Horror fans treated to 'Kingdom Hospital'

— Stephen King still isn't sure whether he'll pop up in one of his Hitchcock-style cameos in "Stephen King's Kingdom Hospital."

"You can't call what I do acting. But if they find a cameo, I may do it because I've got a lot of sliced ham in my personality. ... A lot depends on how well I feel," said the horror genre master.

"I feel a lot better than I did," he added. "Finally my body seems to be winning."

The 56-year-old King, seemingly recovered from his near-fatal injuries from being hit by a van in 1999, was hands-on when filming began last year on this 15-hour, 13-part ABC series. Then he was hospitalized again with pneumonia and an intestinal infection.

But next week, after a brief detour to catch the Boston Red Sox in spring training, he's heading from Florida back to Vancouver where filming continues on the humorous horror series, which premieres with a two-hour episode 8 p.m. CST Wednesday.

"Kingdom Hospital" was inspired by "Riget" ("The Kingdom"), a 1994 miniseries by Danish director Lars von Trier, who shares executive producer credit with King and Mark Carliner on this adaptation.

King saw the original in 1997 and "was just amazed by it." He then hoped to adapt it for U.S. audiences but was initially stymied because Sony/Columbia had the rights to make a feature film.

The studio eventually made a deal with King to co-produce the miniseries in exchange for the rights to his novella, which has been adapted into "Secret Window," the Johnny Depp movie that opens March 12.

King wrote all but four episodes of "Kingdom Hospital." (Richard Dooling penned the rest.) His viewpoint on both the natural and supernatural aspects of a hospital environment was deeply enhanced by his own long bout in the ICU.

He created an alter ego character, Peter Rickman (a heavily bandaged Jack Coleman), who is hospitalized after being hit by a van.

"His injuries are much worse than mine ever were. He's got head injuries and spinal injuries, because that makes the story work better," King said.

This choice also was inspired by the thought processes of the bed-bound patient at the heart of Dennis Potter's 1986 black comedy "The Singing Detective," which King believes is "'The Citizen Kane' of miniseries."

But he remained faithful to von Trier's original, keeping "the really scary and really funny" but removing some of the confusing gothic, ghostly background. "We took away a lot of the clanking."

Major characters he retained: Dr. Hook -- "the one doctor who is not a laggard, a layabout, an incompetent or a slacker" -- and the renamed Dr. "Steg" Stegman, who is definitely evil. Andrew McCarthy plays Hook; Bruce Davison is Steg. Diane Ladd portrays Sally Druse, who constantly checks herself into the haunted hospital to use her powers as a medium, while Ed Begley Jr. is the incompetent Dr. Jesse James.

King has created a synopsis for a possible second season of episodes.


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