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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. Wife & I loved it.
    It’s never repeated over here though.
    I remember the surprise when watching the final scene, then days later feeling inexplicably cheated by it as it wasn’t a ‘proper’ ending.
  2. colinu

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

    Speaking of being cheated on, think of poor Emily Hartley (Suzanne Pleshette) on the first Bob Newhart show (another MTM production). While she was sleeping her husband moved to Vermont, had a new wife, and ran an inn - well at least in his dream. ;-)
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  3. Kyle B

    Kyle B Forum Resident


    This is one of my favorite in-jokes from the series.
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  4. Dillydipper

    Dillydipper Sultan Of Snark

    Central PA
    I wonder if anybody has opinions on how St. Elsewhere's impact affected the creative directions Michael Crichton took developing E.R. for NBC, and David Kelly for CBS, with Chicago Hope. I mean, obviously the networks came to them, and they asked, "what do you want", and they pointed to St. Elegius and said, "well, MORE OF THAT!...just...not 'that'...".

    And, one presumes, the spooky spirit of Dick Wolf came to them in their dreams, and told them..."Put themmm in the ssaaaammme cittyyyyyyyyy.....whoOOOOOOOO...!"
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  5. Kyle B

    Kyle B Forum Resident

    And this is another favorite (go to 37:36 - I can’t make the link go to this specific time).

    smilin ed and Dan C like this.
  6. czeskleba

    czeskleba Senior Member

    I think too much is made of that last scene. It's only two minutes at the very end of the episode, and as such it's easy enough to ignore and forget about. It shouldn't overshadow the fact that the rest of the final episode is extremely well done, a textbook example of a great finale that ties up the storylines of every character in interesting and sometimes ironic ways. It's kind of the opposite of the Seinfeld finale, which is lousy for two hours and then amusing for the final scene where they are in jail.

    My guess is that the show wasn't successful in syndication for two reasons:
    1. It was never a hit as a first-run show. My recollection is that it rarely got higher than the top thirty, and often was rated much lower than that. NBC kept it on because it was a prestige show and because (as the third-ranked network with few hits) they had nothing to replace it with that would do better.
    2. Shows with ongoing storylines/arcs tend not to do as well in syndication as shows with standalone episodes.
  7. Jim N.

    Jim N. Get off my lawn, punk, or hear my Mossberg sing!

    So Cal
    It ran in syndication here in the late 90's / early aughts on KDOC, a small independent station in Orange County. I would love a remastered complete series but given it was in jeopardy of being canceled every season that it aired they probably assume there is not enough demand, that coupled with physical media circling the bowl. I have Season 1 (the only one available IIRC) on DVD but that season really does not represent what the series became. David Birney was the lead and GW Bailey found the greener pastures of the "Police Lobotomy" movie series (and his head literally up a horse's a$$). The heart of the series was the Westphal / Auschlander / Craig troika.

    So it joins WKRP as a great, but apparently lost, series...
  8. DigMyGroove

    DigMyGroove Forum Resident

    I watched St. Elsewhere from my late teen through college years, the show was absolute must see TV for me. While I had also watched and enjoyed Hill Street Blues, St. Elsewhere connected with me unlike any other shows of that era. As I've been enjoying reading through this thread a number of St. Elsewhere "Brush with Greatness" memories have been coming back.

    One summer while working as a host at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Restaurant Season One star David Birney arrived with his family. I recall asking him if he knew if the show was coming back and he didn't know. After moving to L.A. I found myself filing for unemployment benefits at the Santa Monica office and St. Elsewhere's unforgettably sexy pathology resident Dr. Cathy Martin (Barbara Whinnery) was there. I remember she was frighteningly thin, clearly suffering from anorexia nervosa. I see she is alive and well today, godo do to know she got past that illness. It was also a good lesson for this new Angeleno, just because you had been on a big TV show didn't mean everything was set for life.

    In the late 90's I bought a house in my Studio City neighborhood, very close to the CBS Radford Studio lot where the show had been filmed. None other than Ed Begley Jr. was a neighbor just down the street, along with George Wendt, Norm from Cheers.

    Now it's time to re-watch the show, which my wife didn't see much of back then, it's going to be great!
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  9. Dan C

    Dan C Forum Fotographer Thread Starter

    The West
  10. Shoes1916

    Shoes1916 Well-Known Member

    United States
    Absolutely brilliant show; the finale is a heart-wrenching masterpiece.
    forthlin and Dan C like this.
  11. Shoes1916

    Shoes1916 Well-Known Member

    United States
    A legend. He worked on two of the greatest series in TV history - Hitchcock being the other.
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  12. Dan C

    Dan C Forum Fotographer Thread Starter

    The West
    Naturally there was at least one inside joke about Knight Rider in St. Elsewhere, when a character said in passing he was going downstairs to dig up files on "the Hasselhoff wreck," or something of that nature.

    dan c
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  13. Luvtemps

    Luvtemps Forum Resident

    Great series that launched the career of Denzel Washington.
  14. altaeria

    altaeria Forum Resident

    St. Elsewhere
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  15. steelydanguy

    steelydanguy Forum Resident

    Great to see "St. Elsewhere" receive some love on this thread.

    My apologies if I'm repeating info that's already on this thread somewhere, but there were some mentions/questions earlier about how to watch this series. As far as I know, all six seasons are available on the Hulu streaming platform. I think you have to watch with ads unless you have Hulu Plus, but it's worth waiting out the ads. ... In fact, I just checked my Hulu account, and yes, all six seasons still are available to watch.

    For many years, only the first season was available on DVD and the remaining five seasons really couldn't be watched anywhere. In late 2018, the show was added in full to Hulu. When I found that out, I went on a major viewing binge and finished the whole show within weeks. It's a fantastic series that probably was a little too high-brow to achieve huge audiences, but the quality of the writing and acting was high. It's one of my favorite TV shows of all time. And I think Dr. Mark Craig was my favorite character just because William Daniels' portrayal of the egotistical, pompous heart surgeon felt so spot on.

    I remember reading that NBC kept "Hill Street Blues" and "St. Elsewhere" on the air because despite relatively low ratings, the shows brought prestige to the network in the form of Emmy Awards and the like and the demographic that did watch the shows was highly educated and high-income, which pleased advertisers.

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  16. Dan C

    Dan C Forum Fotographer Thread Starter

    The West
    Here's William Daniels talking about his experience on "St. Elsewhere," focusing on his fellow actors Ed Flanders and Norman Lloyd.

    And here he's talking about getting the roll:

    dan c
    Last edited: Oct 15, 2020
  17. Myke

    Myke Listening

    Got it on Hulu via my gifted Roku stick !
    Dan C likes this.
  18. Steve Litos

    Steve Litos Forum Resident

    Chicago IL
    I'd argue that Hill Street Blues rolling off the line in January 1981 was the big "game changer" in television 1 hr series.

    Anyways I was a big fan of St. Elsewhere but didn't see it until the second season. It was buried on Tuesday the first season against the still strong Heart To Heart.

    But thanks for the thread Dan...it's probably time to revisit the show.
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  19. Myke

    Myke Listening

    Hart To Hart.
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  20. Hokeyboy

    Hokeyboy Nudnik of Dinobots

    I absolutely LOVED St. Elsewhere.

    I went to college in Boston in the late 80s/early 90s, and channel 38 had it on every night at midnight. I never watched the series in first-run, but I saw the entire show in reruns in Boston. I loved every second of it.

    FUN FACT: The writers would often weave classic rock lyrics into the dialogue. Like when Dr. Fiscus saw beautiful twin candy-stripers, with the last name of Crane, and remaked: "You Crane girls really knock me out!" Another one when someone asked Fiscus about what day he was leaving on vacation, while a character named Ruby kept interupting. Finally Fiscuss loses it and screams "GoodBYE, Ruby! (she leaves the scene, he turns back to the conversation) Tuesday..." on and on

    I never liked that they killed of Dr. Axelrod right before the series finale. Poor Stephen Furst was the schlemazel the entire time he was on, and was given an ignominious death from a stupid heart attack right as the series ends.

    David Morse was so good as Jack Morrison, but yeah, that character went through so much nightmarish hell in that series -- his wife accidentally dying, almost losing his medical degree, his son kidnapped, getting raped while serving in a prison hospital, abandoned by his second wife... yeesh.

    The ending never bothered me. It was a meta statement. People who complained "But that means none of the story ever really happened!" No kidding. It was a television show that came out of a bunch of writers' imaginations. That's all.

    Still... what a great show. I rewatched the entire series two years ago from start to finish and loved it all over again.

    Sad to hear about Sagan Lewis. She was quite a beautiful woman.
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  21. Steve Litos

    Steve Litos Forum Resident

    Chicago IL
    I watched the 1st season, episode 1 last night.


    There's a ton of characters in the show even by ep 1.

    Dr. Morrison (David Morse) I felt had the most screen time.

    Dr. Ben (David Birney) has a semi comic/shocking for the time situation where he has to tell all his sex partners at the hospital that he has an std. It's a lot.

    There's a hand held cam shot when a medical emergency comes into play.

    Pathologist Cathy White is already written as such a "space case" that most people wouldn't even want to be in the same room as the character.

    The show is just getting started but hasn't quite hit it's stride.

    2 out of 4 stars.
  22. melstapler

    melstapler Reissue Activist

    I remember "St. Elsewhere" had actress Jennifer Savidge as Nurse Papandrao. She's married to actor Robert Fuller, who starred on "Emergency," "Laramie," "Wagon Train" and "Walker Texas Ranger."
    Jennifer Savidge with husband Robert Fuller
  23. Dan C

    Dan C Forum Fotographer Thread Starter

    The West
    Huh! Cool. Of course we all know Fuller was a doc in “Emergency!” I loved that show as a kid, but the contrasts between both shows is pretty huge. The first followed a very basic and common pattern of plot, amusing subplot, tidy finish. The other absolutely completely not!

    I still have a soft spot for Emergency, but to me it’s a case study on how far St Elsewhere advanced TV storytelling.
    dan c
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  24. Steve Litos

    Steve Litos Forum Resident

    Chicago IL
    Watched a few more episodes from season 1.

    BINGO! Episode 2 finds the right tone and footing. That's the show I remembered.

    Episode 4 - Luther opens the show by doing a karate demonstration down the hallway complete with nunchucks...then Doris Roberts (and James Coco) arrives in an Emmy winning performance.

    I'm gonna enjoy rewatching this show!
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  25. Kyle B

    Kyle B Forum Resident

    I’m rewatching, too. About halfway through season 1. It’s as good as I remembered.
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