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The Wonder Cabinet

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Guest Dixon

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In response to a recently posted question...

The Wonder Cabinet was Glen Morgan and James Wong's fourth attempt to launch an original network television series.  It would, like many of their other efforts, end in failure.  (Space: Above & Beyond had lasted one year on Fox, Fox had outright rejected The Notorious 7, and CBS had passed on Skip Chasers.)

The idea for the series began when Morgan and Wong stumbled upon literature regarding "wonder cabinets," collections of scientific curiosities kept by wealthy men during the eighteenth century.  The focus of the television series spun from that idea was Der Wunderkammern, a fictional institute in Philadelphi convinced that mankind's developments throughout time were beginning to disrupt the natural balance of the planet.  Nature itself, the scientists at Der Wunderkammern believe, was beginning to push back to restore that balance.  The result of this Mother Nature backlash was enough hideous mutations, doomsday plagues, and biomedical monsters to, hopefully, fill twenty-two episodes a season.

The pilot was shot in late March of 1999.  James ("Dead Letters") Morrison, Currie Graham, and Poppy Montgomery starred as a trio of unconventional doctors, each unable to continue working in the mainstream medical field for their own private reasons, that are brought together by Der Wunderkammern to investigate horrific medical abnormalities.  (In the pilot episode, for instance, they face off against a man who shares his body with a hideously deformed and animalistic conjoined twin, really not much more than a second evil head attached to his shoulder.  Sound familiar?  Eventually, in the episode's operating room climax, the evil head is removed in an advanced surgical procedure.)

I've seen the pilot episode, written by Glen Morgan and James Wong and directed by Millennium director Ralph Hemeker, and -- to be perfectly honest -- it wasn't much to look at.  I've seen it once and, with all due respect to Morgan and Wong for their efforts, I can't say I'd care to see it again.

The characters, as in any Morgan and Wong tale, are complex and absolutely engaging.  The series' overall premise, albeit undeniably hokey in its new age notions, does provide the shadowy and fascinating Der Wunderkammern organization.  The series would seem to have all the makings of a truly bizarre and truly original television drama, capable of being much more than a cross between The X-Files and ER.  (It is quite clear that elements were borrowed from other shows the duo had previously had success with.  Even Der Wunderkammern, at some moments, feels like an extension of the Millennium Group.)  

Unfortunately, the action which unfolds throughout the pilot is unable to take advantage of these ideas.  The characters, after being introduced to us, are thrown into a rural area on a dark and scary night and seem to be walking through a dreary paint-by-numbers episode of The X-Files.  It's also apparent, from what's being shot, that Morgan and Wong were dealing with a limited budget.

Once the pilot episode had been shot and prepared it was passed on to the powers that be at the Fox network.  Upon viewing it and considering their upcoming fall schedule, they informed Glen Morgan and James Wong that they had no interest in funding further episodes.  Although I have no specific information regarding why the decision was made to reject the series, it's apparent that the network was not excited by the presentation.  The Wonder Cabinet, essentially, died on the operating table.  While there was arguable much potential in the series, I have to say that I don't blame the network for this decision.

The happy ending to such tales is, of course, the fact that after years of struggling to be appreciated in network television, Glen Morgan and James Wong have become hot names in Hollywood and are enjoying great success crafting feature films for the big screen.  The dynamic duo endured trials and tribulations to enjoy the rewards of something much greater.

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It definitely has Millennium Group overtones to it.  Also, thanks for the informative posting on this.  I might never have know what this was about.

Is there any chance you could go in to more detail about the specific characters, their names, etc, and any other specific details about the show and pilot?



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......i'd be curious to know how dix was able to view the  pilot episode?      unless i missed it in previous postings(?)  hmm.

                                      ~se7en :ouro:

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  • Elders (Admins)

Maybe only the Pilot was shown or he had aquired a promo tape?

Funny thing about Morgan and Wong. They make such wonderfully creative and original programs yet most are cut off at the knees.

I think they've turned a little bit of the industry into their own personal artform.

Gra.  :ouro:

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I have my connections.  A kind soul and fellow Morgan and Wong afficianado was once able to pass along videotape copies of the pilot episodes for both The Notorious 7 and The Wonder Cabinet.  They were both copies of promo tapes, very poor quality, but it gave me the opportunity to have a peek at the otherwise lost shows.

Rejected television show pilots are a sad, sad thing.  Take The Wonder Cabinet, for instance.  Great work and effort was put into creating the pilot episode.  Following Fox's rejection, however, it was tossed away and forgotten.  No fans or viewers will ever have the opportunity to even glimpse at the work, aside from the occasional bootlegs found in online auctions or at conventions.  The network will never air it, it will never be professionally released, and all of the hard work on the part of the cast and crew seems futile.

In regard to the show's characters...

James Morrison, a brilliant actor who was by far the best part of the pilot episode, starred as Dr. Gordon Wayne.  Wayne was once one of the nation's leading heart surgeons.  A tragic experience in his past, however, has reduced him to nothing more than a salesman for biomedical equipment.  While I don't believe it's clearly explained in the episode, it's implied that a patient died on Wayne's operating table and he holds himself responsible for the loss, refusing to put human life into his hands again.  Der Wunderkammern notes his wasted potential, certain he could be saving lives if only he could overcome his guilt, and convinces him to participate in their investigation.

Poppy Montgomery starred as Dr. Sarah Coleman, a driven young woman fresh from medical school.  Coleman finds herself displeased with the state of the medical field she is thrust into following school, however.  She has idealistic notions concerning he role in the world and is constantly challenging the establishment.  As a result, she quickly makes enemies and her career stalls before it's begun.  She's intruiged by the offer to join Der Wunderkammern and gladly joins Wayne in the investigation.  (Not my favorite character in the series, but an interesting element nonetheless.)

Currie Graham, the third in the trio, starred as the cranky Dr. Kevin Spitz.  He's perhaps the most interesting member of the team, a squeaky third wheel.  Spitz is the wiseass, a neurosurgeon who has made some unfortunate ethical choices in his career and is now facing the consequences.  I don't recall what Spitz's precise personal situation was at the start of the pilot (I believe there was the implication of a law suit) but his career is in such a poor state that he reluctantly accepts the offer from Der Wunderkammern.  Spitz drags his heels throughout the entire episode, unwilling to embrace the bizarre investigation at hand and unconvinced of the consequences.  He is, naturally, won over by the story's end.  (There's a very amusing scene in which Spitz stubbornly remains in the car listening to the radio while the others head out into the woods at night, unwittingly making himself into a target.  Essentially, he soon gets the living daylights scared out of him.)  In fact, it is Spitz who at last saves the day during the dramatic climax.

The last major character was Alvin Swissky, portrayed by Kim Coates.  Swissky is an eccentric man acting as caretaker of the Der Wunderkammern institute.  He's on screen only briefly during the pilot.  Swissky introduces our trio of doctors to the bizarre, oddity filled warehouse in Pennsylvania that acts as Der Wunderkammern's headquarters and convinces them to pursue the investigation on behalf of the institute.  You don't see nearly enough of the titular Wonder Cabinet during the pilot episode for my tastes, but the budget's to blame.  This would have, easily, been the series' most unique and engaging element were it to have continued.

Appearances in the pilot episode are also made by Glenn Morshower, Tom Heaton, C. Ernst Harth, Bill Mackenzie, Sarah Macaulay, and Kimberly Hawthorne, all of whom formerly appeared on Millennium, as the IMDB will show you.  The pilot was edited by Millennium's Chris Willingham.

Despite a strong driving premise behind the series, as I noted, the plot of the pilot episode is rather vague and unengaging.  The first half of the episode, essentially, is spent revealing how our trio of antihero doctors come to be brought together by Der Wunderkammern.  It goes downhill from there.  Their first investigation, as I noted, takes them into a rainy rural area in search of a mysterious creature attacking the locals and leaving behind bizarre biological evidence.  They soon discover the hideously mutated man with his second evil head, who shares a surprising familial relation with the local police chief.  Rather than kill the poor guy outright, they take him back to the institute and perform an astonishing surgical procedure that frees him from his animalistic other half.  The climactic high tech surgical proceedure, performed by Spitz as the others look on and assist, was by far the most original and exciting part of the story.  Aside from that, and the introduction of the show's potentially engaging characters, the adventure really did play as a poorly prepared episode of The X-Files.

Do I think Glen Morgan and James Wong are done with television and will focus entirely upon feature films in the future?  Absolutely.  Based on the success they experienced with Final Destination and The One, and the number of films they're currently preparing for release (the next big feature is Willard, starring Crispin Glover and an army of rats), they have no reason to turn back.  It's all worked out better than they could have once imagined.

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Come on you guys! Jeesh, do you think those brilliant exec's at FOX would try something exciting, new, and intelligent? And as for a budget for such projects, they have all their cash involved with QUALITY programming like Man vs Beast, or celebrity boxing, and new this fall on FOX.............

the new reality show....American Celebrities fecal matter design. Thats right, you guessed it, FOX visits celebrities homes for a look into the toilet. The most creative "pile" gets a buck two ninety eight to give to their favorite fecal charities.  :grin2:

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I have my connections.

Don't you just?!  :;):

Seriously, though that's just a wonderfully informed and illuminating piece of Morgan & Wong trivia I'd doubtless never otherwise have learned. Whilst the premise sounds just a tiny bit whimsical, you've turned what may have only been a mediocre piece of television into a fascinating read, and exemplified the lamentable and no doubt crowded nature of the TV pilots' graveyard. Thanks so much for sharing!

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