Saturday, June 30, 2012

New Page Started: St. Elsewhere's Awards Haul

Introducing a listing of St. Elsewhere's formal honors, plus a few bits of awards trivia.

Made another new page, a list of awards that were bestowed upon St. Elsewhere during its six-year run. I've started with the 13 Emmy awards that the show won, and I intend to add nominations and other awards as well. The show received at least one Emmy award in each of its six seasons.

Some Emmy trivia:
  • In 1986, William Daniels and Bonnie Bartlett became the second real-life married couple to both win Emmys for playing a married couple. During that season, the fourth, the Craigs dealt with the death of their son Steven in a car accident, and cared for his newborn daughter while Steven's wife was in a coma.
  • Also in 1986, the show's most heavily decorated season, four Emmy awards, for writing, costume design, sound mixing and art direction, went to the two-part episode "Time Heals", which contains flashbacks from the hospital's history as St. Eligius celebrates its 50th anniversary. The episode does an excellent job of making each time period look convincing and distinct.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

"Good Vibrations" - The Dramatic Clip Show Episode

That rare creature -- a clip show of heavy drama and quirky comedy.

Ebenezer Wright (Tim Thomerson) wants to get the "feel"
of St. Eligius. Dr. Craig (William Daniels) is dubious.
I had completely forgotten about this episode from my original viewing: season 5, episode 21, "Good Vibrations". A Japanese-owned HMO is buying St. Eligius, and the representative they send, Ebenezer Wright (Tim Thomerson), is a flaky hippie-turned-corporate stooge, one who insists on eschewing the reports and statistics and instead experiencing the emotional aura that has built up in the hospital's fifty years of death, birth, love, heartache, grief, and wackiness. His musings thus set up the introduction of clips from old episodes, recalling classic moments.

I watched this one last night, and after having recently caught two or three Friends clip show episodes, which recount the funniest scenes and most heartwarming moments around various themes, it was really odd to see a show introduce a clip of scenes that were downright bummers. Sure, they were powerful and good, classic moments, but being used to clips interjected for laughs, it's weird to see them interjected for tears. Mark and Ellen Craig identify their son's body after his fatal car accident. Donald has to inform Jack that his wife has just died after falling in the bathtub and hitting her head. Homeless woman Cora (Doris Roberts) tells her mentally challenged homeless companion Arnie (James Coco) that she'll have to have her feet amputated and be put into care, and he'll be left alone. Arnie has a nervous breakdown in the hallway.

The Womb, another Alex Corey original.
These are mixed with moments of mirth and whimsy. Artist Alex Corey constructs a vaginally-inspired sculpture in the lobby. Drs. Ehrlich and Caldwell ponder their relationships to Roberta and Joan, neither realizing the other is referring to their own partner, and simultaneously reaching conclusions to divorce (Ehrlich) and to propose (Caldwell). And there's a highlight reel of Mrs. Hufnagel's greatest lines, concluding with her death, folded up in a malfunctioning hospital bed.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Mark Harmon, Sexiest Man Alive, 1986

Yes, the second-ever "Sexiest Man Alive" was a St. Elsewhere cast member.

Here's the article from the January 27, 1986 issue of People magazine, "Charmin' Harmon", declaring St. Elsewhere's Mark Harmon, who had just wrapped his run as plastic surgeon and resident eye candy, Dr. Bobby Caldwell, the year's Sexiest Man Alive. The title of "Sexiest Man Alive" had been initiated the year before, as the tag line of a Mel Gibson cover, and since then, the feature has become an annual tradition (with a brief hiatus in the early 90s). Harry Hamlin from L.A. Law would "win" the following year, and after selecting John F. Kennedy, Jr. in 1988, the honour has strictly been bestowed on Hollywood film stars.

St. Elsewhere actually holds the distinction of being the only television series to have two main cast members be declared People's SMA, with Denzel Washington, Dr. Philip Chandler himself, earning the distinction ten years later. Not only was Denzel the first black doctor on a TV medical drama, but he was the first black SMA as well.

The thing I found interesting about the timing of the article was that it coincided with the demise of his character, who had turned heel during season 4. I guess they admired his dramatic chops, which, as he states in the article, weren't really put to much use in his first two seasons on the show. Mark Harmon's last appearance on St. Elsewhere was in the February 12, 1986 episode, "Family Affair", two weeks after his People cover story, an article which reveals upcoming plot developments in a way that would be considered spoiling these days.

I never knew that Harmon requested that the writers do something interesting and "get excited" about his character. The article echoes my reaction to that revelation:
You can just hear the show's writers now: "Is this what you had in mind, Harmon, heh-heh-heh?" Well, it was, precisely, even though it meant a hasty exit from the show recently nominated for an Emmy as TV's Outstanding Drama Series.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Latest Work

More images for the Cast page...a bit of behind-the-scenes explanation.

I've added more images on the Cast page. I never gave it much thought until I sat down and started putting it together, but I found myself having to make a lot of judgment calls as to how to organize the thing. The IMDB "Full Cast and Crew" page simply orders everyone who appeared on the show by the number of episodes in which they appeared. But I didn't feel like doing it that way. That's fine for a site like IMDB, where they need a standard means of organizing pages that's formulaic and self-regulating, but I wanted to make a page that represented the history of the fictional hospital itself.

Edward Herrman
as Father McCabe
Louise Lasser
as Aunt Charise
So I started with the guest actors who played hospital staff, followed by featured family members and relationships of staff, followed by staff that appeared in an arc of episodes, then featured or recurring patients and characters, and then patients with story arcs, then everyone else. There's not really any rhyme or reason to it. Nick Moats appears in more episodes than Father McCabe, but I don't want him higher on the page. Father McCabe and Aunt Charise may only appear twice, but they are mentioned frequently. It all comes down to my own subjectivity.

Some factors are obvious. Some characters are clearly supporting characters, in that they are there as someone with whom a main character interacts, like the Galeckis. Other guest actors and supporting characters carry episodes and storylines and stand out on their own. I wanted to put Mr. Entertainment higher, given that his character was prominently featured, and I really liked him, but he was only in two episodes, and was featured more like a guest star, sort of like Betty White as Captain Gloria Neal... it's tricky! So I'm not going to worry about it too much. My aim is to simply have a listing that jogs viewers' memories, and reminds them of how many great acting performances and interesting characters made St. Elsewhere worth watching.

Remembering Betty White's appearance makes me think I'll probably add notable one- or two-off guest stars as well. Eventually.

In other developments, I've also changed settings so that comments don't require admin moderation before publishing. I'll get any offending ones afterwards.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Abby Singer

Neat little bit of trivia I learned recently about St. Elsewhere's co-ordinating producer, Abby Singer.

As long as I've watched television, which is practically as long as I've been alive, I've made a point of watching the closing credits of TV shows. Growing up in the early eighties, I saw a lot of reruns of WKRP in Cincinnati in syndication, so much so that I've probably seen every episode of the series a dozen times over. WKRP and St. Elsewhere were both produced by MTM Enterprises (along with The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Rhoda, The Bob Newhart Show, NewhartHill Street Blues, The White Shadow, and Remington Steele among others), the television production company created in 1969 by Mary Tyler Moore and her husband Grant Tinker (chairman of NBC from 1981 to 1986), whose shows were recognizable by the distinctive logo that replaced the roaring MGM lion with the meowing Mimsie the Cat. When I started watching St. Elsewhere, I recognized several of the names from the credits of WKRP in St. Elsewhere's closing credits. One of those names was Abby Singer.

Abner E. "Abby" Singer started working as an assistant director in Hollywood in the early fifties. According to his Wikipedia entry, his name has become incorporated into standard Hollywood terminology. The last shot to be completed in a production day is called the "martini". The second-last shot is called the "Abby Singer". That evolved from when Singer was an assistant director. He would be asked how many shots were left to do before lunch, and he'd say "we'll do this one and one more". His reasoning for calling the second-last shot was so that the crew would have time to start packing up, and get out more quickly.

St. Elsewhere's second-last episode is therefore appropriately titled "The Abby Singer Show".

Random bit of MTM trivia...I think I read somewhere, possibly in the Robert Thompson book, that WKRP ended up being the biggest moneymaker of all the MTM shows because of its success in syndication. St. Elsewhere, on the other hand, fared poorly in the syndication markets, and this was a contributing factor to the decision to stop making the show after season six.

Monday, June 4, 2012

"Pilot"

A recap of episode 1 of season 1, in which Dr. Morrison bonds with a teenage patient, Dr. Cavanero can't find a potentially dangerous patient, and Dr. Fiscus is attracted to Dr. Martin.

St. Elsewhere's pilot episode has two main storylines, centering on Dr. Jack Morrison, who establishes a caring relationship with a teenage girl with dysentary, and Dr. Annie Cavanero, whose patient goes missing. There are also several other snippets and scenes that establish characters and storylines that will continue in future episodes. We meet all of the main cast, and we see a few supporting characters who will stick around.

Dr. Westphall leads rounds with Drs. Martin, Fiscus,
Rowe, Armstrong, Chandler, Ehrlich and Wade.
We learn a bit about the first-year residents. Jack is sensitive and caring, but sloppy, and probably too sensitive. Dr. Wayne Fiscus loves the excitement of saving lives in the E.R., and likes Dr. Cathy Martin, a pathologist. Cathy is weird, and dresses in black. Dr. Peter White has a family, but he takes advantage of his friend Jack. Dr. Victor Ehrlich is training to be a surgeon, is scared of his mentor, Dr. Mark Craig, and is close to his Aunt Charise. Dr. Philip Chandler, Dr. Wendy Armstrong and Dr. Jacqueline Wade are there, too.

We learn about a few other doctors and nurses as well. Annie struggles with being a woman in a traditionally male profession. Surgeon Ben Samuels has been with a lot of women on staff. Anesthesiologist Vijay Kochar is from India, and has bad breath, according to Dr. Craig. Psychiatrist Hugh Beale is a good ole boy from Mississippi, and fits right in with the oddballs in the psych ward. We meet nurses Helen Rosenthal and Shirley Daniels.

We learn about the hospital's senior staff. Director of Medicine Donald Westphall is a widow. Chief of Surgery Mark Craig is belligerent and racist. Chief of Services Daniel Auschlander is a liver specialist facing an ironic battle with liver cancer.

We learn that the life of the doctors at St. Eligius is challenging, demanding, and emotionally draining, and that St. Eligius is not well-regarded.

More Updates

First episode recap completed, and cast page updated. Technorati code YWCVNJXHE5AX.

I've fleshed out the list of recurring characters and supporting cast on the Cast page. As well, the first episode recap will be published tomorrow, starting right at season 1, episode 1, "Pilot". There's a recap of the episode's storylines, plus other notable bits of character development and a bullet-point list of trivia and observations.

I'm thinking about doing recaps in order, and there are 137 episodes, so that will take some serious time. There's lots of other things to write posts about too, so who knows how long it will take to get through them all, and I don't know if I'll keep this up long enough to do that. Not to mention I'm also watching through them with my wife, and we're on season five. So we'll see how things go.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The St. Elsewhere Time Frame

An unusual way to pass the time in a continuing television drama - one fictional year passes for every two in real life.

Some of season one's first-year residents: Ehrlich,
Chandler, White, Armstrong & Fiscus.
As St. Elsewhere begins, we meet a crop of first-year resident doctors--Dr. Victor Ehrlich, Dr. Wayne Fiscus, Dr. Jack Morrison, Dr. Philip Chandler, Dr. Peter White, Dr. Wendy Armstrong, Dr. Cathy Martin, plus a few others, including Dr. Jacqueline Wade and Dr. Steven Kiley, both of whom end up sticking around for the whole series.

Season two ends with the residents dealing with the pressure of taking their first-year exams, with the worst performers being dropped from the second-year residency program. This ends up including Jack Morrison, who scores low but returns because Wendy's spot opens up, and Peter White, who is dropped for very, very good reasons, sues to get his place back, but doesn't last long (karma's a bitch, ain't it).

So each television season covers half a year in the life of the residents. Season three starts with another crop of first-year residents, of which Dr. Elliott Axelrod is the only major cast addition, and season five starts with the next wave of first-year residents, with Dr. Seth Griffin and Dr. Carol Novino as the primaries, and new resident Dr. Susan Birch quickly getting the axe due in large part to Griffin's douchebaggery.

Towards the end of the series finale (at the end of season six), we briefly meet yet another first resident, Dr. Brandon Falsey (John Short), named after creators Joshua Brand and John Falsey, who left the show after season one. In Dr. Falsey's one scene, his youthful arrogance is undercut by a nurse pointing out that the dosage of the medication he just prescribed was ten times the recommended dose, and would have killed the patient.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

New York Times Article About the First Ones

More classic articles about the show; here's how it looked at the beginning.

Bookending my post with People's story about "The Last One", here's a very early review of the series which ran in the New York Times between the third ("Down's Syndrome") and fourth ("Cora and Arnie") episodes of the series, "NBC's Stylish St. Elsewhere".

His observations give a good insight into what was fresh and strong about the series when it debuted:
The camera keeps moving, the stories keep changing, the tone and mood keep shifting. But the series, created and produced by Joshua Brand and John Falsey, is holding together remarkably well. The younger actors, especially those mentioned above, have already established their characters solidly. The scripts do manage to explore generally unusual areas in the hospital-story genre, including, in next week's episode, the sensitive issue of astronomical bills.
And he wishes that the better-known actors in the series won't be lost in the shuffle at this early point of the series:
Their talents are in brief but impressive evidence at the close of tonight's show, when Mr. Lloyd recalls for Mr. Flanders how he used to go to the opera as a child with his father. It is the kind of passing moment that makes ''St. Elsewhere'' something very special and rewarding.
Dr. Auschlander (Norman Lloyd) reminisces
about going to the opera as a child.
Fortunately, his wishes were granted. Norman Lloyd, despite being billed as a featured player in season one, ends up getting a lot of screen time and things to do, and gets promoted to the main cast for the remainder of the series. (In an early episode, someone, Ben Samuels I think, comments about Auschlander's liver cancer and bets that he won't last six months.) And Ed Flanders' performance in season one was rewarded with an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series.

I mentioned recently how St. Elsewhere is often remembered for its audacity and quirkiness, but like John O'Connor observed here, the show is rich with little moments like this one, ones that where the characters are fleshed out into people with depth. Touches like these make me like and care about characters on television shows.