Like all medical dramas, the show featured the usual routine patient-of-the-week cases and the day-to-day lives and loves of the staff – from lowly orderlies all the way up to the most senior doctors.
However, it also dealt with many controversial issues that had previously been taboo for primetime network TV, such as rape (shockingly, carried out by one of the show’s main characters) and AIDS (St Elsewhere was the first prime-time US TV show to feature a prominent, regular character with the disease – Mark Harmon‘s Dr Robert Caldwell).
In addition, the show had a wicked sense of black humour and a bizarre, playfully surreal streak. The latter was most infamously displayed in the final episode, when it is implied that the entire series was imagined by Dr Donald Westphall ‘s autistic son, Tommy.
And it’s Dr Westphall that is the subject of this week’s classic scene. Frustrated at the new management of St Eligius (the proper name of the hospital featured in the show – “St Elsewhere” being a derogatory nickname) and the restrictions that cost-cutting was placing on patient care, he bows out of the show in some style.
Having earlier resigned, Westphall is summoned by his bean-counting new boss Dr John Gideon (played by Deliverance and Robocop star Ronny Cox). After a pointed comment, with an obvious double meaning, about how he collects medical antiques, Gideon offers to help Westphall repair the bridges he burned by resigning and the chance to remain at the hospital – but only if he toes the party line and becomes yes-man for his new corporate masters.
Westphall responds in typically blunt style and in what was an unusually explicit manner for network TV at that time (1987).
I only recently found out that actor Ed Flanders, who so memorably brought Dr Westphall to life, killed himself in 1995, aged 60, while suffering from depression. A sad end for a man who brought so much joy. This, then, is the Choob’s tribute to him: