mentally ill must endure. But in order to do that, he must capture viewers' attention with compelling drama, which can mean resorting to extremes. And even though only a tiny fraction of murders are committed by the mentally ill, that still makes for close to 1,000 homicides every year, says psychiatrist E. Fuller Torrey, author of Out of the Shadows: Confronting America's Mental Illness Crisis. "We can't solve the problem by pretending it doesn't exist," Torrey says. "I applaud the makers of Wonderland for having the courage to address such an explosive but important issue." Faenza has asked ABC to at least run a disclaimer before the show, clarifying that most mentally ill people pose no threat to others. The network has not yet decided whether or not it will do so.
But even if ABC makes that concession, it will not appease other critics who worry that the drama leaves the impression there's little effective help for the mentally ill. For example, when a severely depressed man who has gashed both his forearms deep toward the bone asks for help, a young psychiatrist distracted by interruptions tells the patient that recovery simply takes time. "That's offensively inept," says National Institute of Mental Health psychiatrist Philip Gold. "There are so many sophisticated, compassionate, and proven methods that offer relief to the suicidal, it's a crime to leave viewers who might need help with the impression that that's all they would get."
Berg counters that tapes of his first eight episodes are being used to train medical students and says that over time, skeptical psychiatrists will see that his treatment of mental illness is more constructive than harmful. Even so, NMHA's Faenza is mobilizing his group's 340 affiliates to register their disgust with both ABC and advertisers. Those complaints could be lost amid cheers, though, if the wider audience decides that Wonderland's crisis-a-minute chaos makes for good entertainment.

Yahoo Daily News Wednesday March 29 2:15 AM ET
'Wonderland' what the doctor ordered - By Laura Fries

HOLLYWOOD (Variety) - By creating a show built around a symbiotic relationship between the forensic psychiatric department and the emergency room of a New York hospital, Peter Berg is able to draw upon a virtual gold mine of material.
"Wonderland'' synthesizes Hollywood's holy triumvirate: It's a medical show, a police story and an emotional drama rolled into one. Full of the same type of energy and promise that "ER'' enjoyed in the early seasons, "Wonderland'' is the first series in a long while that has the actual goods to give the stalwart NBC drama a run for its money at 10 p.m. Thursday nights. To up the odds, ABC is making its strike midseason against reruns and amid grumbles that "ER'' has lost its edge.
Berg, a former "Chicago Hope'' regular, reportedly spent months researching "Wonderland'' in a New York psychiatric hospital. His dedication pays off with a realistic, utterly engrossing and intricately drawn show set in the chaotic confines of the mythical Riverview Hospital.
From the opening moments of the pilot, we quickly learn that the doctors here, while dedicated and top notch, are quite fallible; they walk a fine line between normalcy and the aberrance of the socially challenged patients who fill up the ward.
Dr. Robert Banger (Ted Levine) is the ringleader, a man who functions on high simmer but maintains amazing composure when it seems like everyone around him is losing control. Adding to the building pressure is Banger's divorce case and ensuing custody battle.
His staff includes Dr. Neil Harrison (Martin Donovan), whose worries include not only his patients but his pregnant wife and co-worker, Dr. Garrity (Michelle Forbes). Garrity handles psychiatric emergencies, sometimes at her own peril. Dr. Abe Matthews (Billy Burke) is a commitment-phobic psychiatrist who often butts heads with resident Heather Miles (Joelle Carter), while the no-nonsense Dr. Derrick Hatcher (Michael Jai White) struggles to balance career and single parenthood.
"Wonderland's'' diverse ensemble cast is colorfully drawn, and the pilot sets ups some disturbing and intriguing plotlines that touch just about every character. Filmed like a documentary, the show maintains its frenetic momentum start to finish, and serves up a crackling balance between work and home life.
Levine is a standout, adding subtle layers to a deceptively complex character. Forbes carries the lion's share of drama in the first two episodes and handles it well, if not completely realistically. Her character, several months pregnant, is put through traumas that would send even the most stoic individual home to rest. Other cast members prove equally promising, with White making a particularly powerful impression in his limited intro as the single dad.
Technical credits are solid, with Ron Fortunato working overtime to create a realistic documentary style, which is enhanced by the deft editing of Dan Lebental. Sets by Michael Boonstra are grim and realistic. Madonna provides the show's theme song.

EW April 15, 2000 - Why ''Wonderland'' is the latest TV programming miscue. Josh Wolk says the networks should give quality a chance to thrive

Two weeks ago, ''Wonderland'''s second episode crumbled in the ratings against a new episode of ''ER,'' and ABC did what any supportive owner would do: It canceled the show. You have to wonder what ABC execs expected to happen when they pitted the complex, dark series against the No. 1 drama on television. Did the network think it was going to be an instant smash? That's like pitting Verne Troyer against Mike Tyson and being surprised when Troyer's head rolls out of the ring into your lap.
It defies logic that the networks repeatedly seem surprised when unique shows don't do well instantly, and then panic and axe them posthaste. Why do they produce remotely edgy programming at all? If you're going to be a chicken, do it all the way! Just put on all cheap crap all the time and nobody will miss it when it's gone. But, dear networks, if you're going to attempt to try something different, have the courage of your convictions and give these shows a chance, moving them if need be.
Last fall, Fox yanked ''Harsh Realm'' after three airings when it suffered on Fridays. The network must have known it was a risky venture -- it was complicated and serialized, so if you came late you might be hopelessly confused -- but went ahead with it anyway, then gave up as soon as the ratings faltered. And while Fox gave its caustically clever ''Action'' a whopping nine weeks, it was on Thursdays at 9:30 p.m., a time when people are trapped on NBC by Must See TV inertia. Why didn't Fox try pairing it with ''The Simpsons,'' which has an equally smart audience? And ''Freaks and Geeks,'' while getting 11 episodes in two time slots on NBC, was never given the promotion or the chance to appeal to everyone's inner outcast.
I'm not saying television has to be a charity case for quality; shows should be canceled if they've been given a fair air and still can't find an audience. I will miss ''Sports Night,'' but I respect ABC putting it on near-permanent hiatus after nearly two years with no ratings improvement: It's not in the business of making sure an intimate group of Aaron Sorkin fans are kept entertained for life.
And there are situations where immediate cancelation has its benefits: ''The Mike O'Malley Show'' was killed this fall after 2 episodes, which felt like 46 in bad-show years. And the fact that ''Daddio'' has made it past two airings qualifies as a hate crime against audiences. (But why these shows got on in the first place is a different issue.)
But lame sitcoms aside, the quick slaughter of creatively unconventional shows has to stop, for the networks' good as well as ours. Audiences are going to get tired of the old bait-and-switch as intriguing programs quickly vanish in favor of garbage, and they'll jump to cable for good, leaving the networks feeling joyless and depressed. Maybe then they'll know what it's like to sit through ''Daddio.''
----------------- : Wonderland

"Wonderland," a riveting, gritty, one-hour drama shooting on location in New York City, delves into the lives of the doctors manning Rivervue Hospital's psychiatric and emergency programs. Writer, director and former "Chicago Hope" star Peter Berg is the executive producer/writer/director.
Mr. Berg and the writers of the drama spent months at a New York hospital researching the project and working side by side with top psychiatrists and ER physicians. They were able to observe everything from electric shock therapy sessions, to interviews with serial killers, schizophrenics and suicidal housewives.
Edgy and real, the stories for "Wonderland" are inspired by the experiences of staff and patients. The cast of "Wonderland" is encouraged to improvise, and the show is shot documentary style, resulting in nothing less than gripping television. With personal lives as complex as their patients' minds, the doctors of Rivervue endure joys and sorrows that often mirror the triumphs and tragedies of the afflicted they strive to heal.
The cast stars Ted Levine ("Silence of the Lambs") as Dr. Robert Banger, Martin Donovan ("The Opposite of Sex") as Dr. Neil Harrison, Michelle Forbes ("Homicide: Life on the Streets," "Kalifornia") as Dr. Lyla Garrity, Billy Burke as Dr. Abe Matthews and Michael Jai White as Dr. Derrick Hatcher.
In the realm of psychiatric medicine, this public, city hospital is the Mecca, and its doctors are among the world's best, brightest and toughest. Professionally, Dr. Robert Banger (Mr. Levine) heads up the forensic psychiatry department (the psychiatric study of criminology); while personally, he struggles to cope with the break-up of his marriage. Still in love with his wife, Dr. Banger is forced to fight her tooth and nail for the custody of their two young sons. Dr. Neil Harrison (Mr. Donovan), who also specializes in forensics, grapples with the fears and joys of impending fatherhood. His wife, Dr. Lyla Garrity (Ms. Forbes), heads up the Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Program, a.k.a. CPEP (a critical response facility for people suffering psychiatric emergencies).
Dr. Abe Matthews (Mr. Burke) is recognized as a talented psychiatrist who works in the CPEP, but has a well-earned reputation as a first-class, commitment-phobic womanizer, both inside the hospital and out. Dr. Derrick Hatcher (Mr. White) balances the struggles of single parenthood with working daily miracles in the emergency suite -- all while simultaneously leading med students through the ropes of Rivervue's "boot camp."
In addition to Mr. Berg, executive producers for "Wonderland" are Ron Howard, Brian Grazer, Tony Krantz, along with co-executive producer/director John D. Coles. Peter McIntosh is the line producer. The program is produced by Hostage Productions, Inc. in association with Imagine Television.
Down the Rabbit Hole By Belinda Acosta

APRIL 10, 2000: As I was engrossed in the premiere of Wonderland (ABC), the new drama set in the psychiatric unit of New York's fictional Rivervue Hospital, I couldn't help but wonder what Fred would have thought. Fred wasn't exactly a friend, but someone whose life sort of sideswiped mine 13 years ago. He was a brilliant and diabolically funny man. He was also schizophrenic, and I took part in admitting him to a state mental hospital. The talk about Wonderland has ranged from glowing to dismissive ("It won't last against ER"), and mental-health advocates have objected to the show, complaining that the show focuses on "the extremes of mental illness," thereby playing off stereotypes of the mentally ill.
For the less die-hard ER fan, or for those of us whose interest has been waning with the re-hashed storylines, Wonderland is a breathtaking alternative. First of all, the central cast is marvelous. Michelle Forbes and Martin Donovan play married doctors Lyla Garrity and Neil Harrsion on the Rivervue staff. Billy Burke plays Dr. Abe Matthews, and head of the whole place is Ted Levine as Robert Banger. The first episode introduced each character, but more importantly, showed how each person copes with the demands of their job -- which range from the head-bangingly routine to high-voltage. It is the high-voltage aspect of the show that's brought the most criticism.
After a seriously disturbed man opens fire in Times Square, the shooter and his victims are rushed to Rivervue. The camera careens around the graphic emergency room scene with breakneck speed; all the while, the shooter becomes more and more agitated. Cutting away to other scenes in the hospital doesn't bring much respite. A suicidal man is surrounded by blathering patients, and the intake nurse, with calm -- but worn -- composure, tries to check in a patient whose inability to focus makes the task tedious and maddening at the same time.
Sound mind-scrambling? It is. But to hear critics talk, it's the only aspect that drives the show. Quieter moments are provided in scenes away from the hospital and in some scenes with patients, as in the touching encounter between an elderly homeless woman who apparently visits Garrity from time to time.
In some respects, the patients-in-distress scenes cannot be avoided. After all, Wonderland is set in a hospital, not a therapist's office. But it's not just "crazies" going haywire. In the fine closing scene of the show's pilot, a group of patients on the mend are shown in a group therapy session. A young man talks about wanting to heal, wanting to have a little Christmas back in his life. "I was wondering if you could help me with that," he asks the off-camera therapist.

As for the representation of the mentally ill, it's not as damning as the show's overall indictment of the public's poor attitude toward the mentally ill, the desire to make them invisible, and the deep fear that, given the right circumstances, anyone's mental health can move from good to bad as easily as turning a coat inside out. Wonderland is not about "crazy" people. It's potentially about the humanity required to help those at their most vulnerable.
As for Fred, my last time with him was at a competency hearing. He was stoked up on Thorazine but willed himself past the narcotic haze to lift his head and forearm to give me a "Hiya, Belinda," so that I knew that he was still "there." That was one of the great lessons I learned from Fred during that turbulent time. That in spite of his illness, he was still human with a need to connect. He was still "there." The groundbreaking Wonderland is capable of similar lessons -- depending on viewers' ability to endure a little discomfort and see what has been shunted to the shadows.
Wonderful 'Wonderland' a ratings victim April 19, 2000
Joanne Weintraub

Is there anything to be learned from the short, unhappy history of "Wonderland"?
Ted Levine in repose on "Wonderland," a strong but dark show that didn't get much of a chance to flourish.
The third episode of ABC's newest drama, which was scheduled to be shown tonight, was canceled so abruptly that most weekly publications couldn't delete the information in time. TV Guide not only lists the episode in its schedule but praises it in an "Editor's Choice" entry as "alternately funny and heartbreaking."
I didn't get to see the third installment - which will be replaced by "20/20 Downtown" at 9 tonight on Channel 12 - but "funny and heartbreaking" is an apt description of the first two. Set in a New York City psychiatric hospital based on Bellevue, "Wonderland" boasted strong writing, a wonderful cast and adult subject matter.
But it had two big problems. Its ratings were terrible - no surprise for a drama forced to compete with "ER" - and its premiere, in which a patient killed five people in a shooting rampage and later injured a pregnant doctor, outraged what might otherwise have been part of its natural audience.
Even before the series' March 30 debut, the 210,000-member National Alliance for the Mentally Ill condemned ABC and "Wonderland" creator Peter Berg for "presenting people with mental illnesses as killers, crazies and freaks." The American Psychiatric Association warned that the premiere, along with a similar "ER" story line earlier in the year, "show(ed) only the bad news about a small minority of persons suffering severe illnesses."
Gloria Krasno, director of advocacy services for the Mental Health Association of Milwaukee County, found the premiere deeply troubling.
"It does so much damage to the work we've been trying to do in showing people with mental illnesses as human beings," Krasno said in a phone interview after watching the episode, which also featured a suicide attempt by another patient. "It was incredibly, horribly compelling, but I felt almost manipulated because of all of the terrible things that were squeezed into that one hour. . . . I'm familiar with a lot of (hospital) horror stories, but nothing like this."
Andrew Kane, a Milwaukee forensic psychologist, also felt "Wonderland" presented a distorted picture.

In some 1,500 evaluations of individuals alleged to be mentally ill and possibly dangerous, "I've never been hit, and even a threat is very rare," Kane said. "If I had a choice of being in a roomful of people with mental illness and a roomful drawn from the general population, I'd feel safer with the mentally ill."
Like many who deal with mental illness personally or professionally, Kane also took exception to a much-hyped February "ER" episode in which two doctors were stabbed, one fatally, by a patient who was thought to be schizophrenic.
The story was written by Neal Baer, who, in addition to serving as co-executive producer on the series, is a resident in pediatric medicine at Children's Hospital in Los Angeles.
Unlike Kane and Krasno, Baer doesn't believe viewers will generalize from one character's violent actions to an entire group. He also notes that last year, when an "ER" episode depicted a mentally ill homeless woman as a caring, responsible mother-to-be determined to have her baby in the hospital, virtually no one noticed.
"I understand why people in the mental-health community are upset" when a mentally ill character commits a violent act, Baer said, "but I think we've shown positive portrayals, too."
Of course, part of the reason the February "ER" story got so much attention was that NBC started promoting it weeks in advance. Their assumption - borne out, in fact, by the episode's sky-high Nielsens - was that melodrama sells.
At the moment, "Wonderland" is "on hiatus" until further notice; in "ER" terms, that means it's on the critical list. Its status undoubtedly has more to do with the scarcity of viewers than with the volume or passion of the protests.
But the sad thing is that, if "Wonderland" vanishes, we're unlikely to see the kind of portrayals of the mentally ill that those protesters say they're looking for - the patients who aren't "killers, crazies and freaks."
For all the melodramatic excess of its premiere, Berg's drama, especially in its second week, showed signs of a humanity rare in prime time. Pardon my pessimism, but it's hard to believe "Wonderland" will ultimately be replaced by something better.
A couple of years ago, Martin Donovan spent a couple of months on a 100-foot boat moored in the lagoon of a nearly deserted island located some 600 miles northeast of Papua, New Guinea. The actor, who was born in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley, was starring opposite Maya Strange in the Australian adventure-drama "In a Savage Land," in which a respected anthropologist and his young student-bride chase Trobrianders and each other all over the South Seas.
"There were no facilities on shore, including the lack of electricity and lodging, so the cast and crew stayed on the film equipment-crammed boat for about eight weeks," says Donovan. "On the third day we were there, we suddenly got hit by swells that seemed to come out of nowhere. In a matter of hours, I was deathly seasick, along with a dozen other people.
"It was a strange, strange feeling to be caught in an enormous force of nature – the ship was tossed around like a toy in a bathtub – that we had no explanation for," he continues. "The next day, we were advised by fax machine and satellite phone that everything was due to a tsunami created by an undersea earthquake. The tidal wave subsequently destroyed large parts of New Guinea. It was a killer."
Shortly thereafter, Donovan starting to question his own sanity while shooting "Onegin" with Ralph Fiennes in Hungary during the dead of winter. It didn’t take long to get tired of hotel cuisine in Budapest either, where chefs often operate on the principle of "If you don’t like the way this meat is boiled, we’ll boil it some more." It also occurred to him that it would be nice to see his actress wife Vivian Lanko before she goes back to work on a semi-regular basis and his sons, 4 and 6, before they enter college.
Donovan, 42, stayed fairly close to home last year, portraying philandering Tom Buchanan to Mira Sorvino’s long-suffering Daisy in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s "The Great Gatsby." He also starred opposite Irene Jacobs in a high-intensity independent film, "The Pornographer, A Love Story," which still seeks distribution. A viable plan eliminating major travel commitments for the year 2000 was the only thing missing in his life. That’s when "Wonderland" (formerly in the 10-11 p.m. slot on ABC, opposite NBC’s "ER") was practically pitched into his lap.
The one-hour drama series – created by former "Chicago Hope" star Peter Berg, who also executive produced along with Ron Howard and Brian Grazer – examined a group of forensic psychiatrists at Rivervue Hospital (a fictional institution loosely patterned after New York’s famed Bellevue). Fortunately for the Manhattan-dwelling Donovan, "Wonderland’s" interiors were shot at a sound stage in Queens and in an unused wing of a functioning psychiatric hospital on Long Island.
He portrayed Dr. Neil Harrison, a passionate human being dealing almost exclusively with the criminally insane. His wife, Dr. Lyla Garrity (Michelle Forbes), who heads up the hospital’s Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Program, is about to deliver the couple’s first child. Harrison works closely with chief forensic shrink Dr. Robert Banger (Ted Levine), a man battling to keep his head on straight while his marriage is in tatters and a bruising custody battle is looming for his two young sons. Rounding out the cast was Derrick Hatcher (Michael Jai White) and cute, precocious psychiatric intern Heather Miles (Joelle Carter).
"Ted (Levine) and I had a good look at the psychiatric ward at Bellevue and the guys who run it, but no one in that organization is connected to the show," says Donovan. ‘But I learned a lot observing there and met some pretty famous New Yorkers charged with crimes. You’re struck by their normalcy. Nobody is sitting in corners drooling or scratching themselves.
"In terms of the psychiatrists, I was fascinated by the rapport carefully built with each patient," he continues. "There is no judging; no condescension. They have empathy, compassion and respect for (the criminally insane). They are victims of mental illness, too, regardless of the crimes they committed."
Born in Los Angeles and reared in the Reseda section of the West Valley, Donovan is the third of three children born to a homemaker and a public school administrator. With his brother educated as a psychologist and his older sister a registered nurse, there is now plenty to talk at the dinner table when they meet for holidays and family occasions.
Donovan found his calling while doing a production of "Bye, Bye Birdie" at Crespi Carmelite High School in nearby Encino. He spent the next seven years studying acting at L.A.’s American Theater Arts, financing it with odd jobs ranging from painting houses to hanging draperies.
"I tries to avoid waiting on tables – I was never good at dealing with the public," he laughs. "But I’ve mellowed."
His professional debut, while still in school, was making $50 for recording an answering message sounding like a "pirate" for a treasure hunter, followed by an obscure TV commercial. In l98l, he obtained his Screen Actors Guild card as one in a cast of thousands on "Masada," the massive miniseries starring Peter Strauss. Two years later, Donovan and Vivian loaded their 1972 VW Squareback and drove to New York City at a leisurely pace, visiting friends and relatives along the way. With no immediate Broadway prospects, he joined the Cucaracha Theater Company in Tribeca shortly after arrival. It didn’t provide a handsome living, but led to collaboration with New York film auteur Hal Hartley on six short subjects, including "The Book Of Life" (as Jesus Christ), "Trust," "Flirt" and "Amateur."

The exposure at film festivals finally paid off with roles in films closer to the mainstream, such as "The Portrait of a Lady," "Heaven," "Hollow Reed," "Nadja," "Living Out Loud" and "The Opposite of Sex."
Life is very, very good and Donovan is extremely happy to be home – even after 15-hour work days.
" ‘Wonderland’ was very intense work, day in and day out, but the rewards were great," says Donovan, "especially since the show came complete with a terrific cast, crew, producers, directors and writers. Most of these elements add up to something far superior to several of the so-called art films I’ve done. Now, I just want to enjoy the simple life for a while, like discovering good restaurants with my wife and hanging out in the park with the kids."
NY Times: A New Prime-Time Address: The Mental Hospital

The scene in the opening episode of ABC's "Wonderland" is harrowing. A pregnant doctor in the emergency room of a hospital patterned after the forensic psychiatric unit of New York's Bellevue intervenes when a violently unhinged patient tries to harm himself with a syringe. In the scuffle that follows, the syringe pierces the doctor's stomach.
"It's a powerful scene," said Lloyd Braun, co-chairman of the ABC Television Entertainment Group. "Like any series that pushes the envelope -- and this one clearly does -- there may be some people who will find the show too intense. But we repeatedly talk at the network about how important it is to take risks with programming. Without question, this show represents a risk."
The risk, of course, is that a drama about psychiatric patients and their doctors will prove simply too unsettling to network audiences accustomed to sitcom humor and twentysomething angst. Compounding the difficulties for "Wonderland" -- it was actually called "Bellevue" before legal concerns prompted the name change -- is that the series, which starts on Thursday, will be pitted against NBC's enduring medical drama, "E.R."
Yet ABC and the creator of the show, Peter Berg, a film and television actor who spent three seasons as a hockey-playing surgeon on "Chicago Hope," are convinced that the provocative nature of the show will rivet viewers unaccustomed to such intensity. Then again, are television audiences ready to spend an hour each week with the criminally insane?
The show has attracted attention at the top level of ABC. Mr. Berg recalled that at a personal low point, when he was sure that the network was going to scuttle the show, he was working late in a New York hotel room where he goes to write and escape phones and family distractions. The phone rang, and a woman's voice announced that Michael Eisner was calling. Mr. Berg, thinking it was a friend needling him, shouted an expletive and hung up. Minutes later, the phone rang again, and a man's voice said sternly: "Don't hang up! This is Michael Eisner." Mr. Eisner is chairman of the Walt Disney Company, which owns ABC.
"I had the most productive conversation with him about the show in terms of its strengths and weaknesses," Mr. Berg said. "Eisner has been tremendously supportive. He said he felt that America was not ready to sit down with a show that was entirely about the mentally ill, and if we added an emergency room set with an emergency room physician, we would have some sort of portal that felt familiar to an audience."
"Wonderland" is set in the psychiatric and emergency rooms of a fictional New York hospital called Rivervue. (It was filmed mostly in an abandoned building at Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in Queens.) The series deals specifically with forensic psychiatry -- that is, the treatment of mental patients who have committed crimes. For this, Mr. Berg had the cooperation of Dr. Robert H. Berger, director of Bellevue's Forensic Psychiatry Service, and Dr. Alexander Sasha Bardey, a clinical and forensic psychiatrist at the hospital.
Mr. Berg, who is 37, said the idea for the show had been tugging at him for years. When he was a teenager, growing up in Chappaqua, N.Y., his mother, Sally Berg, a homemaker, began doing volunteer work in a psychiatric hospital in White Plains.
"I watched her transform herself from a suburban housewife to a volunteer psychiatrist -- and she was exhilarated," said Mr. Berg, who lives in New York with his wife, Elizabeth Rogers, a public relations executive for Calvin Klein, and their 4-month-old son, Emmett. "She came home with daily reports about the patients, the staff, the issues. And it had some kind of imprint on my consciousness."
Years later, while Mr. Berg was performing in "Chicago Hope," he saw the Frederick Wiseman documentary "Titicut Follies," about a state prison for the criminally insane. "I was sort of shocked, horrified and intrigued at the same time," he said. At a meeting with Imagine Television, Mr. Berg proposed a show about a psychiatic hospital. "I couldn't recall it ever having been done -- especially in a way that was realistic and honest," he said.
Bellevue was selected because of its preeminent reputation, and Mr. Berg spent nearly seven months at the forensic psychiatric unit observing and taking notes. But getting into Bellevue was not easy.
Dr. Berger had been extremely reluctant to allow Mr. Berg to, essentially, hang around. Screenwriters and novelists who had made similar requests in the past were granted only a brief tour.
"Peter told me he wanted to present to the public what mental illness really is and not to whitewash it in any way," Dr. Berger said. "He impressed me. He was geniune. And he hasn't proven me wrong yet."
Dr. Bardey said that depictions of mental hospitals in films are generally inept. "People have a very, very two-dimensional notion of what mental illness is," he said. "The depictions are often way out there -- like cartoons. Very rarely is individual pathology made accessible."
Some of the patients in the series were inspired by the kinds of people Mr. Berg saw at Bellevue -- although he and the psychiatrists, who have seen several episodes, said there were no breaches of confidentiality. Patients in the opening show range from a Wall Street broker who had tried to kill himself to a young man who bit off his mother's thumb. Dr. Berger said that the story lines are realistic, but that situations are sometimes unrealistically condensed because of time strictures.
As would be expected, the plots also involve the personal lives of the doctors. One of them is fighting for custody of his small sons; another is struggling with single parenthood. A third is a womanizer, inside and outside the hospital. (Mr. Berg said that ABC raised more objections to a brief but steamy sex scene between the doctor and a girlfriend in the opening episode than to the violent behavior of the patients.)
Mr. Berg, who does not act in the new show, made his feature film writing and directing debut in 1998 with "Very Bad Things," a violent comedy with Cameron Diaz and Christian Slater. Casting "Wonderland" presented an unusual hazard, Mr. Berg said. It seems that many of the actors who sought roles as patients had seen Dustin Hoffman in "Rain Man" way too many times. In the end, he said, many of those who were selected, often from the New York stage, knew something about mental illness because, through friends or family members, they had been touched by it.
The cast includes Martin Donovan ("The Opposite of Sex"), whose character is based loosely on Dr. Berger. Mr. Donovan said that everyone on the show understood the pitfalls of turning it into something overwrought and not truthful, of turning the patients into monsters. "There's no moralizing here," he said. "These doctors have tremendous compassion for the patients and passion for the work. Their job is to get at what makes these people tick and what has gone wrong -- is it chemical, is it treatable, how severe is it, are they, in fact, ill or faking it?"
Dr. Berger, who has worked at Bellevue for 23 years, owns up to being stirred by the show. "Every time I see the pilot, I don't know, it sounds corny, but I get chills when, after the patient has been so obstructionist and agitated and against treatment, I hear him say, 'I've got this problem; you think you can help me?' I feel like hugging him."
Mr. Berg, the actors and producers are, not surprisingly, apprehensive about facing "E.R." One reason for the unenviable time slot is that ABC's schedule revolves around the ever-present "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," and only a handful of hours are available. And, for their part, the producers are persuaded that "E.R." may be getting a little tired.
"Sure, it's a difficult time slot for us, but so many people say they don't watch 'E.R.' anymore," said Tony Krantz, the chief executive of Imagine Television, which is producing the show along with Touchstone Television. "These people who watched 'E.R.' might be interested in checking the 21st-century version of a medical show."
Mr. Berg said that nearly every "Wonderland" episode presented to ABC executives has provoked friction with the network. "We keep getting calls saying, 'it's just too intense, too disturbing, can you take the edge off?' Every show. 'Tone this down. Ease back. Don't let this patient get too upset.' "
In the end, though, Mr. Berg has few complaints. "It's an odd marriage," he said. "Walt Disney and a show about the insane: we aren't necessarily the most obvious of bedfellows."
Mr. Braun, at ABC, put it another way: "We feel we have a unique program -- very fresh and very risky. Are there concerns? Yes. Are we proud of it? Yes."

'Wonderland': Wrung Out, Strung Out in Bedlam
March 30, 2000 By CARYN JAMES

To watch "Wonderland," the unsettling series set in a New York psychiatric hospital, is to step into a world of pure chaos. Everyone races, everyone yells, doctors scream instructions, patients scream delusions, somebody dies, someone is saved and at the end a viewer is wrung out. It is a perverse compliment to say that near the end of the first episode you may wonder if you'll ever want to enter this hellish atmosphere again.
But the show is so gripping and often so dazzling in its visual command that if you had two episodes on tape (as reviewers did) you might watch them back to back, against your expectations. Whether viewers who have a week to decompress will choose to re-enter a landscape of such excruciating intensity is the big question ABC and "Wonderland" are staring at.
This new series is the anti-"E.R.," and the fact that it is running opposite that other medical show is the least of the reasons. "Wonderland" defies the conventions of episodic television. When someone dies on "E.R.," a doctor's heroic struggle offers redeeming light and uplift. The doctors of "Wonderland" are dedicated, but the very first episode reveals that one has made a medical mistake that will haunt and maybe ruin lives, including her own.
"Wonderland" (originally called "Bellevue" for the hospital where it was researched) is even more directly the anti-"Chicago Hope." It was created, written and directed by Peter Berg, who played the volatile Billy Kronk on that series. Mr. Berg's wily new series turns his old one upside down. While the "Chicago Hope" doctors thrive on up-to-the-minute medical wizardry, the psychiatrists of "Wonderland" are simply trying to keep themselves, and their patients, afloat. With "E.R." aging into predictability, "Chicago Hope" ready for the scrap heap and the new "City of Angels" already a stale imitation of the others (despite its largely black cast), "Wonderland" comes at just the right time to reinvigorate the hospital genre.
Because the patients in "Wonderland" are psychiatric cases, the series has a surreal aura, sparing and effectively used. Here a patient behind barred windows looks down at his slippers and sees a tiny rhino step around them. Because these shots from the patient's perspective are rare, watching the show is not like existing in some mad state of mind. The effect is more jolting, as if the sanity of the doctors and the illness of the patients were present in the air, at times colliding with a physical force.
What saves the series from total bleakness is the shaky order the doctors impose. They are played by a spectacular cast. Ted Levine is the head of the criminal psychiatry department, Dr. Robert Banger, who is battling his ex-wife for custody of their two small sons. Mr. Levine is still best known for his chilling performance as the killer in "The Silence of the Lambs." Add to that his ominous deep voice and large presence and Banger is not instantly likable, even though he is first seen making Mickey Mouse-shaped pancakes for his sons. But Mr. Levine is remarkable in making the stern and thoughtful Banger the sympathetic center and conscience of the series without moving an inch toward sentimentality.
Martin Donovan is calmly powerful as Dr. Neil Harrison, also a forensic psychiatrist. His pregnant wife, Dr. Lyla Garrity (Michelle Forbes, once the coroner on "Homicide"), is the head of the emergency department at the hospital, called Rivervue here.
Early in tonight's premiere, as a man walks through Times Square during morning rush hour, his thoughts are heard in voiceover: he babbles about Zeus and transmitters. Abruptly he takes out a gun and shoots half a dozen people. When the police take him to Rivervue, it turns out that Garrity, cranky, exhausted and wrong, had examined and released him the week before.
There are horrifying scenes in "Wonderland": the shooting in Times Square and the aftermath in the Rivervue emergency room, when the pregnant Garrity is stabbed in the stomach. But individual scenes are not what make the series hard to take; the relentlessness of its nervous energy does. The cacophony of people yelling seems constant; the jangly visual style mirrors the unrelieved tension and high-voltage impact of the story. When Garrity is attacked, the camera picks up isolated images as she sees them: one patient's bloody leg, another's bleeding neck.
Mr. Berg also wrote and directed "Very Bad Things," a 1998 black comedy about murders. The film didn't completely pull off its humor, but Mr. Berg was not afraid to go over the edge trying. He brings that daring and a touch of dark wit to "Wonderland," but the series is also shrewdly connected to the world of real people. When the Times Square killer, Wendell Rickle (Leland Orser), is arrested, he recites his own Miranda rights, "like 'N.Y.P.D. Blue,' " he says. The line astutely captures the way so many people gain any knowledge about the police, and also winks at television clichés.
"Wonderland" poses significant questions in a dramatic, unpreachy manner. Dr. Banger tries to protect and treat Rickle in the second episode; earlier Dr. Harrison had tried to strangle him. Should a mad killer be forgiven or punished?
And the show sheds light on the rest of network television. This series makes the pablum of typical happy endings understandable; they're easier. Here, even the commercials may come as a relief from the tension. "Wonderland" asks viewers to be discomfited week after week and trust that the effort will be rewarded. Even the toughest series tend to get soft over time, but for now the uncompromising "Wonderland" is worth every demand it makes.
TV Review: 'Wonderland' pits its fine acting and gritty reality against 'ER'
Thursday, March 30, 2000 By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Wonderful "Wonderland"?
Yes and no.
The new ABC medical series is a smart, thought-provoking drama. But for some it will be tough to sit through the show's unrelenting gloom.
TV viewers who like to be challenged -- I'm thinking of the "Homicide: Life on the Street" fans out there -- will cotton to the murkiness of "Wonderland" (10 tonight on WTAE).
And why not? The series stars a former "Homicide" cast member, Michelle Forbes, who is one of the smartest actresses working today. She's not business smart (opposite "ER," it's a given the paychecks she takes home from "Wonderland" won't last for long), but artistically smart. Forbes has an uncanny knack for picking quality shows and staying with them just long enough to make an impact on viewers so they'll miss her character when she leaves. It happened when she played Ensign Ro on "Star Trek: The Next Generation." It happened when she spent just a year and a half as medical examiner Julianna Cox on "Homicide: Life on the Street."
In "Wonderland" Forbes stars as Dr. Lyla Garrity, head of Rivervue Hospital's critical response facility for people suffering psychiatric emergencies. She's pregnant, which plays a pivotal role in tonight's pilot.
Lyla's husband, Dr. Neil Harrison (Martin Donovan), works in the forensic psychiatry department with its chief, Dr. Robert Banger (Ted Levine). They lead group sessions with patients, most of whom have committed crimes during psychotic episodes.
Based on New York City's real-life Bellevue Hospital, Rivervue is an ugly, claustrophobic institution. It gets uglier tonight when a patient is brought in after shooting several people in Times Square.
"Wonderland" was created by Peter Berg, the former "Chicago Hope" star (bad boy doc Billy Kronk), who also wrote and directed tonight's pilot. His old friend, Madonna, performs the theme song.
Berg is a pretty angry and tortured guy, as evidenced by his film directorial debut "Very Bad Things," about a bachelor party that leads to murder. "Wonderland" isn't as gruesome as that movie, but there's little sunshine.
Banger is fighting with his ex-wife (guest star Patricia Clarkson) for the custody of their children (Erik Per Sullivan from "Malcolm in the Middle" and "The Cider House Rules" plays one of the kids tonight). Dr. Abe Matthews (Billy Burke) can't imagine a 50-year marriage filled with passion, making him loathe to commit to any one woman. Then there's the crisis Lyla and Neil face, which carries over to next week's episode.
If you watch tonight and feel overwhelmed by "Wonderland," give it another chance. Next week's episode does a better job of shining a non-exploitative light on the hospital's patients and their problems. It's also stronger, in no small part, because it gives actress Forbes a showcase. She's a master of subtlety, conveying a handful of emotions with the slightest of facial movements and expressions.
Levine, best known as serial killer Jame Gumb in "The Silence of the Lambs," is an unconventional choice for a TV show's leading man. But his gruff demeanor evaporates the moment Levine interacts with his on-screen children.
It's too bad this thought-provoking show doesn't stand a chance. By throwing it up against "ER," ABC is essentially saying it has no faith in "Wonderland." Maybe if "ER" was in the doldrums, as it was a year ago, but the veteran medical drama rebounded this year.
At least tonight's "ER" is a rerun, so "Wonderland" might get a decent sampling. But with the premiere episode as harsh as it is, viewers are likely to flee and never look back.
There is an audience out there for this drama. It's probably just not a mainstream audience. "Wonderland" isn't wonderful in the conventional, chipper, upbeat sense, but it is a wonder.
NY Daily News: 'Wonderland' Therapeutic For Indy-Minded Actor Donovan offers alternative to mass entertainment
By DONNA PETROZZELLO Tuesday, March 28, 2000

Martin Donovan hates clichés.
When he agreed to take on the role of Neil Harrison, a doctor in a Manhattan psychiatric hospital in "Wonderland," he insisted that Harrison lead both an alternative professional and personal life.
While Harrison's work at Rivervue psychiatric hospital was different enough to hold his attention, Donovan said he also "fought and won" to make Harrison a fan of alternative singer PJ Harvey.
"We'll use her music at the end of the eighth episode and throughout the rest of the series," said Donovan.
Donovan's already a Harvey fan. In his most recent collaboration with independent film maker Hal Hartley, he played Jesus Christ to Harvey's Mary Magdalene in a 1998 featurette, "The Book of Life."
Starring in the ensemble cast of the gritty ABC drama marks Donovan's first prime-time TV series.
He's best known for starring in "The Opposite of Sex" as schoolteacher Bill Truitt. This fall, Donovan will play the philandering Tom Buchanan to Mira Sorvino's Daisy in an A&E production of "The Great Gatsby."
The subtle, in-control actor says it has never been his nature to play a role that's meant to "appeal to a mass audience," but "Wonderland" is offbeat enough to suit his taste.
"There's no way to go out and try to pursue a mass audience," said Donovan. "I don't know how to do it, and I'm not interested in it."
He is interested, though, in portraying a profession that he knew little about before studying for the role.
Donovan spent time with real-life Bellevue Hospital doctors. He watched them work with criminally insane patients, seeing how the doctors kept their cool in tense situations and how the patients behaved.
After walking into their world, Donovan recalls, "I realized I didn't know anything about it, and probably most people don't. I don't think on TV we've ever seen the inside of a criminal psychiatrist's office in a hospital.
"There are areas of medicine and the law that come together that people know very little about," said Donovan.
"These doctors have to deal with medical issues, legal issues and high-profile patients locked up for committing major crimes. It's fascinating."
Not that he's simply going to mimic the real-life doctors. That's a lesson he learned at 19 when he played Oscar Madison in a college production of Neil Simon's "The Odd Couple" and "just imitated Walter Matthau's performance" from the film."
"I was naive, I was 19, and I hadn't yet figured out that I shouldn't be imitating someone else," he said.
Later that year, Donovan met Matthau and blurted out that he'd tried to lift his rendition of Madison, move for move.
"He told me that I should be playing roles my way and shook my hand, but he was very nice about it," Donovan said.

Peter Berg's Crazy 'Wonderland'
Inspired by Bellevue stay, he takes on 'E.R.'
By RICHARD HUFF Tuesday, March 28, 2000

Peter Berg really gets into his work, and frankly, that's a bit frightening.
To get the details right for "Wonderland," his psychiatric hospital-set ABC drama, Berg, known to many as the spirited Dr. Billy Kronk on "Chicago Hope" (CBS) and the director of the film "Very Bad Things," went deep inside Gotham's Bellevue Hospital.
"I basically lived at Bellevue for six months straight — not as a patient, as an observer," Berg said, showing a guest his official identification card. "The hospital provided me with a tremendous amount of access."
As part of the access, Berg had to agree not to disclose the identities of real-life patients or the staff at the hospital.
But what he got in return was in-depth information that, in one way or another, worked its way into the New York-shot series, which launches Thursday at 10 p.m.
He spent most of his time in the forensics unit — an in-house prison of sorts — and the emergency room. What he saw, he said, was much different than the images of psychiatric wards presented in films like "The Snake Pit" or "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."
"Bellevue was a much more inspiring, heroic, healing place than I had ever imagined," Berg said. "And it was a place where so many of the issues of society collide.
"It's a place where people come when their minds no longer work. Their minds become sick and they need help — and the reasons our minds become sick are as varied as we are."
ABC picked up eight episodes of "Wonderland," which stars Ted Levine ("Silence of the Lambs), Martin Donovan ("The Opposite of Sex"), Michelle Forbes ("Homicide: Life on the Street"), Billy Burke ("Without Limits"), Joelle Carter ("High Fidelity") and Michael Jai White ("Mutiny").
Berg said he's been fascinated with issues of the mind since he was a kid growing up in Chappaqua. His mother worked at a local hospital and he became intrigued with the workings of his own mind, while dabbling in psychedelic drugs at boarding school.
"I can remember being in high school and taking psychedelic mushrooms and LSD and being amazed at areas of my mind I quite simply wasn't able to access without these drugs."
But translating issues of the mind to the small screen isn't easy. Unlike, say, "ER," or Berg's former place of fictional employment, where a medical case can be solved in the course of an episode, mental problems take time.
Additionally, there's a built-in stigma with mental problems — especially those requiring stays at a psychiatric hospital — that might turn some viewers off. For example, in the first episode, a patient jams a needle into the belly of a pregnant doctor.
Adding to the darkness of the series is the documentary style of production, which adds more edge.
"The fear about doing a show about a psychiatric hospital is that you're going to present something that is unrelentingly grim for an audience and people are immediately going to turn off the television or change the channel to something more comfortable," he said. "So for us, the challenge was convincing the network and the studio that we could find a way to make the experience of spending an hour in a psychiatric hospital something that felt satisfying and, in a way, enjoyable."
Finding the series at all may be more of a problem for viewers, though.
ABC has scheduled it to air against "ER," in a time period littered with the cancellation notices of well-intentioned shows that have failed against the NBC drama.
On the other hand, "Wonderland" has the benefit of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" as a lead-in. "Wonderland" replaces "20/20 Downtown."
"I'm glad I have a time slot," he said, adding that he was happy to have gotten the chance to produce eight shows.
"If I had my choice, I wouldn't want to go up against 'ER,' but nobody asked me. I didn't have a choice.
"My only hope is that we can establish some heartbeat as a show and quickly be moved to another time slot. I have no desire to take on the monster which is 'ER.' I have no illusions that we can co-exist peacefully with that giant right now."

A Stunning 'Wonderland' by David Bianculli
Wednesday, March 29, 2000

The opening scene of "Wonderland," the intense new ABC drama series premiering tomorrow night at 10, starts off by throwing you right down the rabbit hole and into a world of chaos.
The first taste we get of this excellent new series — the first episode was created, written and directed by former "Chicago Hope" star Peter Berg — is a cacophonous psych-ward session where all the patients are babbling and gesturing simultaneously.
With all the noise and confusion, it's hard to distinguish the characters who need help from the ones who are giving it — and if there's any central theme to "Wonderland," it's that the dividing line between those two poles is often treacherously thin and elusive.
True to the form staked out by the landmark hospital series "St. Elsewhere," and carried on currently by "Chicago Hope" and NBC's massively popular "ER," the medical personnel in "Wonderland" are far from perfect, and burdened with personal problems that often become major factors in their lives.
In "Wonderland," the psychiatric workers at a public New York hospital (think Bellevue, though this is called Rivervue) are burdened indeed.
Robert Banger, the chief of forensic psychiatry (played with edgy aggressiveness by Ted Levine), is on the other end of the evaluations for once, being assessed by other experts to determine his fitness to retain custody of his two young kids. His ex-wife is played by Patricia Clarkson, who played Daniel Benzali's wife on "Murder One."
Abe Matthews (Billy Burke) is a womanizing hotshot with a gift for relating to patients but not to his explosive girlfriend. Neil Harrison (Martin Donovan) and his wife, Lyla Garrity, (Michelle Forbes) both hold important posts at Rivervue, and she's nearing her third trimester of pregnancy.
Two other psych specialists, played by Michael Jai White and Joelle Carter, are less defined in the two episodes available for preview — but given time, and given this show's fertile soil, should blossom nicely.
"Wonderland," like NBC's "The West Wing," is a TV viewing experience that both demands and rewards attention. It's loaded with dialogue, and with intense characters, all of which you'd expect from a show set in a psych ward. But it also has a sense of drama, and action, that makes the most of the characters being introduced.
Forbes, who was so unfailingly believable and bewitching on "Homicide: Life on the Street," is just as good here. She and Levine, in the first two episodes, are the pace cars that relentlessly drive this show. In the first two hours, the guest stars playing psych patients — including Leland Orser as a cop killer and Jay O. Sanders as a suicidal banker — add tremendously to the mix, and to the overall sense of urgency and chaos.
Berg, who does not appear on camera, is enough of an actor's writer, and actor's director, to give his cast room to breathe and work. We get to know them as people, often by little bits of business captured not by dialogue, but by a glance or a telling camera shot. And then, once we know them, all hell breaks loose.
There's one scene in tomorrow's pilot, which I won't detail at all so that its surprise impact will remain intact, that literally made me gasp in shock. "Wonderland," in the truest sense, is Must-See TV. For ABC to schedule it smack against NBC's reigning Must-See medical drama is either aggressive faith of the highest order or an unfortunate and undeserved death wish.
If ABC doesn't find a way to save and nurture "Wonderland," though, the executives responsible should have their heads examined.

Patient Advocates Rip Drama 'Wonderland' is called threat to the mentally ill
BY RICHARD HUFF Wednesday, March 29, 2000

A mental-health watchdog group yesterday lashed out at ABC's new psychiatric hospital-set drama, "Wonderland," calling the show a "potentially dangerous threat" to those suffering from mental illnesses.
The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, a grassroots organization dedicated to improving life for mental-illness victims, says that the drama may increase the risk of suicides.
Wonderland" is an hour-long show conceived by Peter Berg ("Chicago Hope") that is set in a Bellevue Hospital-like psychiatric facility. To research the story lines and setting, Berg spent six months making the rounds with doctors at Bellevue. He has used some of them as consultants on the show.
But after seeing two episodes of the series, the executives at NAMI say they are concerned that "Wonderland," which debuts tomorrow at 10 p.m., will perpetuate the stereotype that mental-illness patients are "killers, crazies and freaks."
"We get a lot of messages in the show that treatment doesn't work or is ineffective. We get a very grim, very dark picture of mental illness," said NAMI executive director Laurie Flynn. "And while this is a slice, unfortunately it reinforces every negative stereotype of mental illness."
Flynn asserts that the show "stigmatizes" mental-illness patients and presents an image that "they're violent, you can't get near them, that they're pathetic, hopeless and can't get well."
Berg said the group misreads his intentions.
"The patients we present are individuals who have emotional problems who are handled by extremely dedicated doctors in an empathetic, caring, optimistic, professional way," Berg said. "It is our intention ... to provide a catalyst for honest dialogue about the often misunderstood and inaccurately represented world of the mentally ill."
"Still, in the first episode, a mental patient who stops taking his medicine stabs a pregnant woman with a needle. The man, who killed people in Times Square, later commits suicide after being treated.
"For him, the system failed." Berg said. "With this character, we are trying to highlight the importance of continuity of care and the tragedies of that failure. ABC picked up eight episodes of the drama, which it will air Thursdays against NBC's "ER" and CBS' "48 Hours."
Flynn said people suffering from mental illness would likely be more interested in the show than the average viewer, and thus would be hit with a negative portrayal that could lead to more suicides and to fewer people getting help.
"It's really not about our lives," she said. "It's about this very extreme slice of life that isn't typical.
"They're all wired and freakish," she added. "It would be like having a show about African- Americans in this country today and it all takes place in a ghetto welfare office."
Earlier this week, Flynn sent letters to ABC and Berg, asking that the show be toned down, especially the violence.
She wants ABC to air the show with warnings, to promote suicide hotlines, and to add warnings to offset negative content.
"We're hoping we'll have some response from them," she said. "We'd like to work with them to get a less-than-sensationalized program. We would like to see it be a little more reflective."
By going public with its concerns, the group is bringing more attention to the show, a fact not lost on Flynn.
"We just felt we couldn't be silent and have this picture presented," she said. "We had to say, this is not right. This is not our lives."
Ultimate TV: Production Begins On "WONDERLAND"(12/6/99)

"Wonderland," a riveting, gritty, one-hour drama shooting on location in New York City, delves into the lives of the doctors manning Rivervue Hospital's psychiatric and emergency programs. Writer, director and former "Chicago Hope" star Peter Berg is the executive producer/writer/director.
Mr. Berg and the writers of the drama spent months at a New York hospital researching the project and working side by side with top psychiatrists and ER physicians. They were able to observe everything from electric shock therapy sessions, to interviews with serial killers, schizophrenics and suicidal housewives.
Edgy and real, the stories for "Wonderland" are inspired by the experiences of staff and patients. The cast of "Wonderland" is encouraged to improvise, and the show is shot documentary style, resulting in nothing less than gripping television. With personal lives as complex as their patients' minds, the doctors of Rivervue endure joys and sorrows that often mirror the triumphs and tragedies of the afflicted they strive to heal.
The cast stars Ted Levine ("Silence of the Lambs" ), Martin Donovan ("The Opposite of Sex" ), Michelle Forbes ("Homicide: Life on the Street," "Kalifornia" ), Billy Burke and Michael Jai White.
In the realm of psychiatric medicine, this public, city hospital is the Mecca, and its doctors are among the world's best, brightest and toughest. Professionally, Dr. Robert Banger (Mr. Levine) heads up the forensic psychiatry department (the psychiatric study of criminology); while personally, he struggles to cope with the break-up of his marriage. Still in love with his wife, Dr. Banger is forced to fight her tooth and nail for the custody of their two young sons. Dr. Neil Harrison (Mr. Donovan), who also specializes in forensics, grapples with the fears and joys of impending fatherhood. His wife, Dr. Lyla Garrity (Ms. Forbes) heads up the Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Program, a.k.a. CPEP (a critical response facility for people suffering psychiatric emergencies).
Dr. Abe Matthews (Mr. Burke) is recognized as a talented psychiatrist who works in the CPEP, but has a well-earned reputation as a first-class commitment-phobic womanizer, both inside the hospital and out. Dr. Derrick Hatcher (Mr. White) balances the struggles of single parenthood with working daily miracles in the emergency suite -- all while simultaneously leading med students through the ropes of Rivervue's "boot camp."
In addition to Mr. Berg, executive producers for "Wonderland" are Ron Howard, Brian Grazer, Tony Krantz, along with co-executive producer/director John D. Coles. Peter McIntosh is the line producer. The program is produced by Hostage Productions, Inc. in association with Imagine Television.

ABC Premieres "WONDERLAND" (3/30/00)

"Wonderland," a riveting, gritty, one-hour drama shot on location in New York City, delves into the lives of the doctors manning Rivervue Hospital's psychiatric and emergency programs. Writer, director and former "Chicago Hope" star Peter Berg is the executive producer/writer/director. "Wonderland" makes its premiere THURSDAY, MARCH 30 (10:00-11:00 p.m., ET), on the ABC Television Network.
Mr. Berg and the writers of the drama spent months at a New York hospital researching the project and working side by side with top psychiatrists and ER physicians. They were able to observe everything from electric shock therapy sessions, to interviews with serial killers, schizophrenics and suicidal housewives.
Edgy and real, the stories for "Wonderland" are inspired by the experiences of staff and patients. The cast of "Wonderland" is encouraged to improvise, and the show is shot documentary style, resulting in nothing less than gripping television. With personal lives as complex as their patients' minds, the doctors of Rivervue endure joys and sorrows that often mirror the triumphs and tragedies of the afflicted they strive to heal.
In the premiere episode, the series pilot, New York City's Rivervue Hospital comes alive when a patient shoots down police and pedestrians in Times Square -- and then commits another horrific act in the emergency room.
In the realm of psychiatric medicine, this public, city hospital is the Mecca, and its doctors are among the world's best, brightest and toughest. Professionally, Dr. Robert Banger heads up the forensic psychiatry department (the psychiatric study of criminology); while personally, he struggles to cope with the break-up of his marriage. Still in love with his wife, Dr. Banger is forced to fight her tooth and nail for the custody of their two young sons. Dr. Neil Harrison, who also specializes in forensics, grapples with the fears and joys of impending fatherhood. His wife, Dr. Garrity, heads up the Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Program, a.k.a. CPEP (a critical response facility for people suffering psychiatric emergencies).


"Wonderland" Gets Inside Your Head
Fri, Mar 24, 2000 11:53 AM PST by Torye Mullins

This Thursday on ABC, a man sees miniature rhinoceroses walking amongst his fuzzy slippers; another claims to be missing his imaginary monkey. A newly admitted patient tells the nurse checking his bags for "dead animals" and sharp objects" that his name is "Ronald Regan McDonald Giuliani." And a psychopath opens fire in the middle of Times Square, shooting up everyone in his way, from police to pedestrians.
Keep in mind, all of this happens before lunch.
Welcome to "Wonderland" (premiering March 30 at 10 p.m.), brainchild of creator Peter Berg ("Chicago Hope"). The setting is New York's fictitious Rivervue hospital, where sanity and madness blend seamlessly, and the chaotic, criss-crossing lives of patients and staff is bound to hit a nerve with viewers, if not a whole synapse.
The pilot episode revolves around crazed gunman Wendell Rickle, who opens fire in downtown Manhattan. As he walks madly through the New York City crowds to his destination, a voiceover recites the "ABC's" of insanity: "A is for addiction, B is for beta-blockers, C is for convulsions." By the time he gets to Z, you know Rickle knows his ABC's pretty well.
As the psychotic shooter, actor Leland Orser gets under your skin like a tick about to pop. Laying on a hospital gurney after his spree--one of his victims lying beside him--he yells to his doctors: "Quit wasting your time with me and get over there and help that man die!"
Dr. Robert Banger, a confident yet vulnerable doctor played by Ted Levine ("Silence of the Lambs" ), heads the forensic psychiatric department at the hospital, but inwardly he struggles with his recent (not very mutual) divorce and the custody battle over his two boys. In a funny and frantic scene, Banger has to convince a panel that he is the more fit parent while his sons undress him shoe-by-shoe from his work clothes, readying him for playtime.
Martin Donovan plays Dr. Neil Harrison, anxious about impending parenthood with his very headstrong and very pregnant wife, Dr. Lyla Garrity (Forbes).
Michelle Forbes' character shows the most riveting complexity of the ensemble. Heading up the hospital's psychiatric emergency area, Garrity prides herself on her relationships with her patients and her ability to accurately diagnose them. Of course, Rickle turns out to be the one she let slip through the cracks.
She's a perfectionist (in the opening scenes she stares at her pregnant form in a mirror and laments that she's "lost her body…lost everything), yet her poor judgement with Rickle may cost her more than she wants to give.
Garrity is five months pregnant, yet she values women who pursue education in lieu of becoming " baby factories." She can be confident, arrogant, impatient, or lovable, turning from one trait to the next almost without warning, and you find yourself waiting on the edge of your seat to either love or hate her.
"Wonderland," like its main time slot competition "ER," features captivating story lines, complex characters and enough blood and gore to make the squeamish squirm. And in a way, the " Wonderland" cast also bares an uncanny resemblance to the original "ER" meds. Most notable is the Doug Ross-like commitment phobe, Dr. Abe Matthews (Billy Burke), seen in the opening shots making passionate love to a foreign beauty whom he later snubs. And Dr. Banger, like "ER's" Dr. Green, plays the balding, intelligent staff leader who works well professionally under pressure, but buckles under the stress of his failing family life.
Unlike "ER", which lost Gloria Reuben, Kellie Martin and will soon be saying adios to Julianna Marguiles, the "Wonderland" cast won't be leaving the show anytime soon.
But the one element that truly separates the two hospital dramas is "Wonderland's" added element of psychosis. Not only does the show portray the breakdown of the patients' minds; it burrows itself into the minds of the staff and the insanity that infests all of us in our everyday lives.
Patients at Rivervue moan, fidget, repeat themselves, screech, whisper and laugh. In the opening shot, titled "Group" what starts to be a peaceful therapy session turns into a chaotic screaming match between patients, and the uncomfortable presence of these people permeates many scenes in the pilot. They're always nearby, muttering, singing, banging or rapping. They are, in Dr. Banger's words, "The people society would rather just go away…the shadow people."
But in " Wonderland," these shadow people have major story lines.
Shot documentary-style with jerky camera action much like "NYPD Blue," Berg uses camera movement to manipulate mood, tension, confusion, agitation, sympathy or all of the above.
The use of voiceovers are at times almost poetic, blending the insanity of those admitted to Rivervue with the internal chaos of the doctors' lives.
Berg, along with his team of writers, spent months at a New York hospital researching the project, working directly with psychiatrists and ER physicians to get the lingo and the situations as authentic as possible.
So if you start to squirm, or cover your eyes, or even feel the urge to flip the channel because "Wonderland's" debut makes you uncomfortable, it only means that Berg succeeded in what he set out to do. He's gotten inside your mind."
Wonderland' takes viewers down the rabbit hole 03/30/00

"Wonderland" (Premieres tonight at 10 p.m. on Channel 7) A new series about the doctors and patients at a mental hospital. With Ted Levine, Michael Jai White, Martin Donovan and Michelle Forbes. Created by Peter Berg. Rated TV-14 for intense situations and violence.
Few TV series express their ideas in pictures as well as "Wonderland." This new ABC series, created by "Chicago Hope" regular Peter Berg and set at a New York City mental hospital, is shot in a jagged, jumpy style that suggests a world on the brink of breakdown.
The cutting is fast, the acting naturalistic but tightly wound, the music pounding and dissonant. The handheld photography (by the excellent Ron Fortunato) consists mostly of close-ups taken from very far away; you're right up in the anxious faces of the patients and doctors, but they're often half-obscured by blurry objects in the foreground. Dialogue from one conversation continues even when the camera shows us action happening in another place. The sounds of the hospital mix and merge with the sounds of the city – horns and boom boxes, traffic rumbles, shouts and murmurs.
This is the most uncompromising and stylistically innovative approach to TV drama since "NYPD Blue" – maybe since "Hill Street Blues" 20 years ago. The effect suggests a world where all people, from workaday medical professionals to desperate patients, are trying to focus on living in the moment, despite a nonstop barrage of unwanted information and uncontrolled feeling that continually threatens to knock them off track. The characters, the hospital, the city and the world all seem to be extensions of this central idea; every facet of the drama's universe is under constant assault from within and without, like a powerful radio antenna that picks up signals from a dozen different stations simultaneously.
The first two episodes introduce most of the major characters. They're a conscientious, likable bunch, but with a gallows humor reminiscent of "M*A*S*H" and a spiky individuality that raises them above convention.
Ted Levine ("Silence of the Lambs") plays Dr. Robert Banger, head of Rivervue Hospital's forensic psychiatry department (the department that deals with criminals). He's a good man and a good leader, but he's on the edge emotionally because of an ongoing custody battle with his soon-to-be-ex-wife, Tammy (the excellent Patricia Clarkson). Before the pilot concludes, he'll undergo a parental competency hearing, playing with his two young sons in front of a tribunal of note-taking bureaucrats – a scene that ironically mirrors the fishbowl atmosphere of Rivervue.
"I am the keeper of the gate, the gate at the hospital, " Banger tells the board, deliberately ignoring the fact that his young sons are prankishly undressing him. "When the pressures become too much, they come to us. These are the people that society would prefer just go away." If you were channel surfing and came across this scene at random, you might think Banger and his children were disturbed patients rather than representatives of so-called "normal" society. And that's precisely the point.

Michelle Forbes of "Homicide" plays the massively pregnant Dr. Lyla Garrity, and independent film veteran Martin Donovan plays her husband, Dr. Neil Harrison. Their decision to bring a child into the world amounts to a moving statement of optimism, but it will be challenged – shockingly – by events in the pilot. Michael Jai White is Dr. Derrick Hatcher, who's doing his best to balance career demands with single fatherhood. His opposite is Dr. Abe Matthews (Billy Burke), a philanderer and commitment-phobe who, in a memorable scene, counsels a distraught husband (Jay O. Sanders) whose marital woes he can't begin to imagine.

The patients are an equally colorful (and in some cases, dangerous) bunch, and their high-octane dramatic predicaments are mirrored by the more down-to-earth domestic concerns of the doctors. Leland Orser is superb as a gunman who goes on a rampage in midtown Manhattan, then undergoes a makeshift psychiatric evaluation while strapped to a gurney; his evaluation is intercut with Banger's stint before the parental competency board, suggesting that sanity is more a matter of degree than kind.
As the husband who attempted suicide to relieve his depression, Sanders is equally memorable in a subtler, less showy role. When he protests that he really shouldn't be here, your first inclination is to believe him; the script implies that the stress of an unhappy marriage could push an unhinged person over the brink. This idea is teased out further in episode two, which includes a subplot about an old married couple, one of whom might be insane (it's not easy to tell which one).
Will viewers want to revisit "Wonderland" after its opening episode? It's rough going – the pilot contains two acts of violence as upsetting as the much-discussed Zapruder-film head wound in the pilot of CBS' 1998 series "Brooklyn South." And the dialogue walks the knife-edge between realism and brazen theatricality. In this jittery, unbalanced milieu, even mundane phrases have menacing overtones. When one patient asks another, "Do you like fish sticks?" it sounds like code for something unspeakable; when Orser's gunman begins moaning, over and over, "Turn the volume down!," it's both a plea for silence and a comment on the show's unrelenting intensity.
Viewers are equally likely to find "Wonderland" exhilarating or off-putting. (It's already controversial; the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill has denounced the series for depicting a hospital full of "killers, crazies and freaks.") In any case, it's impossible to deny that Berg, who wrote and directed the 1998 black comedy "Very Bad Things," is one of those rare TV producers with more on his mind than mere entertainment.
Over the decades, TV has given us plenty of hospital shows – notably the juggernaut "ER," which "Wonderland" faces on the schedule – but despite differences in tone and pacing, they all place a certain amount of faith in society's institutions. And although they're ensemble shows that take on social and political issues from time to time, they usually concentrate on individual human dramas.
"Wonderland" is conceived on a much broader canvas; from its opening moments, it announces itself as less of a traditional TV drama than an essay on contemporary anxiety that just happens to revolve around the doctors and patients at a mental hospital.
It's less inviting and conventionally satisfying than "ER" or "Chicago Hope" because the problems are usually internal, invisible, elusive; the patients and doctors have problems that can't be resolved with a rib spreader and a scalpel. The real subject of "Wonderland" isn't medicine or even big city life. It's the frenzied pace and alienating anonymity of modern society, which can make even the most well adjusted person feel unbalanced.