Tag Archives: St Elsewhere

It’s Theme Tunes Day – Northern Exposure

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I was, and still am, a big fan of groundbreaking 1980s hospital drama St Elsewhere, as you may remember from this, this and this.

It was created by Joshua Brand and John Falsey, who went on to create another show I was exceptionally fond of back in the day, Northern Exposure.

The gentle, quirky comedy-drama featured a cast of eccentric characters living in the fictional rural town of Cicely, Alaska.

We initially observe them through the eyes of reluctant newcomer Joel Fleischman (played by Rob Morrow), a young, ambitious New York doctor tricked into becoming the town GP after the town patriarch, former astronaut Maurice Minnifield (Barry Corbin) pays off his medical school loans.

Although essentially a light-hearted, character-driven, culture-clash comedy-drama, Northern Exposure, like St Elsewhere before it, was not afraid to veer off into more fanciful and, on occasion, surreal territory.

It’s interesting that Northern Exposure first aired just a few months after David Lynch’s Twin Peaks began. Both shows had much in common: remote small town location, eccentric characters, surreal overtones, an outsider from the big city.

But while Twin Peaks, like much of Lynch’s work, sought to expose the darker side of human nature, the rotten core just barely hidden beneath a thin veil of small-town respectability, Northern Exposure explored broadly similar small themes in a much more poetic, optimistic, uplifting and hopeful way. If Twin Peaks was about confronting and defeating the darker side of human nature, Northern Exposure was about recognising the positives in people and embracing all that is good in life.

Northern Exposure outlasted Twin Peaks by some way – the series ran for six seasons (110 episodes) between 1990 and 1995.

Here are the opening titles, with the catchy, memorable theme tune and, of course, Mort the moose:

And here is the full version of the theme tune:

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Saturday Stuff – The St Elsewhere Theme Tune Tartan Mix

As you’ll recall from this post and this one, the Choob loves the slightly surreal 1980s medical drama St Elsewhere.

Here’s a rather splendid live performance of the show’s theme tune by a Scottish band called Electric Thistle (sorry, I know nothing about them), apparently recorded in Aberdeen’s Jazz Cellar on February 13, 1996.



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It’s Classic Clip Friday: St Elsewhere – Dr Westphall Sticks It To The Man

I’ve mentioned before that I consider St Elsewhere is the greatest medical drama ever seen on TV.

It was a truly groundbreaking show which rewrote the rules for its genre in the same way that its MTM stablemate Hill Street Blues did for the police drama.

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:

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Tuesday Is Theme Tunes Day – St Elsewhere

This week, possibly the greatest medical drama of all time.

Let’s return to Boston’s teaching hospital St Eligius, better known as St Elsewhere.

The NBC show ran for six seasons (137 episodes) between 1982 and 1988 and was one of the early hits on the newly launched Channel 4 in the UK.

Great show, great characters, great theme tune – and one of the most memorable final episode final scenes in the history of TV.

Enjoy (and click here for a cool, live cover version by a Scottish band called Electric Thistle)!

Vodpod videos no longer available.

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Filed under Classic TV, Tuesday Is Theme Tunes Day