NBC series 'St. Elsewhere,' 80s forgotten masterpiece that paved the way for today's peak TV

Discussion in 'Visual Arts' started by Dan C, Sep 11, 2020.

  1. Dan C

    Dan C Forum Fotographer Thread Starter

    Location:
    The West
    NBC's medical drama "St. Elsewhere" ran six seasons from 1982 to 1988.

    I've seen NBC's 80s and 90s lineup called a second golden age for TV.

    Now we're in "peak television" with the overwhelming amount of quality programming being produced across so many platforms, but without "St. Elsewhere" the road to peak television would look different, IMHO.

    This show was unlike anything on network TV before. It had a specific cinematic look and design, weaved together dozens of complicated plot lines that challenged the viewer to pay attention week to week, and had one of the best ensemble casts in TV history.

    It was dramatic, emotional, quirky and often funny.

    For me, it was the first "serious" TV series I ever fell in love with. I was around 15 when I started watching about midway through the show's run. Up to then I liked half-hour comedies, and goofy 1-hour shows like "The A-Team" or "Dukes of Hazzard." I can't recall why I started watching, but even then I knew this show was something very unique and special.

    The show fittingly has one of the absolute best series finales in history. I still have the VHS tape my sister made for me the night it aired, since I had to miss it for my after-school job at Wendy's.

    I'll never forget the impact it had on me while watching it. My 18-year-old brain was blown.
    Here's a terrific piece with interviews with the creative people involved in that final episode, and much of the series.
    Tom Fontana and the “St. Elsewhere” Snow Globe Series Finale

    dan c
     
  2. SteelyNJ

    SteelyNJ Forum Resident

    Location:
    New Jersey, USA
    Great show, great cast...and remarkably, Norman Lloyd (Dr. Daniel Auschlander in the show) is less than two months away from celebrating his 106th birthday!! Check out how vibrant he still was on his 105th...
     
  3. Dan C

    Dan C Forum Fotographer Thread Starter

    Location:
    The West
    In 2012 ABC's Good Morning America got much of the St. Elsewhere cast back together. It's fun but too short. Since this aired, the great William Daniels has passed, as have Stephen Furst and Christina Pickles (if she's in this reunion, can't recall).


    Tragically Ed Flanders, who was so brilliant as Dr. Donald Westphall, died by suicide in 1995.

    dan c
     
  4. Myke

    Myke Listening

    I was 24 - 30, busy with a new family, then a custody battle and divorce, then being a full-time single father, so never watched much TV during that period, but now in my final act, I'd like to go back and watch it, and looked for it streaming somewhere, but came up empty.
    Also I am a big David Morse fan.
     
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  5. Dan C

    Dan C Forum Fotographer Thread Starter

    Location:
    The West
    What annoys me about this series is it appears to be mostly forgotten. Season 1 is streaming on HuLu and I've been watching it over the past couple of weeks. Since I came to the series about halfway through I missed the earliest episodes. They show the promise and have great moments, but I think the show really hit its stride as it went on.

    The show was beautiful for its era. It deserves a complete restoration and reissue. The Season 1 on HuLu looks OK, like a 90s-era standard def transfer perhaps. But that's all there is aside from some murky clips from VHS or syndicated airings.

    For a show that was so influential, which started so many brilliant careers, that's a real shame.

    dan c
     
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  6. Dan C

    Dan C Forum Fotographer Thread Starter

    Location:
    The West
    Amazing! Such a terrific actor. He was only supposed to be on a handful of episodes early on, his character was battling liver cancer in the pilot episode. But they loved having him on and he stayed through the entire run. Only with the magic of television can you cure liver cancer!

    dan c
     
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  7. SteelyNJ

    SteelyNJ Forum Resident

    Location:
    New Jersey, USA
    As I remember, early episodes in the first season featured veteran actors David Birney and G. W. Bailey but it didn’t take long for the focus to shift to the other lead and up-and-coming ensemble characters. Both Birney and Bailey were gone in a blink.
     
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  8. sixtiesstereo

    sixtiesstereo Forum Resident

    Location:
    Wisconsin
    Thanks for the thread. I've felt "St. Elsewhere" was not only the best medical series
    in television history, but one of the best series ever put on TV. The cast was/is probably
    the best in history, even after the several cast changes over the years. But Denzel pretty
    much stayed til the end, and along with the others, made it a remarkable show.
    We get constant reruns of "ER", and "Scrubs" (which I feel was/is the second best
    medical series ever on TV), but they NEVER rerun "St. Elsewhere", which is insane.
    Nearly ALL of the cast went on to bigger careers, including Christina Pickles as
    Ross and Monica's mother!
    Plus, it had probably THE best opening theme song (by Dave Grusin) ever on TV....
    (This is from Season six when it went to stereo).
     
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  9. colinu

    colinu I'm not lazy, I'm energy saving!

    Uhh - maybe you've got her confused with Abe Vigoda (who has passed) - Christina Pickles in alive.
    As far as I can tell (Googled), Christina Pickles is still with us.
     
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  10. Dan C

    Dan C Forum Fotographer Thread Starter

    Location:
    The West
    D'oh! I meant Sagan Lewis.
    Sagan Lewis - IMDb
    Thanks for the catch, I need to double check before posting from this aging memory. :shh:

    dan c
     
  11. colinu

    colinu I'm not lazy, I'm energy saving!

    One of the local stations 'round here is broadcasting it.
    St. Elsewhere - CHCH
     
  12. Dan C

    Dan C Forum Fotographer Thread Starter

    Location:
    The West
    Thanks for bringing up Grusin's theme. Yes, I think it's one of the best ever in TV history. It perfectly captures the feel of the show and its characters.

    "St. Elsewhere" moves along at a leisurely pace compared to "ER" and the much more comedy-focused "Scrubs." And I'm gonna argue that the storylines are more spread out and deal with so many different characters than even "ER." These are two strikes against syndication, along with the obsolete transfers that are out there.

    dan c
     
  13. LilacTeardrop

    LilacTeardrop "Roll It Over, My Soul...and Leave Me Here"

    Location:
    U.S.
    It did run in syndication for a time - probably in the mid-late 90s, b/c that's when I caught it. It does seem unusual that there is no DVD box set, but Season 1 is available.
    Recommend purchasing it now if you really love it & think you'll want to re-view it, b/c it's doubtful they'll be manufacturing more. And, relying on streaming, you'll be @ the mercy of mass media & well, they're notorious for taking down content. I frequently see customer review complaints about a show they're viewing via Prime being taken off while they're in the middle of it.
    Your thread put me in mind of a medical drama I enjoyed more: Chicago Hope & that one is not available on DVD. Apparently it was, but on Playback Region 2. I never get that; why other regions are offered DVDs for U.S. shows & U.S. audiences are not. :sigh::shrug:
     
    Last edited: Sep 11, 2020
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  14. SteelyNJ

    SteelyNJ Forum Resident

    Location:
    New Jersey, USA
    I love Dave Grusin and I love the theme song as it was performed on the show, but for some reason I just can’t get into the way it was re-packaged for Grusin’s 1984 Night-Lines CD...

     
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  15. forthlin

    forthlin Forum Resident

    So glad to see some love for this show, it was fantastic. And that finale???:love: I would watch the whole series all over again if I could.
     
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  16. sharedon

    sharedon Forum Zonophone

    It's streaming on Amazon Prime Video for free but with ads, on their IMDb channel.
     
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  17. hbbfam

    hbbfam Forum Resident

    Location:
    Chandler,AZ
    In the Sopranos Season 1 finale, as Tony is attempting to smother his mommy, a EMT tries to intervene
    "George Clooney, don't get in the middle of this".
     
  18. Dan C

    Dan C Forum Fotographer Thread Starter

    Location:
    The West
    the entire run or just season 1?
    dan c
     
  19. eeglug

    eeglug Forum Resident

    Location:
    Chicago, IL, USA
    I watched this as a teenager and on to the end. I think I came in during the hospital killer subplot so missed earlier episodes. I've not seen the show since it aired. My failing memory of it is that the show shied away from easy happy endings or deep emotional tragedy. Westphall is the backbone to the show and as close to a central protagonist as they had. But his arc is mostly an unhappy one...his story is a slowburn suffering through the entire series run. His memorable departure from the hospital is, while entertaining, curiously not one I found truly satisfying or victorious.
     
    Last edited: Sep 11, 2020
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  20. eeglug

    eeglug Forum Resident

    Location:
    Chicago, IL, USA
    All 6 seasons.
     
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  21. czeskleba

    czeskleba Senior Member

    Location:
    Seattle
    William Daniels is still alive and well also.
     
  22. Dillydipper

    Dillydipper Sultan Of Snark

    Location:
    Central PA
    I absorbed it, right there in that magic era when NBC took over the television world. This was MTM Productions, Phase II, what with every sitcom permutation they could ever wring out of Mary Tyler Moore losing my interest.

    I was in Boise, in my first television job as a control room engineer at the local ABC affiliate, with evenings free. I hadn't been there long, when I accidentally happened-upon the premiere of Hill Street Blues. It almost reaffirmed my love for series television, which I had practically weaned myself off of in college (MTM's The Paper Chase series had just that year, as well as weekly visits with school friends to watch Lou Grant, coaxed me back into caring once more by this point). Then Hill street, then St. Elsewhere, and I was on my way back to making "appointment TV". Upon moving back to my hometown and working in radio once again, I bought my first Quasar VCR, and never looked back.

    God Bless Grant Tinker!
     
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  23. kevywevy

    kevywevy Forum Resident

    I loved how they would use song lyrics as dialog. Like a scene in a maternity ward waiting room - a man in uniform is sitting beside Howie Mandel when a nurse walks in and says "It's a boy, Captain Walker, it's a boy!" "A son?" "A son!".
     
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  24. Dan C

    Dan C Forum Fotographer Thread Starter

    Location:
    The West
    I have no idea why I was certain William Daniels had passed on relatively recently. Huh. That’s cools news.

    dan c
     
  25. mrjinks

    mrjinks Optimistically Challenged

    Location:
    Boise, ID.
    This and Homicide were real ground breakers that are sadly not talked about much anymore...

    I watched most of this show, but missed a fair chunk when I went to college and didn’t have a tv. I’m sure I’d find a lot of neat eps I never saw back then.

    A couple favorites for me was the morgue doc, who was a bit of a nympho, iirc? Hilariously bold for mid-80s network tv. I also recall reading a piece on the David Morse character, who the writers put through HELL every season. I believe they said they did that intentionally, just to show that being a nice guy didn’t guarantee you happiness in the world - again, a very bold statement to make on US network tv for the time.
     

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