Saturday, December 22, 2012

St. Elsewhere Seasons Two Through Six on DVD?

I received this comment from a fan named Marc Goldberg:
It's been asked a million times before: when will this fantastic series get
on DVD beginning with Season 2?
Sadly, my answer is: don't hold your breath. This article by Edward Copeland, "20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, Release Your DVDs!", which accompanied the awesome three-part 30th anniversary retrospective at PressPlay, explains why St. Elsewhere and most of the rest of the MTM catalogue won't be coming out in any official release any time soon.

By the way, the continuing story of Mrs. Florence Hufnagel will resume soon.

Update, April 30, 2013:

Turns out this page gets a lot of search traffic for people searching for St. Elsewhere on DVD. There is indeed demand for this show on DVD.

If you'd like to express that you would be interested in buying St. Elsewhere without resorting to video piracy, you can sign this online petition:

Petition to Fox Home Entertainment to release St. Elsewhere on DVD

Who knows...maybe they just need some grassroots market research. With any venture, you need to be able to demonstrate that there's adequate consumer demand to make it worthwhile. So here's an opportunity to show strength in numbers.

Of course, those who are familiar with the show's ratings during its six-year run know that overall numbers weren't its strong suit. No appealing to the 18-35s here. Do DVDs skew towards a baby boomer demographic?

Update: August 3, 2013: If any of you are wondering why St. Elsewhere isn't on YouTube, shoot me a message through the contact form.

Update: January, 2018: Great news for U.S. residents: the complete series of St. Elsewhere is now available on Hulu.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Mrs. Hufnagel Chronicles, Part 12

Mrs. Hufnagel is discharged from St. Eligius, but suffers a great loss along the way.

Mrs. Hufnagel (Florence Halop) isn't about to let
"Butch", a.k.a. Dr. Annie Cavanero (Cynthia Sikes),
lay a hand on her.
"Bye, George" features the most of Mrs. Hufnagel we've seen in any one episode so far. For the first time, we see that maybe there's a vulnerable, caring person in there somewhere after all.

Once again, Mrs. Hufnagel (Florence Halop) has been passed to another doctor. This time, attending physician Dr. Annie Cavanero (Cynthia Sikes) gets the nod, having taken over the case from Dr. Jack Morrison (David Morse), who can no longer see patients since it was revealed that he had fast-tracked his education and was not qualified to practice medicine.

Fortunately for Annie, Mrs. Hufnagel's treatment for phlebitis has ended. She asks Annie about her decision to propose to her new love, Murray Robbin (Murray Rubin). The rumors about Cavanero that Hufnagel refers to involve visiting surgeon Dr. Christine Holtz (Caroline McWilliams), who became fast friends with Annie and stayed at her home, but then Annie became uncomfortable when she found out that Holtz was a lesbian. Rumors flew that relations between the two were more than platonic. I enjoy the shout out to Miami Vice, which had just debuted a few months earlier.

Dr. Elliott Axelrod (Stephen Furst) tries to comfort a
greiving Mrs. Hufnagel.
Mrs. Hufnagel's proposal to Murray doesn't work out as she had hoped, as Murray is not ready to be tied down. Meanwhile, Dr. Elliott Axelrod (Stephen Furst) has asked Murray to teach him how to tell jokes. Sadly, their first lesson is cut short when Murray's pratfall turns out to be a fatal heart attack.

Elliott now must tell Mrs. Hufnagel the terrible news. Axelrod, the sensitive son of a callous veterinarian (he'll be played by Louis Nye), can't bring himself to tell her, as he is reminded of the childhood trauma of losing his dog to a passing car and having to bury it. According to Edward Copeland, their scene in the chapel is Stephen Furst's personal favorite.

You'd think that Murray's story would be over, but two seasons later, we find out what happened to Murray once he departed this earthly realm. In "After Life", we learn, courtesy of Dr. Wayne Fiscus (Howie Mandel), that Murray had unfinished business, and as a result, his spirit was still languishing in purgatory, alongside fellow former St. Eligius patient Rockin' Ralph (Richard Marcus), a.k.a. the Birdman of St. Eligius, who had been there since season one. Murray hadn't yet achieved his dream of making people laugh. By the end of Wayne's time there, Murray manages to get a chuckle out of him.

If you haven't seen St. Elsewhere before, I understand if this sounds strange. And I'm surprised that you read this far.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Mrs. Hufnagel Chronicles, Part 11

Mrs. Hufnagel interrupts Jack's sleep, invades his privacy, and meets a doctor she actually likes.

Mrs. Hufnagel (Florence Halop) sheds some
crocodile tears.
The scenes in "Whistle, Wyler Works" featuring St. Eligius's most difficult patient, Mrs. Hufnagel (Florence Halop), are two of my favorites (her encounter with Westphall is probably #1). In the first scene, it's because of her reaction to having someone call her out on her behavior; in the second, I love that we see what happens when she meets someone about whom she has observed no personal weaknesses to exploit.

Dr. Jack Morrison (David Morse) is asleep in the on-call room when Mrs. Hufnagel wheels in to remind him that she wanted a consult with a plastic surgeon and to return his red knapsack, which he left in her room the day before. When she reveals that she read the letter his sister (probably; Jack doesn't confirm it), wrote him, Jack gets angry at her for violating his privacy. He berates her for only caring about herself, and her attempt to elicit his sympathy by "crying" proves ineffective.

Later, plastic surgeon Dr. Bobby Caldwell (Mark Harmon) arrives to provide a consult. The only flaw she can seem to find is that he looks young. She wants the Phyllis Diller treatment, as her new boyfriend Murray is in show business, and she needs to compete with the babes for his attention. Caldwell tells her that if he were to take away her lines, she would lose the beauty that comes with wisdom and experience. He says she doesn't need to change a thing, and that Murray probably agrees with him. She's thoroughly charmed.

Caldwell then runs into Ehrlich (Ed Begley, Jr.) and Fiscus (Howie Mandel) in the hallway and asks why everyone is so upset with Florence, who he found pleasant. They incorrectly presume she must be feeling better.

Other observations:
  • Little did Mrs. Hufnagel know that Jack had plenty of practice dealing with awful patients. In "Bypass", the second episode of the series, he made a big speech to Westphall about how he didn't like having to treat awful patients like murderous terrorist bomber Andrew Rhinehardt (Tim Robbins). Seems like Jack has become more cynical since his first year of residency.
  • "No wonder your girlfriend moved out. You look terrible when get up." Mrs. Hufnagel is apparently the hospital's busybody--Jack had recently attempted co-habitation with his girlfriend, Clancy (Helen Hunt). One of my favorite Hufnagel character traits is that she manages to discover all the major, defining events in other people's lives. How? We don't know. But she seems to know the hospital as well as anyone, except probably Luther.
  • I think this is my favorite Bobby Caldwell scene, even more so than the dark stuff that comes the next season. I love that Mark Harmon's most charming moment is with Florence Halop. And because Mrs. Hufnagel is so vile to everyone else, it's hilarious.
  • Mrs. Hufnagel is bored in the first scene because she can't watch Wink Martindale on her TV. At the time, he was the host of the game show Tic Tac Dough, which was one of my childhood favorites.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Mrs. Hufnagel Chronicles, Part 10

St. Eligius just can't get rid of Mrs. Hufnagel, who demands a new doctor upon readmission.

Mrs. Hufnagel (Florence Halop) lays down the law.
As Dr. Elliott Axelrod (Stephen Furst) discharges Mrs. Hufnagel (Florence Halop) at the end of "The Children's Hour", he prescribes phenylbutazone to help with her phlebitis and her aches and pains. In the next episode, "Dr. Wyler, I Presume", Axelrod, a first-year resident, is excited to be paged by name to the E.R. until he learns that the patient demanding to see him is none other than Mrs. Hufnagel, who is now unconscious and has a nearly-empty bottle of phenylbutazone on her. Dr. Philip Chandler (Denzel Washington) rejects Elliott's plea to take the patient off his hands, and orderly Warren Coolidge (Byron Stewart) refuses Elliott's order to relay instructions for the nurse before

She had been taking four times the prescribed dose, but nonetheless demands a new physician who isn't trying to kill her. The duty falls on Dr. Jack Morrison (David Morse), whom Hufnagel recognizes as the one with the red knapsack and the kid who never says much on rounds. She questions Morrison about his medical education (which he obtained in Mexico), and then is horrified to learn that the doctor has ordered a barium enema for her: "N-O. Nobody touches the booty."

According to Wikipedia, phenylbutazone is no longer approved for human use in the United States, but is commonly prescribed to horses. Hufnagel was admitted with gastrointestinal bleeding, which can be a side horses.

It will turn out that Hufnagel is right to question Morrison's medical education; in the next episode ("Whistle, Wyler Works"), it will be revealed that Jack fast-tracked his medical degree, and is not actually qualified to practice medicine. He will have to redo medical school while doing his residency and raising his infant son by himself; this lasts into season four. Fortunately, his diagnostic skills improve considerably once he actually learns some medical knowledge.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Mrs. Hufnagel Playlist Now Available on YouTube

Now you can watch all the Mrs. Hufnagel videos in one playlist on YouTube.

Elliott (Stephen Furst) admires Mrs. Hufnagel's
(Florence Halop) signed portrait of Ernest Borgnine.
I finally got around to taking advantage of YouTube's playlist feature to create a Mrs. Hufnagel Chronicles playlist. I'm enjoying being able to watch them all in a row, from just one mouse-click.

I will continue to add the new videos in this series to this playlist.

Tom Fontana Feature from the Baltimore Sun

An article describes "Television's Family Tree"--a group of producers and writers who cut their teeth at MTM in the 80s.

St. Elsewhere writer, producer,
and showrunner Tom Fontana
"The Family Tree" referred to in the title of "Where 'Homeland' fits on 'The Family Tree' of great TV drama" by David Zurawik of the Baltimore Sun is a television industry term for a group of a couple of dozen writers  and producers who got their TV training on a pair of MTM shows in the early 1980s: Hill Street Blues and St. Elsewhere.

Featured prominently in the piece is Tom Fontana, who was a playwright when he was hired as a story editor on St. Elsewhere, rose to become an executive producer and showrunner, and who has since gone on to produce critically acclaimed series such as Homicide: Life on the Street and Oz. The article traces how Emmy-winning writers like Homeland's Henry Bromell and The Wire's David Simon cut their creative chops under the guidance of Fontana on Homicide.

Similarly, a generation of writers emerged from Steven Bochco's Hill Street Blues and his subsequent series, the most successful of which was NYPD Blue.  On page two, the author taps Robert Thompson for a quote, who points out that the credit often given to The Sopranos (1999) as the originator of the quality-premium-cable-TV-drama is better given to Fontana's Oz, which debuted two years prior to The Sopranos, and to Hill Street BluesSt. Elsewhere and MTM, where writers were the talent, and television drama as rewarding as great literature was the product.

The article goes into more detail than I've delved into here about "The Family Tree" and its indelible imprint on the television landscape we know today, focusing mostly on the Baltimore connection forged by Fontana and Simon. It's a good read for fans of quality television.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Mrs. Hufnagel Chronicles, Part 9

Mrs. Hufnagel is visited by friend and amateur magician Murray Robbin, who loses his dove.

Mrs. Hufnagel (Florence Halop) is delighted by
Murray Robbin's (Murray Rubin) sort-of-magic trick.
In "The Children's Hour", the twelfth episode of the third season of St. Elsewhere, Mrs. Hufnagel (Florence Halop) gets the most screen time of any of her appearances to date. She pops up in an early scene, when she wheels up to the door of a room where a woman can be heard screaming and implores Nurse Helen Rosenthal (Christina Pickles) to give the woman something for the pain.

Later, she is in her room when former patient and friend Murray Robbin (Murray Rubin) drops in for a visit. In addition to his singing and comedy, Murray is also a budding magician, and for one of his tricks, he produces a dove from his coat pocket. When Dr. Elliott Axelrod (Stephen Furst) arrives and scolds Mrs. Hufnagel for bringing a live pet into the hospital, the bird escapes during Elliott's attempt to confiscate it.

Orderly Luther Hawkins (Eric Laneuville) manages to capture the bird in hand from atop a light fixture, much to the delight of Florence and Murray, who actually manages to get a laugh from her with a joke. Later, Axelrod discharges Hufnagel whose treatment for phlebitis ("I don't know what Nixon was complaining about") has ended, but his relief at her departure is snuffed out when she informs him that she'll be back to visit Murray, who is about to be re-admitted for his colitis.

Luther (Eric Laneuville) rescues Murray's dove.
The other story, alluded to here, involves the woman who was screaming in the first scene. Mrs. Dowd (Anne-Marie Martin) is the attractive, nymphomaniac wife of a patient who begs Dr. Victor Ehrlich (Ed Begley, Jr.) to figure out a way she can have her needs satisfied while her husband is admitted to St. Eligius. Ehrlich turns to Luther for a solution, but is shocked to learn that couple is using Dr. Craig's office while he's at a conference. Ehrlich hides his face and retreats hastily when he spots Hufnagel approaching.

Last time we saw her, Hufnagel was Wayne Fiscus's patient, but clealry Fiscus has managed to dump her on Axelrod in the meantime. Here are Florence and Murray's misadventures in 'The Children's Hour":

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Mrs. Hufnagel Chronicles, Part 8

Elliott has a run-in with Mrs. Hufnagel during his first solo night in charge of the ward.

Dr. Elliott Axelrod (Stephen Furst) backs into trouble
in the form of Mrs. Hufnagel (Florence Halop).
After appearing in longer scenes in her previous three episodes, Mrs. Hufnagel (Florence Halop) plays a supporting role in her brief appearance in "Homecoming". Dr. Elliott Axelrod (Stephen Furst) is a first-year resident, and this night is the first where he is the only doctor on call. Axelrod is nervous about being in charge for the first time, but after a reassuring conversation with Dr. Bobby Caldwell (Mark Harmon), he takes command of the ward, and that's where our clip begins.

Axelrod tries to chat up the non-doctor staff working on the floor, who don't exactly respond to the man in charge, but his attempts at fraternization are interrupted when he absentmindedly backs into Mrs. Hufnagel, who is turning the corner in a wheelchair, in search of ice. When she asks him to go fetch it for her, Elliott lays down the law, giving her a little extra encouragement as he orders her back to her room.

Right after this scene, things get serious when an old guy codes. As Mrs. Hufnagel said, people check into St. Eligius, but they don't check out (although Elliott ends up saving this guy, and handling himself quite well in the emergency situation). I don't know if anyone has ever counted it, but I wonder if St. Elsewhere had the highest patient mortality rate of any medical TV series.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Mrs. Hufnagel Chronicles, Part 7

Mrs. Hufnagel demands better accommodations and makes a new friend in fellow patient Murray Robbin.

Mrs. Hufnagel (Florence Halop) reluctantly
relinquishes the role of physician to Dr. Elliott
Axelrod (Stephen Furst).
St. Elsewhere's writers took a break from their favorite curmudgeon in season three's "Sweet Dreams", the first episode to not mention the patient since her debut in "Playing God (Part 2)". In "Up on the Roof", she's back, having escaped from her room to complain about the malfunctioning electric bed in her current room and demand a room in the new wing, much to the frustration of her physician, Dr. Wayne Fiscus (Howie Mandel). I've left in the entire shot, which also includes the arrival of visiting bone marrow specialist Dr. Christine Holtz (Caroline McWilliams); it runs for 1 minute, 8 seconds.

For the first time, Hufnagel gets two scenes in an episode. After we see her in the opening scene, she pops in on the patient next door in search of a spare bedpan. The patient is aspiring stand-up comedian and colitis sufferer Murray Robbin (Murray Rubin). He's probably the worst comedian in the world, but the two patients bond over their common afflictions. Dr. Elliott Axelrod arrives to find that Hufnagel has taken issue with how he diagnosed his patient.

And so begins the relationship between Florence Hufnagel and Murray Robbin:

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Mrs. Hufnagel Chronicles, Part 6

Dr. Victor Ehrlich's recent professional success affords him an opportunity to rid himself of his least favorite patient.

Dr. Wayne Fiscus (Howie Mandel) congratulates
Dr. Victor Ehrlich (Ed Begley, Jr) on his new TV job.
In "Fade to White", TV producer Bill Wolf (Michael Richards) returns to St. Eligius, having first appeared to shoot a documentary about Dr. Craig in season two. This time, Wolf is looking for a personable, intelligent young doctor to appeal to the younger, upscale demographic that he wants to court with his station's evening newscast (a nod to the very demographic that made St. Elsewhere appealing to NBC executives). Several residents apply for the position, including Dr. Wayne Fiscus (Howie Mandel), but the successful applicant is Dr. Victor Ehrlich (Ed Begley, Jr.).

Fiscus is not discouraged by his unsuccessful audition, acknowledging that his "persona is a little too kinetic", and would be "testing the limit of the medium" (a nod to Howie Mandel's stand-up comic stylings at the time). He runs into Ehrlich in a stairwell and proposes to help the new commentator to cash in on his new-found fame through merchandising deals. Victor, in a hurry to get to the studio, has a favor that Wayne can do for him in the meantime--check in on a patient, a nice older lady with phlebitis.

By the time Fiscus sees the name on the chart, it's too late--Ehrlich has disappeared down the stairwell, singing "There's No Business Like Show Business".

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Mrs. Hufnagel Chronicles, Part 5

Dr. Auschlander's new assistant is touring the hospital when she gets the inside scoop from Mrs. Hufnagel.

Mrs. Hufnagel (Florence Halop) warns a new hire
about life at St. Eligius.
At the beginning of season three, Chief of Services Dr. Daniel Auschlander (Norman Lloyd) has his hands full with a rather contentious nurses' strike on top of his ongoing battle with liver cancer. He decides to hire an assistant to help him better manage his duties, and in "My Aim Is True", he has found a suitable candidate, Sandra Eff (Kate Randolph Burns), and gives her the "cook's tour" of the hospital.

I've decided to leave in the scene that establishes the assistant character, who has spent the last five years as an administrator at an upscale hospital in Minnesota whose husband's transfer to Boston left her in need of a job. Auschlander warns her that the pay is lower, the hours are longer, and the neighborhood is "considerably less pastoral." When Dr. Auschlander gets paged, Mrs. Hufnagel (Florence Halop) takes it upon herself to give the new employee the uncensored version of what happens at St. Eligius. The stories she tells--sex in the morgue, Legionnaires' Disease, the rapist stalking the hospital--are all storylines from the first two seasons (plus a few episodes) of St. Elsewhere.

I enjoy the reference to Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, the 1962 film starring Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, about an deranged former child star (Davis) who "cares for" her wheelchair-bound sister (Crawford).

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Mrs. Hufnagel Chronicles, Part 4

St. Eligius's most critical patient lends a sympathetic ear to a depressed Victor Ehrlich.

Mrs. Hufnagel (Florence Halop) offers words
of wisdom to her four-eyed doctor.
In her first three appearances, Mrs. Hufnagel (Florence Halop) represented the unhappy patients who were suffering because of the chaos resulting from the nurses' strike. In her fourth, in "Breathless", the nurses' strike is over, and the writers, clearly enjoying the character, have given Florence quite a few more lines. We get the first hint of depth to her character--she says she had a personal life once, before Mr. Hufnagel left her.

In this scene, Dr. Victor Ehrlich (Ed Begley, Jr.) drops in on his patient to examine her sprained wrist. He's in a sour mood due to his messy divorce. Mrs. Hufnagel, in an uncharacteristically friendly mood, inquires about what's distracting him. Victor tells her how his soon-to-be-ex-wife Roberta wants a portion of his future income, and as a surgeon, he'll be making a six-figure salary someday. Mrs. Hufnagel offers a counter-opinion to Victor's perception of his career prospects.

This is why you don't turn to Mrs. Hufnagel if you want to feel better:

I have a distinct childhood memory associated with this clip--at one point, Toronto's CFMT-TV 47 showed syndicated episodes of St. Elsewhere at something like 6 PM on weeknights (which seems really odd now), and the promo used a clip of the six-figure-salary-four-eyes exchange. It doesn't really surprise me that the show floundered in syndication. Syndicated shows ran in the afternoons/early evenings or late at night, and St. Elsewhere  is not exactly family fare.

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