MONDO EXTRAS

The Wonder Years

by Daniel Manu January 23, 2009
The Peter Berg Interview

TWoP: Why was it so important for you that this show see the light of day again in 2009 on DirecTV? Obviously, it was the first show that you created so I'm sure there was a personal element to it, but was there something about this topic that that felt people still need to know about in this day and age?

PB: Well, I think it's two things: One, it never sat well with me that the show was canceled so unceremoniously. Because a new regime came in right when it was time to release the show, the woman at ABC who developed the show, Jamie Tarses, was let go right when it was time to be released and scheduled, and a new crew came in and they put us up opposite ER in the height of its power and we were beaten pretty severely -- and it was pretty clear that that was the intention. And that was frustrating to me because so many people did so much great work. We'd shot eight episodes; the crew had worked really hard; we were shooting it at a working mental hospital in Long Island and it was rough shooting and the actors were using psychiatric patient rooms as their dressing rooms; and it was very unglamorous. It was a real labor of love and it was frustrating to me that all that work had just been dumped.

So that was a part of it, and then I just feel like since then -- it was ten-odd years ago -- we've become so much more acceptable of mental illness and familiar with it, and I think we as a culture are probably more ready to absorb something like Wonderland. I think it's a bit less outrageous. Maybe the first episode is still pretty extreme, but the future episodes that deal with eating disorders and bipolar issues and kids that can't be controlled by parents, things like that, I think do feel more timely in the sense that we're more willing to discuss it, and certainly the subjects don't feel as taboo as they did back then.

TWoP: You were up against ER and you had co-starred on Chicago Hope for several years. Did these more conventional medical dramas motivate you in any way to push the envelope with Wonderland?

PB: I don't recall really being motivated to try and outdo ER or Chicago Hope. I think that I got an appreciation from being on Chicago Hope as to how much audiences do connect with medical shows, and I really enjoyed being a part of [that] and realized there is so much inherent drama around a hospital -- that it makes for strong television if it's done well. And I did think that maybe the psychiatric component would be a new way in.

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