This is the article that was in TV Guide on March 25, 1995. All copyrights are owned by TV Guide.
Even before the Intestine Incident, actor Peter Berg -Chicago Hope's Dr. Billy Kronk, the cocky, hockey playing surgeon- wasn't sure about practicing medicine on the tube. "I'd never seen Chicago Hope. I don't watch a lot of television," says Berg, 30, more serene and cerebral than the hotshot, slapshot Dr. Kronk (but, like him, a hockey player). "I wasn't going to do it. Then I watched five taped episodes, and I asked myself whether or not I was getting a chance to be in stories this complicated and this wonderful in films."
At first, Berg says, he felt like a Hippocratic oaf. Costars Mandy Patinkin and Adam Arkin had spent months observing operations and getting all the medical moves down. "I think Patinkin sat through 22 heart surgeries, he could probably cut you open and do things," says Berg. "But I joined the show in the middle, and I had to be thrown into it."
That took guts. Literally. "Whenever you see us operate, we're really cutting," says Berg. "They build these fake stomachs and fill them with actual cow organs." A recent episode called for Kronk to remove a hairball from a man's digestive track. "They got a cow intestine. I cut into it, and it had gone bad - completely rotten. It was sickening," he recalls cheerfully. "We had to evacuate the soundstage for three hours because of the fumes."
With this exception, the sweet smell of success permeates Berg's life these days. Besides happily joining Hope, he's earned critical praise for his work in "The Last Seduction" (the film was declared ineligible for Oscar consideration because it aired on HBO before its theatrical run). He's also sold his first screenplay, a thriller in which he's set to costar with Michael Keaton at Paramount.
Berg laughs off suggestions that exec producer David E. Kelley brought him in to fill a "hunk" void and to help Hope go mano a mano with ER. "If they wanted a hunk, there are better-looking actors they could have gotten," he says. "I think they want me to bring a younger, more aggressive energy to the show that could complement everything else that's going on. I haven't been asked to do anything that one might assume a hunk would do. They let me keep my clothes on. Although the love affair that they have me in - with a woman who used to be a man - is probably the most outrageous love affair that's ever been put on television, I'm kind of hoping that they keep her on as my girlfriend."
This is not to say that Berg - who is happily married to Elizabeth Rogers, director of West Coast public relations for Calvin Klein - would actually mind being described as the George Clooney of Chicago Hope. "On television and in film, it's either a charisma competition or a fashion show," says Berg, "where everyone is trying to be a little more charming or a little better looking than everyone else. Which I don't really have a problem with."
CBS's Hope, Berg believes, more than measures up to ER "I think we have a more complicated, provocative show that stays with you longer and asks more of an audience," he says. "I think that ER is as successful as it is for a couple of reasons. One, it's a good show; it hits you hard, and it keeps hitting you. But a lot of ER's success is clearly NBC's success. With Seinfeld as a lead-in, you could have my dog sleeping for an hour on video, and you would probably hold those ratings for at least the first half hour."
Born in New York City and raised in suburban Chappaqua, Berg was exposed to theater early by his parents. "My parents took me and my sister to Broadway shows twice a month," he recalls. "That was where acting first registered in my mind and soul." He tried an acting class at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn. It was the first time school became fun for me." Besides performing, he wrote and directed plays and short films. After graduation, he set out for Los Angeles. "I took any job that would teach me about the film business - production assistant, prop man, driver - and acted in plays at the same time." An agent spotted Berg, and he's been working regularly in movies and on television since.
Berg has acted in nine films over six years, among them "Crooked Hearts" with Jennifer Jason Leigh and "A Midnight Clear" with Ethan Hawke. "They were really good films, but none was a commercial hit," he notes. "About two years ago, I gave up worrying about or trying to understand this business. You have no idea how anything you do is going to be viewed, so you might as well try to enjoy it."
The decision to scrub up with Chicago Hope's team was the right one, Berg says emphatically. "I came on the show at a great time, because we'd just moved into our new time slot. There's a real sense of renewed hope and energy and purpose. It was frustrating for these wonderful actors to be doing this great work no one was seeing. Now they're getting the response and the viewership that the show deserves."
Ultimately, though, Berg considers himself a writer first and an actor second. "I find myself thinking more about stories I'd like to tell than characters I'd like to play," he says. "And I think I'm a better writer than actor." Furthermore, slaving over a hot, rotten, bovine belly is a snap compared to turning out a screenplay. "Writing is harder work than acting, and it's more rewarding, I find. It's like climbing a mountain versus crossing a meadow."
Will he ever have to choose between writing and acting? Like the cows who donate their organs in the cause of medical authenticity, Berg will cross that meadow when he comes to it.