List of Northern Exposure characters
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- Joel Fleischman (Rob Morrow) is the central character at the beginning of the series, a young, somewhat uptight, Jewish doctor from Manhattan (New York City) who is contractually bound to practice in the remote Alaskan town of Cicely for four years to repay a student loan from the government. The comedy centered originally on the clash between Fleischman's neurotic, almost Woody Allen-like, urban mindset and the easy-going, community-minded people around him. The role receded somewhat in importance by season four, as behind the scenes Morrow was involved in contentious contract negotiations, and Fleischman's character was minimized or even entirely absent for some later episodes. Morrow permanently left the series in the middle of the sixth (and final) season.
- Maurice J. Minnifield (Barry Corbin) is a macho, patriotic ex-astronaut and millionaire entrepreneur, owner of the local radio station KBHR and newspaper, as well as fifteen thousand acres (60 km²) of local land. Determined to make tiny Cicely the next boomtown, on "the cusp of the new Alaskan Riviera," Maurice arranges to bring Dr. Fleischman to the town, which previously had no permanent physician. In season 3, Maurice is visited by a South Korean man who turns out to be his son that he fathered during his deployment in South Korea in the 1950s as a Marine.
- Chris (Christopher Danforth) Stevens (John Corbett), is the disc jockey at KBHR, conceptual sculptor, and an ex-convict who spent most of prison time reading, a fact which makes him one of the most well-educated people in Cicely. He intersperses the music of his morning show with philosophical musings on the nature of life and readings from such writers as Walt Whitman, William Shakespeare, Leo Tolstoy, Carl Jung, and Maurice Sendak (Where the Wild Things Are). Chris is also Cicely's only clergyman, ordained as a minister in the Universal Life Church through an advertisement in Rolling Stone magazine. As radio host, he serves as the de facto narrator for the show.
- Maggie (Mary Margaret) O'Connell (Janine Turner) is a professional bush pilot, property agent and Fleischman's landlord. She was a debutante from a wealthy Irish American family in Grosse Pointe, Michigan. She sometimes believes herself to be cursed because all of her former boyfriends died in bizarre accidents. She maintains a strong love-hate relationship with Fleischman, including the occasional sexual episode.
- Shelly Marie Tambo Vincoeur (Cynthia Geary) is a young, beauty pageant winner, Miss Northwest Passage, with a somewhat 'surfer dude' shallow-but-sweet personality, who comes from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and is brought to Cicely by Maurice, who had hoped to marry her. Shortly after her arrival, she met and fell in love with the much older (by 44 years) Holling Vincoeur. Shelly nearly becomes a bigamist when she almost marries Holling before divorcing her schoolmate, hockey player Wayne Jones (Brandon Douglas), whom she had married solely to get him to stop proposing.
- Holling Gustav Vincoeur (John Cullum) is a sexagenarian hunter and owner of The Brick bar and restaurant, where he lives upstairs with Shelly. Born in Quebec (or the Yukon; both are mentioned in different seasons) and later becoming a naturalized US citizen, he had been best friends with Maurice until they had a falling out over Shelly. His father and grandfather both lived to be over 100 years old, spending most of their lives as widowers despite having married much younger women; fearing the same bitter fate, Holling had sworn off love until Shelly appeared. He claims to be a direct descendant of King Louis XIV of France and attempts to distance himself as much as possible from his despotic forebears. After 23 years as unelected mayor of Cicely, he loses that post to Edna Hancock, who runs against him because of a grudge, in the town's very first election in 1992.
- Ed Chigliak (Darren E. Burrows) is a mild-mannered but amiably tactless half-Native Alaskan who was raised by the local Tlingits. He perofrms odd jobs for Maurice and works part-time at Ruth-Anne's general store. A film buff and would-be director, Ed learned everything he knew about life and the outside world from movies, especially those of Woody Allen and Federico Fellini. He is a shaman-in-training and is occasionally visited by his invisible spirit guide, One-Who-Waits, and by his personal demon, Low Self Esteem, who resembles a leprechaun. Ed writes, directs, and produces his own film about Cicely and another film about a fellow Native American's traditional handicraft.
- Ruth-Anne Miller (Peg Phillips) is the septuagenarian owner of the general store, who moved to Cicely thirty years earlier from Portland, Oregon. A widow, Ruth-Anne lives alone until late in the series, when she becomes involved with Walt Kupfer (see below). Like Holling, she is one of the more rational/balanced characters and always has an open ear for her customers' personal problems. She too is a film buff and has earnest conversations with Ed on this topic.
- Marilyn Whirlwind (Elaine Miles) is Fleischman's receptionist and a stoic Native American. Almost supernaturally calm and imperturbable, Marilyn barely ever speaks, while her boss rarely stops talking. She occasionally offers up wisdom in the form of a Native American folk legend in response to another Cicelian who is troubled about some issue.
Final season's main characters
- Phil Capra (Paul Provenza) is recruited as town physician after Fleischman takes to the wilderness. A refugee from Los Angeles, Capra is more gracious than Fleischman in a small town setting, but even more hapless. Provenza was originally hired to take over the role of Dr. Joel Fleischman. The difference in their appearance was to be attributed to a new haircut, with Maggie O'Connell commenting, "It suits you." This idea was rejected to avoid alienating Morrow's fans.
- Michelle Schowdowski Capra (Teri Polo) is Phil's wife. She works as a reporter on a newspaper owned by Minnifield. When he starts applying editorial pressure, she decides she prefers waitressing at the Brick and has visions of Fleischman's rabbi, Schulman (see below).
- Adam (Adam Arkin) is an abrasive, ungroomed, misanthropic, bilious, cantankerous and colourful "genius" gourmet chef who may or may not have worked for the CIA in the past, which may explain how he has so much information about everyone. He lives off the grid and in the woods, and was first introduced as a mythic legend figure, something akin to Bigfoot. People in Cicely spoke of him as a tall-tale figure at first. Adam usually has a chip on his shoulder and offers an offensive rebuttal to anyone who compliments him. He is married to Eve. Arkin directed one of the episodes in the fourth season.
- Dave (originally Buffalo Child in "Sex, Lies, and Ed's Tape" but then William J. White) is the Native American cook at the Brick. In early episodes, he has few speaking parts, but in later seasons, began participating in scenes, particularly with Holling and Shelly, but also Joel, who often asks him to explain local Native American customs. He was replaced by Eugene (not Dave) (Earl Quewezance) near the end of the fifth season.
- Earl the Barber is a frequent background extra, played by Jerry Morris, the real owner of the barbershop used in the television series.
- Eve (Valerie Mahaffey) is a hypochondriac, heiress to a tungsten fortune, and Adam's wife. Mahaffey won an Emmy Award in 1992 for her portrayal. Eve and Adam spend part of each year as jet-setters and part as near-hermits in a cabin near Cicely. She and Adam eventually have a child together, named Aldridge.
- Lester Haines (Apesanahkwat) is the fifth wealthiest man of the tundra and is considered a rival by the richest, Maurice. He is the father of Heather Haines, who becomes Ed Chigliak's brief love interest.
- Erick Reese Hillman (Don McManus) and Ron Bantz (Doug Ballard) are a gay couple, introduced at the end of the second season when they buy a house from Maurice to open the Sourdough Inn, a bed and breakfast. They are married (by Chris) late in the fifth season.
- Caldecott "Cal" E. Ingraham (Simon Templeman) is a violinist who becomes obsessed with an antique violin purchased by Maurice. He attempts to kill Maurice and reappears in several episodes as a fugitive.
- Hayden Keyes (James L. Dunn) is a local Cicelian, he is well liked, but occasionally his honesty is questioned. Hayden is known as Cicely's blacksmith by trade and firewood salesman in addition to other odd jobs.
- Walter 'Walt' Kupfer (Moultrie Patten) is a rugged but friendly fur trapper, and love interest of Ruth-Anne Miller in later seasons. He was addicted to his work as a stockbroker in New York City and retired to Cicely on the advice of his doctor "more than 30 years" ago.
- Mike Monroe (Anthony Edwards) is a hyper-allergic lawyer, called "The Bubble Man" by the citizens of Cicely at first. Mike comes to Alaska to escape the pollution that gave him multiple chemical sensitivity. Maggie O'Connell, attracted by Mike's show of courage in battling his illness, encourages him to come out of his airtight house more often, and they briefly become a couple. In an apparent inversion of "Maggie's Curse," Mike's symptoms suddenly vanish, whereupon he leaves to join a Greenpeace ship at Murmansk, much to Maggie's disappointment.
- One-Who-Waits (Floyd Westerman) is Ed Chigliak's spirit guide, the ghost of a long-dead chief from Ed's Native American side of his family, the Bear clan.
- Richard 'Rick' Pederson (Grant Goodeve) is Maggie O'Connell's first-season boyfriend. He dies at the end of the second season when an errant satellite falls on him during a camping trip. After his death, it is revealed that he was a compulsive sex addict who cheated on Maggie with hundreds of other women. In one episode after Rick's death, Maggie encounters one of them face-to-face where they discuss Rick's relational complexities.
- Leonard Quinhagak (Graham Greene) is a native medicine man, Marilyn's cousin and Ed's mentor. He is also the local totem pole carver, which is featured in an episode where he creates a totem for the Whirlwind family, which rekindles a long-running feud between the Raven and Bear clans.
- Elaine Schulman (Jessica Lundy) is Joel Fleishman's fiancee/ex-fiancee. She is first heard in an out-going message on an answering machine, and first appears in the 1990 episode "Russian Flu", when she visits Joel in Cicely. After breaking up with Joel by letter in order to marry a retired judge, she visits joel again after the death of her husband in the 1991 episode "Roots".
- Rabbi Schulman (Jerry Adler) is Joel's rabbi in New York who inexplicably appears to Joel in "visions", and also once to Michelle Capra.
- Sergeant Barbara Semanski (Diane Delano) is a rugged, sullen, tomboy-ish Alaskan state trooper and gun enthusiast, and the on-again/off-again love interest of Maurice Minnifield, whom she finally dumps for protecting a fugitive, but becomes engaged to in the series finale episode. She is very particular about enforcing each and every letter of the law and even arrests Maurice over a minor criminal offense.
- Bernard Stevens (Richard Cummings Jr.) is Chris' "half-brother and spiritual doppelgänger." Their relationship extends beyond being merely half-brothers, as they also share dreams, emotions, and thoughts. They have the same birthday and birth year, making them "twins," despite having different mothers, one white and the other black. Their father was a bigamist "travellin' man" (a reference to the Ricky Nelson song Travelin' Man), whose double life is exposed only after his death.
- Louis Chunovic, The Northern Exposure Book: The Official Publication of the Television Series, Carol Publishing Corporation, 1995, ISBN 0-8065-1623-2