Mandy Patinkin realizes it looks like he's pulling a David Caruso, but he wants fans of "Chicago Hope" to know that there is a big difference in the two situations.
Mr. Caruso left "NYPD Blue" early into its second season to pursue movie stardom. Mr. Patinkin is checking out of "Chicago Hope" eight episodes into next season, but it isn't for career or financial motives. Just the opposite: He's walking away from his starring role as Dr. Jeffrey Geiger for the sake of his family.
"This is not about money. I don't want a nickel. This is going to cost me a fortune. I'll be less rich and less famous but I will have my wife and sons," Mr. Patinkin says.
A veteran of the Broadway musical stage, Mr. Patinkin was miserable during "Chicago Hope's" first season because he was in California while his family stayed in New York. They decided to give it a year to see if "Chicago Hope" grabbed hold before relocating across the country.
The plan was for them to visit frequently. Alas, on many visits, Mr. Patinkin barely had time to say hello. On some occasions, he says, he had to call them and tell them not to come out because he wouldn't have any time for them.
Hour-long dramas are extremely demanding, especially for pivotal characters such as Dr. Geiger, who are in most of the scenes. Twelve- to 14-hour days are the norm. Weekends are consumed by learning the script for the next week. Mr. Patinkin says he is not a quick study when it comes to memorizing lines.
"Nobody told me how difficult it is doing a weekly drama," he says. "I really worked to make it happen, but I can't have both, and my family comes first."
The final straw came this spring when one of Mr. Patinkin's boys came west to spend a week with his father. "I didn't get to spend a minute with him," Mr. Patinkin says. "That's when I knew I had to change things. Maybe it works for other actors. It didn't work for me."
Mr. Patinkin's family had all their friends in New York, and the boys had settled in at schools. They were reluctant to pull up their roots, and Mr. Patinkin didn't want to force the issue, knowing that they wouldn't see much more of him even if they lived in California.
"I want my kids to know that they are more important to me than my career," Mr. Patinkin says. His sons are 13 and 9.
"I figure I have five years left with my oldest son before he goes away to college and nine years with my other boy. It goes fast. I've already lost a year with each of them, and I'm not going to lose any more. When they're grown up, I'd be happy to do a series again."
CBS and "Chicago Hope's" producers have been supportive, the actor says. "They could have held me to my contract, but they have families of their own and they say they understand how I feel," Mr. Patinkin says.
He is repaying their consideration by not cutting ties completely with his role as a miracle-working surgeon.
"I told them that after the first eight, I would be available on an as-needed basis. If they want me, all they have to do is call."
Mr. Patinkin, who was nominated for an Emmy last week, says he has no idea how his absence will be explained. "They have a bunch of different ideas. Their priority, as it should be, is not to serve Mandy Patinkin but to serve 'Chicago Hope.' Maybe if I win the Emmy, they won't kill me."