Friday, May 11, 2012

Pilot

Not about the pilot episode; rather, this is the first post of my attempt at a tribute blog to one of my all-time favourite TV shows.

I recently came into possession of the entire run of St. Elsewhere, and as a fairly hardcore fan of the medical drama which ran from 1982 to 1988 on NBC, I am pleased to start writing about it. I guess I don't spend enough hours with my eyes on a screen as it is.

I don't know how long I'll keep this blog up, but I'm enjoying seeing the show again. I was too young to catch it during its original run; during most of the eighties, I was only allowed to stay up past 10 PM to hear the theme song from Dynasty and then it was straight to bed.

If you haven't seen the series and don't want any spoilers, then don't keep reading. Hell, I should put "SPOILER ALERT" in the description header. It's not the kind of show that requires the element of surprise to enjoy; I know some of you will disagree with that, but that's a nice thing about humanity--other people's opinions don't have to matter if you don't want them to. A lot of people have no use for what St. Elsewhere has to offer, and I have no problem with that. I enjoy surprises when they come, but I don't find them necessary for my pleasure.

I was first exposed to St. Elsewhere when the Canadian cable channel Prime (now TVtropolis), whose original mandate was to air programming targeted at baby boomers, began airing reruns in the nineties. I was in high school at the time. My tastes ran toward baby boomer stuff anyway; I grew up on a diet of Cheers and M*A*S*H, so this stuff was right up my alley.

The one thing I remembered about the show prior to watching the reruns was a clip from an old CFMT (now Omni 1) promo back when they aired it weeknights at 6 P.M. It was Victor Ehrlich telling Mrs. Hufnagel that someday he'd be making a six-figure salary, and she replying that a four-eyes like him would never make it as a surgeon, or something to that effect. It seems odd now that a TV station would air St. Elsewhere during the dinner hour, but hey, things change. It also seems odd now that people would smoke in a hospital and say such horribly racist things to Vijay on prime-time network TV. But that was then, this is now. Time goes forward.

I had an odd exposure to the show, thanks to the order in which Prime aired the episodes. I first picked it up halfway through the final season. I had no idea that Bruce Greenwood, whom I had recently enjoyed in the one-season syndicated thriller Nowhere Man, got his start on TV as Dr. Seth Griffin. I already knew about the final episode, so that wasn't a surprise. Then they jumped back to the beginning of season six or season five, and aired them all the way through to the end. They they jumped back to a point halfway through season four or something like that, and aired them all the way to the end. Characters would refer to storylines from earlier in the series (like Victor's marriage to Roberta), and I had no idea what they were talking about. I saw "After Life" without knowing anything about the characters Wayne encountered, although my older siblings told me why Peter ended up where he did. As I had watched only the last few seasons, what they were talking about sounded crazy.

Thanks to the Web, which was still fledgling at the time, I came across an episode guide that had descriptions of all the episodes; this was before the IMDB. Not long after that, Prime finally jumped back to the pilot episode, and I got to watch the entire run of the series, uncut, and with the original music intact. I got to fully appreciate how the characters became better versions of themselves because of the dramas and traumas they endured during their time at St. Eligius. I watched it five days a week until Prime took it off the air. I remember being depressed for a while after that happened--I missed my fix of eighties "quality" television.

Later on, I bought Robert Thompson's book, Television's Second Golden Age, and I enjoyed learning more about the show I loved and how it came to be. I also became a fan of Hill Street Blues thanks to Prime and Thompson's book; however, Prime only showed the inferior post-Bochco, post-Esterhaus seasons 5, 6, and 7, so I didn't get to fully appreciate it until more recently.

And now, watching St. Elsewhere as an adult, I get to appreciate it in a whole new way. I find myself in a culture that is more "now-centric" than it was when I was growing up, or maybe it just seems that way. I wouldn't disagree with someone who felt the show didn't age well, but I wouldn't share their approach of judging everything based on how it holds up for today's audience, either. You can't appreciate Citizen Kane by how well it would work if someone made that exact movie today, and I don't feel it's fair to judge old TV shows by the same standard. Some day, our ancestors will look back on us with the same condescension; it's humbling and valuable to keep that in mind. We all stand on the shoulders of our forebears.

Anyway, I'm pretty busy, and at the time of writing, I've got a lot of work to do on sprucing up the layout of this site, so we'll see how much this work progresses. I look forward to logging my experiences on here.

I'm on season five right now, so in the spirit of how I came to St. Elsewhere, that's where I'll be starting. I make no promises as to future content, but there's a lot of interesting stuff to know, and spouting trivia is something I do that's better put on a blog, since I spouting long-winded, boring diatribes isn't as fun for the people around me as it is for me. That's probably why I write.

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