The Love Boat Soon Will Be Making Another Run
After filming six episodes of The Love Boat: The Next Wave, Corey Parker's spending his vacation not at sea, but in Tennessee, his wife's home state. "We've done two cruises in the Caribbean, and if we get picked up they're talking about going to Alaska - there's also rumors of the Mediterranean," he reports from a pay phone near Graceland the week after the series has wrapped for the spring. The official announcement date for renewal is not until May 21st, so the cast is a little nervous, but given that the early ratings surpassed even UPN's optimistic expectations, odds look good that the exciting and new Love Boat will be sailing again this fall.
Parker, who grew up watching the original Love Boat along with Fantasy Island on Saturday nights, wasn't completely sold on the idea of an updated version of the escapist series when he was offered the part of Dr. John Morgan, successor to Bernie Kopell's Dr. Adam Bricker. "You know, you don't know exactly what they're going to do with it," he says of the spin-off series. "But I got to talking with them, and going through the process of auditioning, it seemed like they really cared about what they were making, and that of course is always a plus."
While the original series was noted for its guest stars - in most episodes, the crew worked in the background of stories about visiting characters - much of the new series has focused on establishing the crew, including a retired Navy captain with a teenage son and a purser with a decidedly non-military demeanor. Parker's character was conceived as a pathologist, a former coroner who decided he wanted to get out and meet people, whose major distinguishing characteristic thus far is his tendency to get seasick.
"I had heard from the beginning that they wanted to do a bit more with the crew," Parker reports. "Of course, as an actor, you want to work - you want to get a chance to try out different things. But I liked the old show, how people would come on each week and you'd watch what happened with them, so I'm hoping that we can sort of have the stories generated out of that. When guest stars come on, I don't want to see them in the background: I like seeing their stories and it's through those stories that you find out what these people on the ship can and can't do."
"I think the rest of the cast and the characters can help him and each other to go where they need to go - the stuff that they're not used to handling," he adds. "Because we have a bunch of different crewmembers, everyone's sort of taking turns with storylines."
Dr. Morgan, whom his creator describes as "not real good with people," has placed himself in a position which he's ill-equipped to handle personally, despite his medical expertise. "I think he has the potential to learn, and I think he knows that. I'm hoping that we get to see what he does well - we have a sense that he doesn't handle a lot of things very well, so we need to see why he was chosen to be placed in that position." Parker laughs that the actual ship's physicians he has met are not prone to staring at half-naked injured female crewmembers as Dr. Morgan is.
"The doctor [on our first cruise] was awesome. He's 32 years old, a general practitioner, he's trained to deal with just about anything," the actor explains. "He's a senior officer, and when anything life-threatening happens to a crewmember or passenger, the captain will call the doctor and ask him what to do - where to go, where to put the ship. The captain does not make those decisions, the doctor does. When you walk with the doctor around the ship, everyone treats him similarly to the captain. It was surprising - everyone was very, very respectful of him, and I guess it's because everyone knows that if anything happens to them, he's the guy who's going to take care of them, hopefully. He also has to be real good with people."
Parker, whose own medical experience is limited to CPR, was impressed with the medical facility on the cruise ship where the first episodes of The Love Boat: The Next Wave were filmed, and got a taste of what a ship's doctor goes through when one of the passengers on the cruise suffered cardiac arrest. "The doctor decided they wanted to speed up on the way to the next port instead of having helicopters lift [the patient]. So we went very fast, we were going at 22 or 23 knots - it feels like 80 miles an hour." In a 750-foot-long ship, that makes for some pretty powerful action. "You're bouncing on the ocean and moving all over the place - some people had a really hard time that night," he admits.
Though this was Parker's first cruise and seasickness is one of his character's traits, the actor wasn't bothered by the motion. "Everyone was worried about what was going to happen with them, I thought for sure that I would get seasick, but I didn't at all. It's pretty smooth." Most of the cast was housed in small cabins "with these cute little verandas and stuff, but very narrow. It's sort of like being on a train - you've got 2100 passengers so they use that space very well, a little too well sometimes."
The series shoots some interiors in a studio in Los Angeles, but most of the exteriors were filmed on the ship. "If we get picked up, they're supposedly going to build some more sets on the stage, so we won't need to do as many cruises - but of course everyone wants to do more cruises." While the travel takes Parker away from his family, including a new baby who is finally recovering from tempestuous bouts of colic and teething, he says he had a great time working on the series.
"I'm really into the cast that we've got - whether we're doing Love Boat or doing something else, this cast it just really a good bunch of people," he praises. "It's just one of those lucky things; everyone's really looking out for one another." The actor lauds UPN's publicity and offers guardedly optimistic hope that the series will be picked up in a couple of weeks. "As a dad, the first thing I want to do is work, so I can provide for [my family]. I love my kids, and as an actor, you get a lot of time when you're in between jobs auditioning and stuff, you're with your kids all the time. It's very lucky, but you want to work."
A Manhattan native who attended the prestigious High School of Performing Arts in New York, Parker made his debut in the horror film Scream For Help and met his wife when she was driving Sherilyn Fenn for the TV movie Destiny: The Elizabeth Taylor Story. Parker was playing Eddie Fisher, Taylor's fourth husband, and liked the crew so much that he asked the producers if he could stay on as a production assistant when he wrapped his scenes. Of the difficulties of playing a character based on a live performer, he explained, "I hadn't met him, but I'm friends with two of his daughters, so I called Trisha and spoke to her a lot about the script and about what it was like for her having him as a dad. That really helped to give me a sense of him as a three-dimensional person as opposed to this image in my head."
Parker is widely known as Lee Owens from thirtysomething, but some of his favorite work has been in Neil Simon's autobiographical trilogy. "I auditioned for Brighton Beach Memoirs on Broadway many, many times, and never got it, never got the understudy or anything," he says of his efforts to play Eugene Morris Jerome. "When I was hired to play Epstein in the movie of Biloxi Blues, I was so ecstatic to have finally been hired to work with Neil Simon - and of course with Mike Nichols and Christopher Walken and Matthew Broderick [who originated the role of Eugene on Broadway]." Then Parker was cast as the older Eugene in the television feature of Broadway Bound, with Anne Bancroft and Hume Cronyn. "What can you say? It was a once in a lifetime experience," he concludes.
A commercial actor since the age of four, Parker admits that the business has been very difficult. "As an actor, you turn your head many times and say, 'I'm not doing this anymore'...but it's what I like to do." A member of the Actor's Studio in New York and the Ensemble Studio Theater, his first love is the stage: "When you do television and film, you have to do all your work at home, so that when you show up at work, you're ready to produce a result. And that's very difficult for me. As an actor, I'd rather have four weeks to develop something on a stage, so I can try out a whole bunch of different things and then feel real good about what my choices are. It's a very different set of priorities."
"I think I've done some good work on film, and I think I can do a lot more good work than what I've done - I'd like to explore what I can do as an actor," he continues. "I'll take what I can get. I detested L.A. for the first ten years, I really couldn't stand it, but I like it a lot now - it's much more pleasant as far as getting the work and getting to auditions. I like to work with people who care about what they're doing, and aren't just trying to throw things together...people who bring out the best in you, where you walk away saying wow, I didn't know I could do that."
And to his surprise, Corey Parker is finding that The Love Boat really does promise something for everyone. "It sounds kind of corny, but it's really a great experience," he says. "The cast, the crew, the publicity have all come together. I'm having a great time."