Main title card for St. Elsewhere, as seen in the series' first season
|Created by||Joshua Brand
|Developed by||Mark Tinker
Ed Begley, Jr.
|Theme music composer||Dave Grusin|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||6|
|No. of episodes||137 (List of episodes)|
|Location(s)||CBS/MTM Studios, Studio City, California|
|Running time||45–48 minutes|
|Audio format||Monaural (Seasons 1-5)
Stereo (Season 6)
|Original run||October 26, 1982– May 25, 1988|
St. Elsewhere is an American medical drama television series that originally ran on NBC from October 26, 1982 to May 25, 1988. The series starred Ed Flanders, Norman Lloyd and William Daniels as teaching doctors at a lightly-regarded Boston hospital who gave interns a promising future in making critical medical and life decisions. The series was produced by MTM Enterprises, who had success with a similar NBC series, the police drama Hill Street Blues, during that same time; both series were often compared to each other for their use of ensemble casts and overlapping serialized storylines (an original ad for St Elsewhere quoted a critic that called the series "Hill Street Blues in a hospital"). St. Elsewhere was filmed at CBS/MTM Studios, which was known as CBS/Fox Studios when the show began; coincidentally, 20th Century Fox wound up acquiring the rights to the series when it bought MTM Enterprises in the 1990s.
Known for its combination of gritty, realistic drama and moments of black comedy, St. Elsewhere gained a small yet loyal following (the series never ranked higher than 49th place in the yearly Nielsen ratings) over its 6-season, 137-episode run; the series also found a strong audience in Nielsen's 18-49 age demographic, a young demo later known for a young, affluent audience that TV advertisers are eager to reach. The series also earned critical acclaim during its run, earning 13 Emmy Awards for its writing, acting, and directing. St. Elsewhere was ranked #20 on TV Guide's 2002 list of "The 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time.", with the magazine also selecting it as the best drama series of the 1980s in a 1993 issue.
After its initial run, reruns of St. Elsewhere aired for a time in syndication, with later runs on TV Land, Bravo and currently, AmericanLife TV. Also a popular series in the United Kingdom, St. Elsewhere has been aired twice by two independent British broadcasters. Channel 4 aired the series between 1983 and 1989, with Sky One later airing repeats in a daily Midday timeslot during 1992-93. In 2012, Channel 4 began twice-weekly early morning repeats, usually at around 03:30. As of October 2012, series 4 is being shown. All 137 episodes are also available to view online at 4OD.
St. Elsewhere was set at fictional St. Eligius, a decaying urban teaching hospital in Boston's South End neighborhood. (The Franklin Square House Apartments in Boston stood in for the hospital in exterior shots, including the series' opening sequence.) The hospital's nickname, "St. Elsewhere," is a slang term used in the medical industry to refer to lesser-equipped hospitals that serve patients turned away by more prestigious institutions; it is also used in medical academia to refer to teaching hospitals in general (to the further detriment of St. Eligius' reputation). In the pilot episode, surgeon Dr. Mark Craig (William Daniels' character) informs his colleagues that the local Boston media have bestowed the derogatory nickname upon St. Eligius since they perceive the hospital as "a dumping ground, a place you wouldn't want to send your mother-in-law." In fact, the hospital is so poorly thought of that its shrine to Saint Eligius is commonly defiled by the hospital's visitors and staff, and is passingly referred to by Dr. Wayne Fiscus as "the patron saint of longshoremen and bowlers." (Eligius is neither, in actuality, though he is patron saint of numismatists, metalworkers, and horses.)
Just as in Hill Street Blues, St. Elsewhere employed a large ensemble cast; a gritty, "realistic" visual style; and a profusion of interlocking serialized stories, many of which continued over the course of several episodes, if not multiple seasons. In the same way Hill Street was regarded as a groundbreaking police drama, St. Elsewhere would also break new ground in medical dramas, creating a template that would influence later medical dramas such as ER and Chicago Hope: Here, the medical profession was an admirable but less-than-perfect endeavor; the St. Eligius staff, while mostly having good intentions in serving their patients, all had their own personal and professional problems, with the two often intertwining; their problems, and that of their patients (some of whom didn't survive), were often contemporary in nature, with storylines involving breast cancer, AIDS, and addiction. Though the series dealt with serious issues of life, death, the medical profession, and the human effects of all three, a substantial amount of black comedic moments and inside jokes and references to TV history were included, not to mention tender moments of humanity.
The producers for the series were Bruce Paltrow, Mark Tinker, John Masius, Tom Fontana, John Falsey and Abby Singer. Tinker, Masius, Fontana, and Paltrow wrote a number of episodes as well; other writers included John Tinker, John Ford Noonan, Charles H. Eglee, Eric Overmyer, Channing Gibson, and Aram Saroyan.
The show's main and end title theme was composed by famed jazz musician and composer Dave Grusin. Noted film and TV composer J.A.C. Redford wrote the music for the series (except for the pilot, which was scored by Grusin). No soundtrack was ever released, but the theme was released in two different versions: the original TV mix and edit appeared on TVT Records' compilation Television's Greatest Hits, Vol. 3: 70s & 80s, and Grusin recorded a full-length version (4:13) for inclusion on his Night Lines album, released in 1983.
In addition to using such established actors as Ed Flanders, Norman Lloyd and William Daniels, St. Elsewhere is also noted for a strong ensemble cast that included David Morse, Alfre Woodard, Bruce Greenwood, Christina Pickles, Kyle Secor, Ed Begley, Jr., Stephen Furst, Howie Mandel, Mark Harmon, and future Academy Award winners Denzel Washington and Helen Hunt. Notable guest stars included Tim Robbins, whose first major role was in the series' first three episodes (as domestic terrorist Andrew Reinhardt), and Doris Roberts and James Coco, who both earned Emmy Awards for their Season 1 appearance as, respectively, a bag lady and her retarded husband.
- Dr. Donald Westphall — Ed Flanders
- Dr. Annie Cavanero — Cynthia Sikes
- Dr. Jack "Boomer" Morrison — David Morse
- Dr. Daniel Auschlander — Norman Lloyd
- Dr. Mark Craig — William Daniels
- Dr. Ben Samuels — David Birney
- Dr. Hugh Beale — G.W. Bailey
- Nurse Helen Rosenthal — Christina Pickles
- Dr. Robert Caldwell — Mark Harmon
- Dr. Victor Ehrlich — Ed Begley, Jr.
- Dr. Wayne Fiscus — Howie Mandel
- Dr. Cathy Martin — Barbara Whinnery
- Dr. John Gideon — Ronny Cox
- Dr. Peter White — Terence Knox
- Dr. Phillip Chandler — Denzel Washington
- Dr. Vijay Kochar — Kavi Raz
- Dr. Wendy Armstrong — Kim Miyori
- Dr. Jacqueline Wade — Sagan Lewis
- Nurse Shirley Daniels — Ellen Bry
- Luther Hawkins — Eric Laneuville
- Dr. Michael Ridley — Paul Sand
- Dr. Samuel Weiss — Philip Sterling
- Dr. Elliot Axelrod — Stephen Furst
- Nurse Lucy Papandreo — Jennifer Savidge
- Orderly Warren Coolidge — Byron Stewart
- Dr. Alan Poe — Brian Tochi
- Dr. Roxanne Turner — Alfre Woodard
- Dr. Seth Griffin — Bruce Greenwood
- Dr. Susan Birch — Jamie Rose
- Dr. Paulette Kiem — France Nguyen
- Dr. Carol Novino — Cindy Pickett
St. Elsewhere ran for 6 seasons and 137 episodes; the first season (1982-1983) aired Tuesdays at 10 p.m. (ET), with remaining seasons airing Wednesdays at 10 p.m.
St. Elsewhere was noteworthy for featuring episodes with unusual aspects or significant changes to the series' status quo. Some of those episodes have included:
Original air date: November 9, 1983
Dr. Morrison learns of the death of his wife, Nina (whom he had an argument with in an early scene of this episode), after slipping and hitting her head. Nina's heart is donated to a heart transplant patient — a patient of Dr. Craig. The poignant final scene of the episode finds Morrision entering the patient's room and, with a stethoscope, hears the patient's new heart — Nina's heart — steadily beating.
Original air date: March 27, 1985
St. Elsewhere ended its 3rd season with this TV crossover that found Drs. Westphall, Auschlander, and Craig getting together at that other Boston TV institution, the namesake setting of the comedy series Cheers. The scene, which was filmed on the main Cheers soundstage (Stage 25 at the Paramount Studios lot) and not entirely done for laughs, finds the bar's hypochondriac know-it-all Cliff Clavin, trying and failing to gain free medical advice from the doctors; Auschlander confronting his former accountant, Norm Peterson; and barmaid Carla Tortelli voicing her displeasure with the doctors regarding her stay in St. Eligius 2 years earlier for the birth of her baby. The scene ends with Westphall announcing to his two colleagues that he has decided to leave St. Eligius and medicine, a short-lived departure as Westphall would return in the Season 4 premiere.
Original air date: February 19 and 20, 1986
This 2-part episode featured storylines that fleshed out the 50-year history of St. Eligius, all filmed in a different style (e.g. black-and-white for the 1930s setting, muted colors for the 1940s). The storylines included the hospital's 1936 founding by Fr. Joseph McCabe (played by Edward Hermann), the arrivals of Dr. Auschlander and Nurse Rosenthal, the early struggles of Mark Craig and his relationship with his mentor (which mirrored Craig's later mentoring of Dr. Ehrlich), the death of Dr. Westphall's wife, and Dr. Morrison simultaneously dealing with an overdose patient and the disappearance of his son. TV Guide ranked "Time Heals" #44 on its 1997 list of "100 Greatest Episodes of All Time", calling the episode "a masterwork of dramatic writing."
Original air date: November 26, 1986
This episode deals with the shooting of Dr. Wayne Fiscus, who takes a bullet while trying to capture fireflies in the park across from St. Eligius during a break from rounds. As the staff frantically try to save him, Fiscus ventures back-and-forth between Hell (where he meets former colleague, and rapist, Peter White); Purgatory; and Heaven, where he has a conversation with God, who presents Himself as a spitting image of Fiscus, a play on a passage from the Book of Genesis ("Let Us make Man in Our image, after Our likeness"). Just as Fiscus shakes hands with Lou Gehrig, his colleagues successfully revive him back to Earth. The episode is a sort of turning point for the usually mischievous Fiscus, who begins to mature afterwards and rein in and moderate his juvenile ways.
"Last Dance at the Wrecker's Ball"
Original air date: May 27, 1987
In the season five finale, all attempts to save St. Eligius from closing seem to have failed. As demolition begins, a frail Dr. Auschlander, accidentally left in the hospital after a relapse, attempts to escape.
"A Moon For the Misbegotten"
Original air date: September 30, 1987
St. Eligius is saved (and any damage to the above mentioned "Wrecker's Ball" repaired), but it falls under the new ownership of Ecumenica Corporation, a national managed health care concern. (The use of "Ecumenica" garnered some real-life controversy, as Humana thought the use of that name sounded too much like its own; the protest prompted NBC to begin airing post-episode disclaimers stating that Ecumenica was indeed fictional.) Ecumenica's choice to head St. Eligius, Dr. John Gideon, would mix like oil and water with the St. Eligius staff, especially Dr. Westphall, who, in the final scene of this episode (and Ed Flanders' last moment as a St. Elsewhere series regular), delivers his resignation "in terms you can understand" — by dropping his pants and exposing his bare bottom to Gideon ("You can kiss my ass, pal"). This scene, which would normally be considered controversial, was preserved by NBC's censors as they did not consider Westphall's display to be erotic in nature.
Original air date: April 20, 1988
In a somewhat change-of-pace episode, Drs. Craig and Novino, Ellen Craig, and Lizzie Westphal visit Donald and Tommy Westphall (Lizzie's father and brother, respectively), who appear to be enjoying the quiet life in small town New Hampshire. The episode features Dr. Westphall occasionally breaking the fourth wall and speaking directly to the viewer, a la the "Stage Manager" character in Our Town (the episode title and its location are nods to the Thornton Wilder play).
"The Last One"
Original air date: May 25, 1988
St. Elsewhere's series finale featured momentous changes for several main characters, including the departure of Dr. Morrison and the death of Dr. Auschlander, as well as the return of Donald Westphall to an active leadership role at St. Eligius after Ecumenica agrees to sell the hospital back to the Boston archdiocese. The finale is more known for its provocative final scene: Westphall and his autistic son Tommy (played by Chad Allen) are seen in his office watching snow falling outside. The image cuts to an exterior shot of the hospital. At that moment, Tommy and Daniel Auschlander are seen in an apartment building, with Tommy playing with a snow globe. Donald arrives home from a day of work, and it is clear from the uniform he wears and the dialog in this scene that he works in construction. "Auschlander" is revealed to be Donald's father, and thus Tommy's grandfather. Donald laments to his father, "I don't understand this autism thing, Pop. Here's my son. I talk to him. I don't even know if he can hear me, because he sits there, all day long, in his own world, staring at that toy. What's he thinking about?" As Tommy shakes the snow globe, he is told by his father to come and wash his hands for dinner. Donald places the snow globe on the family's television set and walks into the kitchen with Tommy and Auschlander; as they leave the room, the camera closes in on the snow globe—which holds a replica of St. Eligius.
The most common interpretation of this scene is that the entire series of events in the series St. Elsewhere had been a product of Tommy Westphall's imagination, with elements of the above scene used as its own evidence. One of the results of this has been an attempt by individuals to determine how many television shows are also products of Tommy Westphall's mind because of shared fictional characters: the "Tommy Westphall Universe".
"The Last One's" closing credits differed from those of the rest of the series. In all other episodes, the credits appeared over a still image of an ongoing surgical operation, followed by the traditional MTM Productions black-backgrounded logo, featuring Mimsie the cat in a cartoon surgical cap and mask; here, the credits appeared on a black background, flanked by an electrocardiogram and other medical equipment, with Mimsie lying on her side at the top of the screen; at the end of the credits, the electrocardiogram "flatlined", marking Mimsie's death and the end of St. Elsewhere. (The real Mimsie passed away that same year.)
"The Last One" brought in 22.5 million viewers ranking as the seventh most-watched program that week and attracting a 17.0/29 rating/share. In 2011, the finale was ranked #12 on the TV Guide Network special, TV's Most Unforgettable Finales.
Allusions, crossovers, and homages
St. Elsewhere was known for the insertion of several allusions, large and small, to classic movie, pop culture, and television events (the latter especially) throughout its run, including other shows that were produced by MTM Enterprises. Some of the more noteworthy allusions have included:
- The St. Eligius public address loudspeakers would periodically summon characters from other television series, often going unnoticed by the show's characters.
- The character of hospital orderly Warren Coolidge (played by Byron Stewart) was carried over from The White Shadow, where Coolidge had been a student at Carver High. (Before St. Elsewhere, Bruce Paltrow served as Shadow's showrunner.) Coolidge occasionally sported a Carver High T-shirt while working at St. Eligius. In one episode, Coolidge passed guest star Timothy Van Patten (another Shadow alumnus) in an elevator and called out "Salami! It's me, Warren Coolidge!"; Van Patten, playing a different character, didn't recognize him.
- Another episode saw Amnesiac John Doe #6, a recurring character played by Oliver Clark, watching an episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show on a hospital TV and started believing himself to be that series' lead character Mary Richards; during the episode, Doe greeted a visiting Naval officer (from a concurrent storyline) as Moore's Sue Anne Nivens; the officer, played by Betty White (who played Sue Anne) responds, "I'm afraid you've mistaken me for someone else."
- In the same episode in which John Doe believed he was Mary Richards, he is verbally disparaged by another patient in the psychiatric ward — Elliott Carlin, the resident neurotic from The Bob Newhart Show played by Jack Riley. Carlin's treatment of Doe mirrored his behavior toward Oliver Clark's Bob Newhart Show character, Mr. Herd. Mr. Carlin subsequently appeared on an episode of Newhart, still uncured from the damage caused by "some quack in Chicago."
- In a 1986 episode, Mark and Ellen Craig return to their alma matter, the University of Pennsylvania, and reminisce about their college days, where Dr. Craig was (according to Mrs. Craig) "obnoxious and disliked" — a line frequently used in 1776 to describe Founding Father John Adams; William Daniels played Adams in both the original musical and its film adaptation. Mark also comments on the weather during the visit by singing a line from 1776: "It's hot as hell/In Philadelphia!"
- Another allusion involving the Craigs found Mark phoning Ellen, who does not immediately recognize his voice, to which Mark responds, "Well, who do you think it is, G. Gordon Liddy?" This refers to Daniels' portrayal of Liddy in the 1979 TV miniseries adaptation of John Dean's Blind Ambition.
- In "Santa Claus is Dead", Dr. Craig mentions serving in Korea with his drinking buddy, B.J. Hunnicutt, implying that Dr. Hunnicutt was reassigned to another unit in Korea following the July 1953 deactivation of the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital at the end of M*A*S*H’s finale, "Goodbye, Farewell and Amen".
- The series' final episode, "The Last One" (see above), was replete with several allusions, including:
- The mention that a "Dr. Kimball" is chasing a one-armed patient on the loose, a nod to The Fugitive
- A reenactment of The Mary Tyler Moore Show's group hug from that series' finale (including a shuffle to the tissue box)
- A nod to M*A*S*H that featured a patient #4077—Henry Blake—who is said to have been injured in an aircraft crash
- A barber referred to as "Floyd," a nod to The Andy Griffith Show's Floyd the Barber
- The cliché, "It ain't over till the fat lady sings," which is uttered by Dr. Fiscus immediately before an injured and obese opera singer dressed as a Valkyrie sings an extended note in the ER.
St. Elsewhere was also host to one crossover, served as the source material for two others, and has been paid homage to in several ways:
- The third season's finale featured Drs. Westphall, Auschlander, and Craig visiting the titular pub of Cheers (also set in Boston) for a drink. During the 2nd season of Cheers, barmaid Carla Tortelli (Rhea Perlman) gave birth to a child at St. Eligius, and here expresses her displeasure about her hospitalization there, even getting into a verbal altercation with Dr. Craig. (Another episode featured a possibility discontinuity however: Dr. Morrison and his young son stopped at The Bull and Finch Pub, the real-life pub that served as Cheers in that show's exterior shots.)
- Two St. Elsewhere characters were carried over to the NBC series Homicide: Life on the Street, which was executive produced by St. Elsewhere alumnus Tom Fontana. In an episode in season six entitled "Mercy", Alfre Woodard reprises her role of Dr. Roxanne Turner, who is accused of illegally euthanizing a cancer patient. Woodard was nominated for an Emmy Award as Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series for her performance. In other Homicide episodes, the character of Detective Tim Bayliss (played by Kyle Secor) develops a bad back and is treated by an offscreen "Dr. Ehrlich". In the Homicide: The Movie finale, Ed Begley, Jr., makes an uncredited appearance as Dr. Victor Ehrlich.
- Ed Begley Jr., William Daniels, Stephen Furst and Eric Laneuville reunited to appear in a Season 1 episode of Scrubs; the episode saw the actors not reprising their St. Elsewhere characters but rather guest as a quartet of doctors that fell sick at a medical convention. The episode was part of a week-long series of events honoring NBC's 75th Anniversary.
- NewsRadio paid homage to "The Last One's" famous "snowglobe" scene at the end of its third season fantasy-themed episode "Daydream". 30 Rock did likewise in the closing scene of its finale, "Last Lunch," a scene that begins with the GE Building in a snow globe being stared at Kenneth Parcell, 30 Rock's perpetual rube, but then turns the meme around to make the series the distant-future creation of Liz Lemon's great-granddaughter with whom Kenneth, by that point the president of NBC, is taking a pitch meeting.
- Degrassi Junior High turned the tables on St. Elsewhere's above mentioned famous character pages in its episode "Nothing to Fear", in which the loudspeaker at a hospital summoned several St. Elsewhere staffers including Drs. Wayne Fiscus and Philip Chandler, Nurse Shirley Daniels, and "Dr." Bruce Paltrow.
Awards and nominations
- Outstanding Directing in a Drama Series Mark Tinker (1988)
- Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series Tom Fontana, John Tinker, John Masius (1986), and Masius, Fontana, and John Ford Noonan (1984)
- Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series William Daniels (1985 and 1986)
- Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series Ed Flanders (1983)
- Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series Bonnie Bartlett (1986–1987)
- Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series James Coco (1983)
- Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series Doris Roberts (1983)
Peabody Award (1984)
Television Critics Association Award for Drama Series (1988)
- Outstanding Drama Series (1983–1988)
- Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series Ed Flanders (1985, 1986)
- Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series William Daniels (1983–1984, 1987)
- Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series Alfre Woodard (1986)
- Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series Ed Begley, Jr. (1984–1988)
- Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series Bonnie Bartlett (1988)
- Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series Piper Laurie (1984)
- Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series Christina Pickles (1983, 1985–1988)
- Outstanding Guest Performer in a Drama Series Alfre Woodard (1988)
- Outstanding Guest Performer in a Drama Series Lainie Kazan (1988)
- Outstanding Guest Performer in a Drama Series Steve Allen (1987)
- Outstanding Guest Performer in a Drama Series Jayne Meadows (1987)
- Outstanding Guest Performer in a Drama Series Edward Herrmann (1986–1987)
- Outstanding Drama Series (1985–1988)
- Outstanding Supporting Actor Ed Begley, Jr. (1986)
- Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Drama Mark Tinker (1985, 1987–1989)
On November 28, 2006, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment released the complete first season of St. Elsewhere on DVD in Region 1. It is unknown if the remaining five seasons will be released at some point.
In Region 2, Channel 4 DVD released the first season on DVD in the UK on April 2, 2007. All episodes have been made available on Channel 4's UK on-demand internet stream 4OD (4 On-Demand) in the UK and Ireland. Channel 4 began repeating the series in 2009-10 and again in 2012.
Currently, episodes from season 1 are available on Hulu.
References and further reading
- "100 Episodes: St. Elsewhere," essay from The AV Club, 3/12/2012
- TV Guide Names Top 50 Shows
- TV Guide April 17-23, 1993. 1993. p. 11.
- "NBC's Stylish 'St. Elsewhere,'" review from The New York Times, 11/16/1982
- "Special Collector's Issue: 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time". TV Guide (June 28-July 4). 1997.
- Source: "St. Elsewhere: A Moon for the Misbegotten," from IMDB
- TV ACRES: Signoffs- Classic Series Finales (St. Elsewhere)
- Gallagher, William (May 30, 2003). "TV's strangest endings". BBC News. Retrieved May 24, 2010.
- Feder, Robert (May 26, 1988). "Chicago Sun-Times:: Search". Chicago Sun-Times.
- TV's Most Unforgettable Finales - Aired May 22, 2011 on TV Guide Network
- Scrubs: "My Sacrificial Clam", from IMDB.com
- "St. Elsewhere - Washington, Morse and Mandel - Artwork inside".
- Robert J. Thompson, Television's Second Golden Age (1996)
- David Bianculli, Teleliteracy: Taking Television Seriously (1992)
- David Bianculli, Dictionary of Teleliteracy: Television's 500 Biggest Hits, Misses, and Events (1997)
- Joseph Turow, Playing Doctor: Television, Storytelling, and Medical Power (1989)
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