Tuesday, December 24, 2013

On Call, Vol. 2, No. 3 - From the St. Eligius Pension Department... "Bye Bye Bernie": Mayor Oseransky Retires


From On Call, the Official Newsletter of the St. Elsewhere Appreciation Club, volume 2, number 3, December 1998.

Honoree Bernard Oseransky (left) with the legendary
Steve Allen
Back in August, the "Mayor of Studio Center" retired, and was subsequently roasted at a surprise party which took place on the Radford lot. Old friends and new ones alike showed up in person or via videotape to honor Bernie Oseransky for his 42-year television career, which included being the Executive in Charge of Production on St. Elsewhere. ON CALL was in attendance to chronicle what proved to be a memorable Saturday afternoon. First, a sampling of comments from guests as they arrived.

IRV ATKINS ... "When Bernie got out of the service, we gave him a job on House Party as an usher. He was a damn good usher (laughs)."

ON CALL ... "Was Bernie a better usher or Production Executive?"

IRV ATKINS ... "I don't know. That's a toss-up (laughs)."

RAY SAVOY ... "I met Bernie when we were 15 or 16 years old, and we got out of the service at the same time, and we became ushers at CBS at the same time, around January 1956. And we've stayed friends ever since, miraculously, because he's really a jerk (laughs)."

ON CALL ... "What was Bernie's worst moment as an usher?"

RAY SAVOY ... "Probably fitting into the uniform. He was very overweight in those days, and he split a couple of pairs of pants. Then they found that Jackie Gleason had some old slacks, and Bernie wore those. And from then on, it solved the problem."

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

On Call, Vol. 2, No. 3 - Holiday Greetings from St. Eligius!


From On Call: The Official Newsletter of the St. Elsewhere Appreciation Club, volume 2, number 3, December 1998.

This is the time of year when we give thanks for our blessings, and share special moments with loved ones. And so it is appropriate that we dedicate this issue of ON CALL to the entire St. Elsewhere "family". Included is a complete directory of the talented and dedicated folks who had a hand in making St. Elsewhere mean so much to so many. Privately, they will each tell you that working on the show was just a job (albeit an enjoyable one), and that they really didn't consider their efforts to be anything extraordinary. But, over they years, St. Elsewhere has impacted millions of lives, and that IS extraordinary.

In this issue we also salute two special family members, one recently retired, the other at the height of his career, both of whom woked behind the scenes to maintain the quality of Television's All Time Best Drama.

So get comfortable in your night shirt, stocking cap, and fake antlers, and share this issue with someone you love.

Originally produced by Longworth Communications.

Monday, December 2, 2013

99th Birthday Greetings to Norman Lloyd

David E's Fablog presents videos and photos in honor of Norman Lloyd's 99th birthday.

Photo: graphics8.nytimes.com
The St. Elsewhere Experience would like to extend belated birthday greetings to legendary actor Norman Lloyd, who played St. Elsewhere's Dr. Daniel Auschlander and celebrated his 99th birthday on November 8. Dr. Auschlander may have passed away in the series finale, but Lloyd is alive and well and still one of the greatest story-tellers around. And still working.

David E's Fablog has compiled videos and photos of the near-centurian thespian in the post "Norman Lloyd is 99", whose career reads like a history of Hollywood. There's a clip from Dead Poets Society, a two-and-a-half-hour interview in two parts, and a clip from his turn as a Hitchcock villain in Saboteur. Check it out!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

St. Elsewhere Emmy Winners - Ed Flanders, Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, 1983

A video clip featuring Ed Flanders' Emmy-winning performance from St. Elsewhere's first season.

I'll be getting back to the St. Elsewhere Appreciation Club newsletters soon, but I'm inspired to edit together clips again, and this time around we feature St. Elsewhere's other Emmy winner from the show's inaugural season--the late, great Ed Flanders, who received his third Emmy for his portrayal of hospital administrator Dr. Donald Westphall.

Dr. Westphall (Ed Flanders) stands up to Mr. O'Connor
(Dick O'Neill), local violent bigot.
I don't actually know for sure that this is the episode for which he was nominated; I'm actually judging by the selection of clips they chose for the fifth-season clip show, "Good Vibrations", which seemed to pay particular attention to the Emmy-winning episodes. Regardless, this episode always stands out to me as one of my favorite Westphall moments--where Donald really kicks some ass. Not literally, but he certainly would have...

These scenes are from the episode, "Monday, Tuesday, Sven's Day", which concluded a two-episode story arc about patient Kevin O'Connor (David Elliott), a high-school student who is admitted to the hospital with severe injuries from a beating. He and his older brother (Michael Madsen), claim that they were beaten by a group of black teens, and the incident touches off a wave of racial violence between local black and white youths.

However, guilt overwhelms the young O'Connor, who confesses that the story had been fabricated to protect their father (Dick O'Neill), a bigot who beat his son after learning that his progeny had befriended a young black girl at his integrated high school. When Westphall learns what happened, he knows he has no legal recourse to prevent the teenager from remaining under his father's care.

So when the elder O'Connor confronts Westphall about interfering in his family's business, Donald doesn't hold back. Here's Emmy-winner Ed Flanders, David Morse, David Elliott, Christina Pickles, William Daniels, Michael Madsen and Dick O'Neill in "Monday, Tuesday, Sven's Day".

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Al Ruscio, a.k.a Raleigh Morlin, dies at age 89

The veteran character actor who played St. Eligius Maintenance Supervisor Raleigh Morlin has passed away.

Al Ruscio, St. Elsewhere's Raleigh Morlin
Al Ruscio only appeared on three episodes of St. Elsewhere, but for me, he stands out for playing a character who has a significant place in the mythology of the show--St. Eligius's ill-fated head of maintenance, Raleigh Morlin.

Variety reports that Ruscio passed away at his home on November 12 at age 89. Ruscio came to Hollywood in the late fifties, already a respected actor, and served on the Board of Directors of the Screen Actors Guild while appearing in numerous television and film roles.

He took a hiatus from Hollywood in the mid-sixties and worked as an acting teacher, director and producer of plays at Midwestern College in Iowa, the University of Windsor in Ontario, and Oakland University in Michigan. He returned to the screen in 1975 and worked steadily in character roles since, as well as continuing to work on stage and as a teacher. The Variety article has a good rundown of his long life in the dramatic arts.

On St. Elsewhere, Ruscio first appears as Maintenance Supervisor Raleigh Morlin in the season two episode, "Vanity". He plays the heavy to Austin Pendleton's kooky janitor Lyle Brubaker, known to most as "Mr. Entertainment". Raleigh has had enough of the unreliable custodian, who, instead of performing his maintenance duties, prefers to entertain patients with his earnest-but-talentless renditions of popular songs.

In season three's "Breathless", doctors discover that Raleigh's lingering cough is a symptom of asbestosis, which he acquired from his thirty-plus years on the job, where he had both installed and removed asbestos from the hospital's walls and ceilings. He decides to keep his job though, and later in the season, he seems to be in good health and good spirits when he returns in the episode, "Bang the Eardrum Slowly". Unfortunately, it turns out St. Eligius isn't done with him--Morlin is killed when a furnace (or something like that) he is inspecting in the hospital's basement explodes.

There's one more great callback to Ruscio's character in the classic season four episode, "Time Heals". In the flashback to 1965, when the Emergency Room is being built, we see a maintenance man's legs on a stepladder; he's working on the E.R.'s ceiling. Dr. Auschlander, walking by, makes a comment to the worker, praising Raleigh for his good work in installing the new asbestos insulation.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

St. Elsewhere Emmy Winners - Doris Roberts and James Coco for "Cora and Arnie", 1983

The first in a new series of videos featuring St. Elsewhere's Emmy winning performances and episodes.

Inspired by the article from On Call: The Official Newsletter of the St. Elsewhere Appreciation Club that told the stories behind St. Elsewhere's performance at the Emmy Awards, I am preparing video clips showcasing these great moments from the show's history.

The fourth episode of St. Elsewhere's rookie season turned out to be a special one--it featured two of the three acting performances that would be honored at the 1983 Emmy Awards (the third will be featured in the next post). Doris Roberts and James Coco, both veterans of stage and screen and old friends, played homeless couple Cora and Arnie. Their relationship comes to a crossroads when Cora learns that her feet need to be amputated, and she won't be able to look after the mentally ill/challenged Arnie anymore.

Doris Roberts & James Coco in "Cora and Arnie", Part 1:



Doris Roberts & James Coco in "Cora and Arnie", Part 2:



As was mentioned in the recent On Call post, there was an uproar from the St. Elsewhere camp come Emmy time because regular cast members were cut out of nominations and the win by guest actors who were featured for just a single episode. It wasn't until 1986 that the Outstanding Guest Actor categories were reinstated, but by that time, guest stars Roberts and Coco took home awards, guest Piper Laurie earned a nomination (in 1984), and Hill Street Blues guest stars Barbara Babcock (for Lead Actress, 1981) and Alfre Woodard (Supporting Actress, 1984) would win Emmys for St. Elsewhere's MTM competition.

If you're a fan, I highly recommend purchasing the official St. Elsewhere season one DVD release, which includes a commentary track of "Cora and Arnie" featuring Mark Tinker and Doris Roberts. The featurette and stories about Tim Robbins (in his first professional acting job) are worth the purchase price (to a fan like me, anyway).

I've never seen a clip of the awards ceremony, but according to Roberts, she won hers first, and gave her purse to her friend and fellow nominee to hold while she accepted it. When Coco was announced as the winner in his category shortly thereafter, he had no choice but to carry the purse with him and explain to the audience it wasn't his.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

On Call, Vol. 2, No. 2 - Personnel Profile - Tom Fontana: Rebel With a Cause... The Story of Easy Writer


From On Call: The Official Newsletter of the St. Elsewhere Appreciation Club, volume 2, number 2, July 1998.

THE EARLY YEARS


"No profile could ever be completed on Tom - start your article with that, because Tom is an ever-evolving person"... so proclaimed JOHN TINKER, Executive Producer of Chicago Hope and former St. Elsewhere writing partner with Fontana. But the more Tom changes, the more he also stays the same, and to understand that, we begin at the roots of this every growing phenom.

Tom Fontana first "evolved" in 1951 to Charles, a Buffalo wine salesman (and renowned rowing coach) and Marie, who ran the OBGYN office at Millard Fillmore Hospital where Tom was born.

MARIE FONTANA ... "Tom was very pleasant and easy to raise, and seemed to abide by our wishes. We really never had a problem with him. He helped his Dad shovel snow in winter time, and dig up weeds when his Father would take care of the garden. He was also a paper boy. One time we had a terrible snow storm, and his route was about five blocks away from where we lived. We had to drive him in the car because his wagon just couldn't go through the snow."

But whether it was delivering papers in the snow or attending chores, Tom, displayed early on a work ethic beyond his years... something that family and friends attribute in part to the Catholic influence on his education, first by the Sisters of St. Joseph at Cathedral School, and later by the Jesuits at Canisius High. His disciplined manner ever translated to his boyhood hobby and future career... writing.

On Call, Vol 2, No. 2 - Updating Charts: News of Cast and Crew


From On Call: The Official Newsletter of the St. Elsewhere Appreciation Club, volume two, number two, July 1998.

DAVID MORSE can be seen in the feature film The Negotiator, which opens in theatres later this month. The police drama also stars Kevin Spacey and Samuel L. Jackson.

CHANNING GIBSON (former St. Elsewhere writer) has written a great screenplay for this month's Lethal Weapon 4. According to Entertainment Weekly, Gibson was constantly rushing from set to trailer, banging handwritten notes into a computer. Said Gibson, "I've worked with Richard Donner six times before - it's the most fun you can have standing up."

NORMAN LLOYD is still everybody's favorite mentor. the $10 million pilot for Seven Days, a Time Tunnel-like drama in which he plays the science team elder, has been picked up by UPN.

CHRISTINA PICKLES wrote ON CALL a nice thank you note for her profile article, and to let us know she just completed work on a movie of the week which was filmed on location in Kansas. "I'm playing Helen Keller's mother - I really AM everybody's mother!"

HOWIE MANDEL is hitting sride with his new syndicated morning talk show. His on-location bits aren't as good as Letterman's... they're BETTER!

ED BEGLEY was recognized by PETA for his campaign to make McDonald's improve living conditions for the chickens and pigs that eventually end up as fast food.

BRUCE GREENWOOD stars in the high school comedy thriller Disturbing Behavior which opens in theaters August 21.

JOHN MASIUS' new series Providence was picked up by NBC for mid-season. Maish told ON CALL "It's about a female plastic surgeon who goes home" (after operating on Thomas Wolfe no doubt). St. Elsewhere veteran MICHAEL FRESCO directed the pilot.

Originally produced by Longworth Communications.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

On Call, Vol. 2, No. 2 - Hospital Sound System: The Music of St. Elsewhere


From On Call: The Official Newsletter of the St. Elsewhere Appreciation Club, volume 2, number 2, July 1998.

It is not whistled nearly as much as the opening cue from the Andy Griffith Show, nor does it have memorable lyrics such as those from Gilligan's Island, but the St. Elsewhere theme is, nonetheless, one of the most recognized in the history of dramatic television. Still, the music of St. Elsewhere is a story that is less about theme, and more about the daily grind of scoring and production, and of the creative people (one in particular) who helped make the show great.

J.A.C. Redford
Jonathan Alfred Clawson Redford (known as J.A.C.) was born into a "show biz" family. His grandmother was a Ziegfield girl, his mother a classical singer, and his father an actor. After graduating from BYU, J.A.C. and whie LeAnn (his childhood sweetheart) moved to Los Angeles where Redford picked up work as a ghost writer. He assisted on Starsky and Hutch, and other series, but he was destined to make his mark for scorin emotional, dramatic music in the classical tradition.

Redford's agents arranged for him to meet with Bethany Rooney (then Beth Hillshafer), who was Bruce Paltrow's Associate Producer for a new medical drama. Soon after, Redford met directly with Paltrow and the St. Elsewhere brass.

Monday, October 28, 2013

On Call, Vol. 2, No. 2 - O.R. Scheduling: Abby Singer, and the Shot Heard Round the World


From On Call, the official newsletter of the St. Elsewhere Appreciation Club, volume 2, number 2, July 1998.

Industry insiders speak with reverence about the "Abby Singer Shot", while fans of St. Elsewhere continue to ask about the origin of the episode titled "The Abby Singer Show". To understand the derivation of both, we spoke with a number of people who know Abby, including Abby himself. Part of our article is taken from a humorous (and informative) conversation ON CALL had with Abby and his protege Bernie Oseransky, who gathered in Bernie's office for the interview.

Abby Singer
"Dear Abby"
ABBY SINGER ... "I was born in New York City, and after high school in 1936 I went to night college in NY. My father was a designer and my mother was a housewife. I came out here during World War II when I was in the Navy, and stayed here after the War. I got into the business in 1946 and I was hired as Secretary to the head of Production at Columbia Pictures - a man by the name of Jack Fear... "Black Jack Fear" (Bernie, then Abby in unison) We used to say 'We have nothing to fear, but Fear himself'" (laughs).

NORMAN LLOYD ... "Jack Fear had the wrath of God put into him by Harry Cohn who ran the studio, the toughest, meanest guy in the business. Jack Fear translated that to the guys who worked for him, of whom Abby was one. Now, the other guys came out of that rather unpleasantly, but Abby's the one guy who came out of Columbia with an amenable personality... there was a kindness, a goodness in him. They all came out with a tremendous ability on their jobs - it was the best training ground in the world."

Sunday, October 27, 2013

On Call, Vol. 2, No. 2 - "Family" Reunion in the Works?


From On Call: The Official Newsletter of the St. Elsewhere Appreciation Club, volume 2, number 1, July 1998.

"Hospital staff" outside of stage seven
Back in 1993, a few St. Elsewhere veterans gathered in Los Angeles for an evening of discussion and film clips, courtesy of the Museum of Television. Now, another event is being considered, possibly to take place in March and April, 1999. Bruce Paltrow and Tom Fontana have already indicated they would attend as have numerous former cast members. But a reunion should involve as many "family" members as possible. That's why SEAC has been working tirelessly to identify, locate, and contact anyone who had anything to do with the production of St. Elsewhere. It is our goal to invite every living crew member to be in the audience for next year's seminar/reunion. Inspired by our mission, therefore, we are dedicating this and the next issue to people behind the scenes at St. Eligius. In our Fall issue we will publish updates (and numerous photos) on former production staff. Already, thanks to help from Rick Gunter, Bethany Rooney, and R.J. Visciglia, we are proceeding quite well with our task of identifying the entire St. Elsewhere gang. (This cover photo and many others will be published in our next issue along with the names, former occupations on SE, and current status.) In the meantime, THIS issue starts the ball rolling with articles on people we seldom ever saw, but greatly appreciated, including musical composer J.A.C. REDFORD, and legendary production master, ABBY SINGER, plus an in-depth profile on creative genius TOM FONTANA. So pick up a snack from Craft Service, sit back, and enjoy the Newsletter!

On Call: Vol. 2, No. 1 - Updating Charts: News of Cast and Crew


From On Call: The Official Newsletter of the St. Elsewhere Appreciation Club, March 1998, volume 2, number 1.

JOHN TINKER is shooting a pilot this month for ABC titled The Game. The one hour drama is set in Philadelphia and has been described as "Jerry McGuire meets L.A. Law". Meanwhile Chicago Hope just keeps getting better and better. This month the Chicago Hope docs were at a medical convention where the marquee welcomed "St. Eligius". Earlier this year, Kate mentions that her mentor was the late Dr. David Domedion. And on that same episode a patient with a golf club lodged in his chest was referred to as Mr. Masius. Speaking of whom...

JOHN MASIUS is producing a pilot for NBC. The one hour drama is titled Providence.

TOM FONTANA is working on a pilot for CBS titled Family Brood about an Irish family of firefighters. Tom is also keeping the St. Elsewhere flame alive. Over a year ago he swore ON CALL to secrecy about his plan to revive a SE character on Homicide. Now he's done it. On March 20 ('Mercy') ALFRE WOODARD re-appeared as Dr. Roxanne Turner. Says Fontana, "Maybe I'll have Ehrlich show up on Oz, having been in prison for ten years." Tom will also appear with friend Dick Wolf (Executive Producer, Law and Order) at the Museum of Television and Radio later this spring.

STEPHEN FURST is still starring in and directing some episodes of Babylon Five, now on TNT. Stephen has also had an action figure made of his Babylon character "VIR". His 30 Day Wonder is still in development, but these days he's focusing on Arthur's Quest, a comedy about King Arthur. He is also preparing to write a book about his life, weight loss, etc... He will be a star attraction at a Sci-Fi convention in High Point, NC this June.

BONNIE BARTLETT DANIELS, as Norman says, is "always working." She recently turned in an Emmy-worthy performance on ER as Anthony Edwards' mom. She also stars in Primary Colors which opens this month. She appears as the wife of the "Paul Tsongas" character in this take-off of the '92 Clinton campaign.

DENZEL WASHINGTON was recently honored on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Later this year he will star in Martial Law. He will play an FBI agent to co-stars Bruce Willis and Annette Bening. In the mean time, He Got Game is due out in May. In it he plays a prisoner who is paroled only after agreeing that his basketball star son will play for the Governor's alma mater. Spike Lee directs. Denzel was also featured on the February issue of Cigar magazine.\

JENNIFER SAVIDGE is starring in the new FOX sitcom Significant Others which began a six week run this month. Though hard to believe, Savidge plays the mother of two grown kids. Also stars Richard Masur.

ED BEGLEY, JR. will star with young Jonathan Lipnicki in a Fall series on CBS titled Meego.

BRUCE GREENWOOD reprises his role as the arrogant network executive on The Larry Sanders Show.

BRUCE PALTROW is working on a TV pilot, reportedly a police drama. Perhaps the new show is about family values. Daughter Gwyneth appeared earlier this year on Good Morning America to promote Great Expectations, and she confided to Charles Gibson that father Bruce wouldn't attend her premiere because of the nudity. It's nice to know a hardened veteran of Tinsel Town can still be a regular father, Kudos to both Dad and Daughter for "acting" appropriately.

CYNTHIA SIKES, as reported in our last issue, will appear with Robert Redford in The Horse Whisperer, originally slated for an earlier release, now opening in May.

NORMAN LLOYD recently appeared in an episode of ABC's The Practice. He is also gearing up for a TV pilot on UPN on Seven Days. It is a Time Tunnel type show with Norman playing the elder of the team that builds the machine. He will be shooting his scenes beginning the last week in March. By the way, upon showing up for his obligatory studio physical, Norman waited in the exam room as a doctor entered, looked at Lloyd, and should enthusiastically, "Dr. Auschlander!", to which Norman replied, "Yes, how can I help you?"

GRANT TINKER, the grandfather of St. Elsewhere, was recently honored by NAPTE with the LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD. During the ceremony Tinker lashed out at Jerry Springer, telling TV executives that Springer's program "debases us all." Congratulations are in order for the award and for the observation. Both are long overdue.

HOWIE MANDEL will soon give us an alternative to Springer's sleaze. Also Howie is busily readying his syndicated talk show, but took time out to talk with us last month. ON CALL asked if he would consider our suggestion for a St. Elsewhere cast reunion on his new program Howie replied, "I thought it was a good idea. I'm going to try it." Mandel promised to let us know when the big event might be scheduled.

BILL DANIELS recently took time to meet up with Stephen Furst and Tom Fontana for dinner (Bonnie was filming ER and couldn't attend). Now if we can just get the entire cast and crew together for a banquet (but please, no food from the folks who catered Victor's wedding).

ABBY SINGER and BERNIE OSERANSKY gathered in Bernie's office at MTM last month to speak with ON CALL. These two Production Supervising Legends were great fun to interview and full of wonderful stories which we will publish in future issues.

HELEN HUNT deserves our congratulations and best wishes for her Oscar. She becomes the fourth St. Elsewhere alum to get a nod. The others are Dean Jagger (who won as Best Supporting Actor for 12 O'Clock High; Alfre Woodard, nominated for Best Supporting Actress in 1983's Cross Creek; and Denzel Washington, whose performance in Glory won him the 1989 Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

On Call, Vol. 2, No. 1 - Personnel Department: Profile on Christina Pickles... A Gal Who Pays Her Own Rent


From On Call: The Official Newsletter of the St. Elsewhere Appreciation Club, March 1998, volume 2, number 1.

British Invasions are nothing new to America. Thomas Jefferson precipitated one in 1776 and Ed Sullivan another in 1964. But in the late '50's, it was the strategic landing of one young, comic beauty that has had the most impact on fans of St. Elsewhere.

"IN THE BLOOD"

Christina Pickles was born in Yorkshire, England where she and her brother and three sisters enjoyed a happy childhood.

CHRISTINA PICKLES ... "It was a big house with everything I needed. We had tennis courts. We were lucky children."

Her father was an architect, and her mother a homemaker, both of whom initially resisted, but later agreed to Christina's request for a pony.

PICKLES ... "I rode all my life beginning at about age eight up to age sixteen. I used to compete in horse shows in Yorkshire. I was one of those little girls who was horse crazy, and the minute I got interested in boys, I completely lost interest in horses."

But in addition to boys, Christina also nurtured an interest in show business, particularly because of her Uncle Wilford Pickles, a famous comedian.

PICKLES ... "One of my earliest memories is of sitting on the front row of the Dress Circle of an old English Theater, leaning my little face against the brass railings and waving to Uncle Wilfred who was performing in a Christmas pantomime. I loved the lights and laughter and audience response. I guess that's why I love doing sitcoms in front of a live audience."

At age sixteen Christina left school and went to the Royal Academy of Art, but soon, a break-up with her sweetheart prompted a change of scenery.

PICKLES ... "They (my parents) suggested it... they were tired of seeing me dragging around the house because I had a broken heart. I left England and went to America to visit some friends I had known at the Royal Academy. I thought I was just going for a short break to get away from my sad romance, but the minute I got off the plane and walked on American soil, I felt I was home."

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The New York Post Wants a St. Elsewhere Reboot

The New York Post includes St. Elsewhere on its list of classic television series they'd like to see remade.

Ah... pop culture lists. Every so often, St. Elsewhere gets a little love on one. In response to the news that NBC will be producing a new version of another MTM comic drama that debuted in the 1982, Remington Steele (which featured recent St. Elsewhere Emmy-winner Doris Roberts, who was hilarious as secretary Mildred Krebs), the New York Post has published a list of five classic television series that they would like to see remade.

The first one on the list (even though it's in no particular order)? St. Elsewhere. They applaud the show's "first-class" cast, citing William Daniels, Ed Flanders and Ed Begley, Jr., and found it cool that the ensemble included a young Howie Mandel and Stephen Furst, who is legendary for his portrayal of Flounder in National Lampoon's Animal House. They like that it never got sappy like Grey's Anatomy. However, something would have to be done about the ending.

(My suggestion for now--the pilot starts with Chad Allen as grown-up Tommy Westphall in a replica of the apartment from "The Last One", and Norman Lloyd's there too as his grandfather. Tommy picks up his old, dusty snowglobe from the top of an old TV (make it a model from 1988), gives it a shake, and stares into it. Cut to an exterior shot of St. Eligius, and it's snowing. Begin series, and it's present day in Boston. That's how you get around the snow-globe ending.)

The other classic series on the list: 
  • Hill Street BluesSt. Elsewhere's MTM competition (the list of actors cited for playing memorable characters omits double-Emmy-winner Michael Conrad; come to think of it, you'd think the Elsewhere list would mention Denzel)
  • Thirtysomething (whose starring role for Patricia Wettig prompted the departure of her St. Elsewhere character, Jack Morrison's second wife, Joanne)
  • Friends (which featured Christina Pickles as Judy Geller, the mom from hell)
  • The Larry Sanders Show (which featured Deborah May, a.k.a. yuppie fertility patient Terri Valere, as ice-cold network executive Melanie Parrish)

Monday, October 14, 2013

On Call, Vol. 2., No. 1 - From the Cushing Award Committee: St. Elsewhere and the Emmys


From On Call: The Official Newsletter of the St. Elsewhere Appreciation Club, March 1998, volume 2, number 1.

During its six year run on NBC, St. Elsewhere captured sixty-two Emmy nominations and fourteen wins... an impressive feat by anyone's standards. But now, for the first time, the stories BEHIND the statistics can be revealed. Following months of research and scores of interviews, ON CALL has learned not just about the heartaches and triumphs, but how St. Elsewhere actually played a role in shaping the Emmy awards as we know them today... and in so doing, helped to improve a system that once denied our favourite show its top prize, year after year.

1983 - "REGULARS EVICTED BY THE HOMELESS"

In its first season, St. Elsewhere racked up ten nominations and three wins. That year, behind-the-scenes nominations went to SOUND MIXING (for episode #16, "THE COUNT")... SOUND EDITING (for episode #19, "WORKING")... and ART DIRECTION (for episode #1, "PILOT").

Ed Flanders
ED FLANDERS won for Lead Actor, and even though it was his third Emmy, the recognition didn't go to his head.

CODY LAMBERT (Ed's former wife)... "When I first met him in Malibu he had them (the Emmy statuettes) on a simple shelf in the back of the house - he didn't even have a display case or anything - he lived very simply."

In his brief acceptance speech Ed even diverted the spotlight from himself.

CODY LAMBERT... "I remember him being disappointed that year that the writers didn't get more attention... when he won (I remember) him thanking the writers saying, 'Where would we be without them.'"

Perhaps, though, the most significant aspect of the 1983 Emmys were the awards for Supporting Actor and Actress. Ed Begley, Jr. was nominated, and should have won, but the nods when to James Coco and Doris Roberts for their portrayals of a homeless couple (episode #4, "CORA AND ARNIE"). As a result, some of the case were (despite their happiness for Doris and Jimmy) somewhat offended that any guest star could walk away with an award that should have gone to a regular performer in the series.

On Call, Vol. 1, No. 3 - Updating Charts: News of Cast and Crew


From On Call: The Official Newsletter of the St. Elsewhere Appreciation Club, December 1997, Vol. 1, No. 3.

ED BEGLEY ... appears in a recent video release of Santa with Muscles (Cabin Fever), for which he received great reviews. Ed also appears in the Showtime production of Alone starring Hume Cronyn and James Earl Jones, premiering Dec. 21.

TOM FONTANA ... is still the Wizard of Oz. HBO has ordered 13 more episodes of the prison drama. The series will reappear in June of 1998. Meanwhile Tom is still at the helm of Homicide.

STEPHEN FURST ... directed the season opener of Babylon Five. That series, by the way, won the Hugo Award for Science Fiction. Stephen is also completing work on this theatrical film 30 Day Wonder, and he will appear at the Spacedock Convention Feb. 7 & 8 at Hagerstown, MD.

SAGAN LEWIS ... reprised her role as Judge Aandahl for the Homicide / Law & Order two-part series last month. She also writes the nicest letters to us and is a big support of SEAC. (It never hurts to suck up to a judge).

France Nuyen
FRANCE NUYEN ... has recently recovered from a nasty injury sustained while she was performing some do-it-yourself carpentry work around the house. Her tendon was severed, and she was rushed to Cedars Sinai ER where she was kept waiting four hours before a surgeon ever appeared. (No comment on the irony there.) France, whose most notable post-St. Elsewhere role was in The Joy Luck Club, is back on the big screen and can soon be seen appearing with Lauren Holly in A Smile Like Yours.

CHRISTINA PICKLES ... is completing her screenplay, and also appeared in another episode of Friends. Says Christina, "I'm truly the Mother from Hell!" She will also start with Adam Sandler in The Wedding Singer, and this Christmas look for her in a film where she plays Drew Barrymore's Mom.

BRUCE PALTROW ... will not be directing Duets as earlier reported; however, he is working on a television pilot about which he is keeping mum for now.

MARK TINKER ... Congratulations are in order as Mark pick up an Emmy for NYPD Blue. He also recently guest-lectured at his alma mater Syracuse Universtiy as a favor to his friend (and St. Elsewhere expert) Bob Thompson.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

On Call, Vol. 1, No. 3 - Physical Plant: The Set... "St. Elsewhere's Silent Co-Star"


From On Call: The Official Newsletter of the St. Elsewhere Appreciation Club, December 1997, volume 1, number 3.

She had no lines and received no on-screen credit. No one thanked her at the Emmy Awards. And when her services were no longer required, she was discarded. Yet, week in and week out for six years, she stood at the ready, and supported her fellow actors with quiet grace. Who was this MVP? ...the SET, of course.

While the supposed hospital exterior (the Franklin Square House located at East Newton in Boston) got "top billing" every week, it was the interior - the Set - that comprised the heart and soul of ST. ELIGIUS and St. Elsewhere.

STEPHEN FURST... "The rooms were very realistic - they were about the same size as a regular hospital. As soon as I put on that white coat and stethoscope, I always thought I was a doctor (laughs)."

But as with any real hospital, the Set had its problems... they were not, however, man-made.

Mark Tinker
MARK TINKER... "We were originally on Stage 9 and one day someone walked into the stage in the morning and noticed that this main truss bean was literally splitting in half, so that it was coming apart, and was going to fall. So they shored that thing up with like a 12 x 12, and that moved another foot during the night, so they said, 'Here's your choices - you gotta shut down. You can either wait while we redo the stage, and we don't know how long that's going to take, or you can tear the set down and rebuild it on Stage 3. This was show number seven in year one... I was in the middle of shooting an episode and the ceiling was going to cave in. So we said, we'll shut down, and let's rebuild. So for two weeks, 24 hours a day they reubilt the set onto Stage 3."

Monday, August 12, 2013

On Call, Vol. 1, No. 3 - Sign Off: Brandon Tartikoff, 1950-1997


From On Call: The Official Newsletter of the St. Elsewhere Appreciation Club, December 1997, volume 1, number 3.

Brandon and Lilly Tartikoff
Somewhere in the midst of Princess Diana's tabloid death and the less monitored passing of Mother Teresa, we also lost Brandon Tartikoff to Hodgkins Disease.

If, by and large, we remember Diana for her very public association with various celebrity events, and Mother Teresa for her work behind the scenes, then perhaps it is fair to say that Brandon's contributions, like his passing itself, falls somewhere in between the two.

Brandon was true Television "Royalty" with a human touch. He loved attention and could ham it up with the best of comedians, but he could also engineer ground-breaking programming lineups in the privacy of his office. His instincts helped to open the door to Television's Second Golden Age, setting standards of quality that haven't been equaled (or maintained) by any network since his leaving NBC in 1991.

With very few exceptions, "Brandettes" (TV shows conceived, developed, and/or nurtured by Brandon) made us think and feel, and deal wtih issues which had, previously, been shunned by network television.

Critics say Brandon's marquee show was Hill Street Blues, but we know better. It was St. Elsewhere that really represented his legacy to, and love for the television industry.

TOM FONTANA... "Of everyone I've ever worked with in television, I've never met anyone who ever loved televison more - television as a whole. He could love Hill Street and ALF. He could love St. Elsewhere and Manimal. His range of passion for the whole pageant of television was extraordinary."

And in his book The Last Great Ride, Brandon gives us an example of that passion. "I wanted my staff to never tell me about plots in development for St. Elsewhere, so I could watch it at home, just like you."

TOM FONTANA... "Brandon and his wife Lilly were such incredibly huge fans of the show - both in terms of keeping us on the air, but also just in our darkest hours letting us know that what we were doing was worthwhile."

Of course, one reason St. Elsewhere was so "worthwhile" was because of the show's commitment to disseminating informaton on prevention, early detection, and treatment for a host of diseases and disorders.

And so, in Brandon's honor, we offer this information: The primary symptoms of Hodgkins are persistent, swollen glands, usually in the neck, armpit, or groin; Other symptoms might include fever, sweating, fatigue, weakness, weight loss, and itching. If you or someone you love has these symptoms, you (or they) should see a doctor immediately. If confirmed and detected early, radiation and/or drug therapies can be 80% to 90% successful.

Brandon lost HIS fight with Hodgkins... Because of him, others may not have to. Good night, sweet Prince.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

People Magazine's Obituary for Ed Flanders

The obituary for St. Elsewhere star Ed Flanders, from the People Magazine archives.

Ed Flanders wins the Emmy for Outstanding Actor in a
Drama Series, September 25, 1983.
As a companion piece to the On Call profile on the life and death of Ed Flanders, this is the obituary that ran in People magazine's March 20, 1995 edition.

As you may know, the man who gave St. Elsewhere its heart as Dr. Donald Westphall and built a long career as a highly-respected veteran of stage, film and television died on February 22, 1995 in an apparent suicide. The People article "From Elsewhere to Nowhere" as you'd expect, is pretty grim, especially compared to the tribute in On Call published here earlier. I knew I was going to post a link to this article eventually, so I was glad to see that the On Call profile was a bit rosier to provide a nice counterpoint.

These two articles provide a decent overview of Ed Flanders' accomplished acting career, as well as the issues that troubled him.



Saturday, August 10, 2013

On Call, Vol. 1, No. 3 - Personnel Profile: Ed Flanders... "Salute to an Everyman"


From On Call: The Official Newsletter of the St. Elsewhere Appreciation Club, December 1997, volume 1, number 3.


Editor's Preface

As a club, one of our objectives is to celebrate ST. ELSEWHERE and to promote its continued re-broadcast. ON CALL is the vehicle that we use to help achieve that objective. ON CALL is not TIME Magazine or the National Enquirer, and as such, our articles are generally focused on the positive aspects of any given subject. But we remind our newer subscribers that SEAC's other mission is to promote health and social issues in the spirit of ST. ELSEWHERE, so that we too can acknowledge the contributions made in that regard by cast and crew, and that we might, by extension, help to heighten awareness of medical issues and promote prevention and early intervention through education. In a sense, then, Ed Flanders' life (and death) provide a cause for celebration and introspection, helping us to fulfill our dual mission.
St. Elsewhere was funny, and so was Ed.
St. Elsewhere was highly respected, and so was Ed.
St. Elsewhere dealt with life threatening problems, and so did Ed.

Charles Cioffi told us that there was nothing phony about Ed Flanders, and that Ed didn't tolerate phoniness in others...said Chuck, "Ed didn't suffer fools well." And so, had we merely glossed over the parts of Ed's life that defined his very existence, both creatively and otherwise, our phoniness, our foolishness wouldn't have been suffered by Ed.

It was at the urging of Bonnie, Christina, and Norman that we undertook this profile of Ed, and at times, the task was problematic. Bonnie told me "You've got a rough article to write," and she was correct. Nevertheless, the profile did come together, and in composing it, we honor Ed as one of America's greatest actors. This was indeed a labor of love.


Early Years

Edward Paul Flanders was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota on December 29, 1934. He had two siblings, sister Rene, and brother Bud. From early on, Ed's first love was hockey.

Friday, August 9, 2013

On Call, Vol. 1, No. 3 - Happy Fifteenth to the "All Time Best"


From On Call: The Official Newsletter of the St. Elsewhere Appreciation Club, July 1997, volume 1, number 2.

Fifteen years ago this Fall on October 26, 1982, St. Elsewhere premiered on NBC. It ran for six years and, after 137 episodes, went out with heads (and ratings) held high, finishing the run on August 10, 1988. Along the way St. Elsewhere garnered 62 Emmy nominations and captured 13 wins. Moreover, the program helped to influence careers and even save lives.

In April of 1993, TV GUIDE named St. Elsewhere as "Television's All Time Best Drama". It's just too bad that it took TV GUIDE (and others) so long to realize what the rest of us had known all along. In fact, during St. Elsewhere s entire six year run, TV GUIDE's editors never saw fit to dedicate a single cover (or even PART of a cover) to their future "All Time Best". Not surprisingly, TV GUIDE's so-called critics and columnists also missed the boat. Here's a sampling:

JANUARY 15, 1983... Robert MacKenzie commented that St. Elsewhere was "no match for the series it emulates (Hill Street Blues)...the characters aren't as vivid and the scripts aren't as riveting." He continued, "the series will make you think twice about checking into a local clinic." MacKenzie added, "the comedy relief is generally about sex, and I'm not tickled by much of this."

AUGUST 6, 1983... Michael Openheim, M.D. took a scalpel to St. Elsewhere's lack of realism. One observation, "older doctors don't teach younger doctors anymore'... and "Westphall performs many more duties than would a real Chief of Medicine."

NOVEMBER 12, 1983... Michael Leahy chimed in, "By the standards of commercial television, St. Elsewhere had failed miserably...the show has no identifiable star."

SEPTEMBER 1997... ON CALL spoke with TV GUIDE Managing Editor Jack Curry about the possibility of doing a cover story on "the Legacy of St. Elsewhere. His reply to our suggestion about the All Time Best Drama? "We might consider it if they were having a reunion show, but St. Elsewhere's not even on the air anywhere."

Alas, after all these years, TV GUIDE still just doesn't get it.
  • MacKenzie didn't understand that the idea for St. Elsewhere pre-dated Hill Street, and that SE was not emulating anyone.
  • Openheim apparently didn't make rounds at any hospitals in the South
  • Leahy didn't comprehend the concept of "ensemble cast"
  • Curry doesn't even read his own magazine, or else he would know that St. Elsewhere is very much alive and well on TV LAND (twice a day no less!)
I suppose we were particularly frustrated by TV GUIDE's rejection because, during that same period of time, TVG featured Kathie Lee Gifford on the cover just because her husband had cheated on her. (Would MacKenzie have been tickled by that?)

Of course, all of this TV GUIDE bashing is merely by way of making a rather protracted point, which is, that no other television program has pioneered so many health and social causes as has St. Elsewhere, and done it with such skill as well as entertainment value.

Proper recognition is long overdue, and we can only hope that our efforts with SEAC might help light the fire for a possible network (or cable) reunion, as well as some well deserved media retrospection. As we hope for the best, our own personal celebration goes forward, but with a somewhat bittersweet taste, for in this issue we profile the late Ed Flanders, and say goodbye to Brandon Tartikoff - both giants in their chosen fields, and both integral to making St. Elsewhere stand the test of time. Also included in this Anniversary issue is a salute to an unsung hero...the set!! So settle back and reminisce with us about some special people and places in the life of television's "ALL TIME BEST DRAMA"....Hill Street... uh... I mean... St. Elsewhere.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

On Call, Vol. 1, No. 2 - Organ Donors: Chicago Hope - Son of St. Elsewhere


From On Call: The Official Newsletter of the St. Elsewhere Appreciation Club, July 1997, volume 1, number 2.

St. Elsewhere may have died when Tommy Westphall shook up his snow globe, but we can take comfort in knowing that our favorite drama was an "Organ Donor". Specifically, in September of 1994, the heart of St. Eligius was transplanted into the body of Chicago Hope hospital. As with its donor, the recipient's first year of life was touch and go. The CBS series first appeared opposite ER but was eventually moved to Monday nights where it has lived and prospered. The lifeline from St. Elsewhere to Chicago Hope includes a number of interesting connections and similarities. First and foremost is the Executive Producer of Chicago Hope, John Tinker. Tinker started as a gopher on St. Elsewhere, then worked his way into the writing staff about the tine Falsey and Brand were winding down their involvement. He has kept the spirit of St. Eligius alive in the Windy City by giving us Chicago Hope. Tinker's sensitivity to character development and his penchant for off-beat humor are our most visible links from a decade ago when St. Elsewhere left the airwaves. Here are some examples...

In one episode a veterinarian is called in to examine Diana's laboratory orangutan. The vet's name was Elliot and he was played by Stephen Furst.

STEPHEN FURST
"That was an idea of John's. The last name of the character wasn't Axelrod, it was just another name. TV Guide picked up on it and wrote an article about it. Later they asked me to do another episode as Elliot - something about one of the character's dogs was dying and I was to be called in. But it never materialized. I never heard any more about it. Something to do with the script never being approved."

JOHN TINKER
"That was fun. It was a fairly small part and I called Stephen and asked him if he would do me the favor of coming in and doing a fairly small role - which naturally we have every intention of getting back to. And doing it in a larger way because we like him so much."

In St. Elsewhere Dr. Axelrod's father was a veterinarian and Elliot himself had wanted to follow that career path. Now, thanks to John Tinker, Elliot is able to work with animals in his afterlife.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

On Call, Vol. 1, No. 2 - Follow-Up Visits: Is a Reunion Movie Possible?


From On Call: The Official Newsletter of the St. Elsewhere Appreciation Club, July 1997, volume 1, number 2.

The strength of the St. Elsewhere television series was its outstanding ensemble cast, and how that cast worked together. But in an ensemble, all of the major players seldom appear together in the same scene at the same time. Not surprisingly, then, we know of no promotional function or event where the entire St. Elsewhere cast has ever appeared together. In 1988 Ed Flanders, Denzel Washington, Christina Pickles and Eric Laneuville were absent from an episode of The Phil Donahue Show which was devoted entirely to St. Elsewhere (they were the lucky ones - Phil was especially obnoxious that day). Then, in 1993, several cast members missed the Museum of Radio and Television's rather disjointed "seminar: for St. Elsewhere. Today, with Denzel and David Morse busy with the big screen and many of the cast and crew committed to the hectic schedules of episodic television, it is unlikely that everyone in the ensemble would or could reunite for a special TV movie. Nevertheless, ON CALL investigated the possibilities of producing a "Return", and what if anything, has been done to encourage it.

BRUCE PALTROW
"Someone approached me a year or two ago - someone from MTM or NBC - and they approached me about doing it, and I said 'I will not compromise... you have to rebuild the set.'"

On Call, Vol. 1, No. 2 - Updating Charts: News of Cast and Crew


From On Call: The Official Newsletter of the St. Elsewhere Appreciation Club, July 1997, volume 1, number 2.

Stephen Furst
ED BEGLEY, JR.... appeared in Bruce Paltrow's pilot for the TV series of Fargo.

TOM FONTANA... has produced a new series for HBO. The drama titled Oz premiered in July and is co-produced by Barry Levinson.

STEPHEN FURST... (now slim, trim, and healthy) will be producing and directing 30 Day Wonder, a drama/comedy. He will also continue to guest star on and direct episodes of Babylon 5.

BRUCE GREENWOOD... will appear in NBC's new series Sleepwalkers. Bruce can also be seen in reruns of The Larry Sanders Show.

SAGAN LEWIS... now residing in Arizona, Sagan has been playing the role of full-time Mom for the past few years. She is ready to make a return to acting and prefers television to stage.

HOWIE MANDEL... will host his own syndicated talk show in 1998 for Paramount. This past April, Howie also appeared in his tenth HBO special, and he is working on another animated series for Fox titled Ernest, about one of Santa's elves.

JOHN MASIUS... has been overseeing the highly successful CBS series Touched By an Angel, and will produce a new series this Fall titled Visitors.

BRUCE PALTROW... produced a television pilot based on the movie Fargo. He is also planning to direct a trilogy of short films titled Duets with daughter Gwyneth and Brad Pitt to star. Despite the break-up of Pitt and Paltrow, the project is slated to start filming in September. Apparently, Gwyneth thinks the opportunity to work with dad is long overdue and was quoted as saying "I always used to beg him (Dad) to let me be on St. Elsewhere, but he never would." Duets would be the first time Bruce and Gwyneth ever worked together.

CHRISTINA PICKLES... appeared earlier this year in HBO's Weapons of Mass Distraction, and is spending part of the summer in Paris on re-writes for a dramatic screenplay.

CYNTHIA SIKES... will make an appearance in Robert Redford's new film, The Horse Whisperer, due out this Christmas.

MARK TINKER... produced a pilot earlier this year for a new television series titled Brooklyn South.

BARBARA WHINNERY... showed up earlier this year on General Hospital in a cameo (she did not work in the morgue).

Originally produced by Longworth Communications.


Sunday, July 28, 2013

A New Addition to the Tommy Westphall Universe

Orange Is the New Black is the latest series to establish a common thread holding together another galaxy in the Tommy Westphall Universe.

For those of you who aren't TV geeks, you may not be familiar with the cultural phenomenon known as the Tommy Westphall Universe. Of course, if you've found this site, you probably know what I'm talking about. But if not, the TWU is a massive cluster of television shows that exist in the same fictional "universe" through crossovers, where a character, characters, or mythology from one show shows up in another show.

Let's Potato Chips -- she'd give them a buy, too.
St. Elsewhere's writers loved acknowledging the mythology of other shows, and in many cases, they wrote their characters into other shows and wrote other shows into the world of St. Eligius. When you account for the shows that those other shows crossed over with, a web of a few hundred shows emerges, all presumably existing in the same fictional space. And because the world that was home to St. Eligius turned out to be a figment of Tommy Westphall's (or whatever his real name was) imagination, so too are all the shows connected by these crossovers.

Jenji Kohan's new women-in-prison series (which I have yet to check out, but probably will eventually because I enjoyed Weeds), Orange Is the New Black, has recently entered the TWU, as Hollywood.com has observed. The use of Let's Potato Chips, a brand that originated as a running joke on Community, is a pretty firm crossover point, I'd say. Let's Chips also turned up in one of the new episodes of Arrested Development. Arrested Development crossed over with Tom Fontana's Homicide: Life on the Street when Detective John Munch (Richard Belzer) showed up in an episode, and Homicide crossoved over with St. Elsewhere when Drs. Roxanne Turner (Alfre Woodard) and Victor Ehrlich (Ed Begley, Jr.) made cameo appearances (Woodard was nominated for an Emmy for hers, as she often is.) So Orange is only four degrees of separation from the source.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

On Call, Vol. 1, No. 2 - Personnel Profile: Bill and Bonnie Daniels... "The Story of How Captain Nice Met Alice Actress"


From On Call: The Official Newsletter of the St. Elsewhere Appreciation Club, July 1997, volume 1, number 2.

George and Gracie, Roy and Dale, Ozzie and Harriet. If there were a Hall of Fame for Television's Great Married Teams, they would be in it. But so would Bill Daniels and Bonnie Bartlett Daniels, whose body of work and critical acclaim is unparalleled. Bill Daniels was born in Brooklyn on March 31, 1927. His father Charles was a bricklayer and his mother Irene a telephone operator. It was Irene who pushed Bill and his sister to perform on stage as the Daniels Family Song and Dance Troupe. Later, Bill made his way to Broadway, appearing in "Life With Father", starting at age 14. His stage father was Howard Lindsay, a man who played an important role in Daniels' career.

BONNIE BARTLETT
"Bill's family all have thick Brooklyn accents. His father says terlet instead of toilet, and things like that. Bill tried very hard not to talk that way.

"Mr. Lindsay worked with Bill. He had a theatrical accent as actors did in those days, so Bill copied that."

Today, that accent (much like Norman Lloyd's) is Bill's stock in trade, and is second nature to him "except", says BARTLETT, "when he gets very angry...the Brooklyn accent will come out."

But while Daniels learned elocution from his stage father, it was his real life Dad who inspired Bill's most important trait...a serious work ethic.

BONNIE BARTLETT
"He's been in the business since he as four years old, and acting is something Bill does to make money."

SAGAN LEWIS
"Bill is one of those no-nonsense guys who expected people if they were being paid to do a job, to do it well."

Friday, July 12, 2013

On Call, Vol. 1, No. 2 - From the Discharge Department: St. Elsewhere's Last Episode, or "Bobby Ewing Takes a Shower with Rosebud"


From On Call: The Official Newsletter of the St. Elsewhere Appreciation Club, July 1997, volume 1, number 2.


Tom Fontana
Photo courtesy Butler Library,
Buffalo St. College
In the annals of television there have been many memorable swan songs. M*A*S*H brought tears from viewers, while Mary Tyler Moore elicited watery eyes from the characters themselves. Newhart took us back to Bob Newhart's bed with Emily, and Dallas allowed two devils to meet in one room. But no series ending has touched off so much debate as did St. Elsewhere's Episode #137, "The Last One". In the series finale, the camera zooms in on a close-up of Tommy Westphall's snow globe, only to reveal a model of St. Eligius inside - implying that the entire six season run had been a figment of an autistic child's imagination. But creating the snow globe concept wasn't the writers' first option, nor did it come easily.

TOM FONTANA
"First of all you should know that we went through a whole series of alternative endings, and they were pretty crazy--the ones we came up with. Such as Auschlander and Westphall having a conversation in Daniel's office, like they've had so many times before. And outside the window there was suddenly a bright flash."

ON CALL
"Not a nuclear war?"

TOM FONTANA
"Yes (laughs) and Auschlander says to Westphall 'What the hell was that?' Then the screen goes black. So you can see how much better the snow globe was already (laughs). The second one I remember is we had a scene where Westphall called Morrison into his office and was kind of ruminating about his life, and he admitted to Morrison that he was the second gunman in the Kennedy assassination, and that his whole life had been about paying the world back for killing Kennedy. So anyway, we got to the snow globe idea."

JOHN TINKER (Writer/Producer, St. Elsewhere / Executive Producer, Chicago Hope)
"I was there when the idea was born. I know it was not my idea., but I know exactly where we were standing in the hallway -- and it's my recollection we thought about it about two years prior to actually doing it. It wasn't something that we sat around and said, 'How can we end it?' We had had that notion a couple of years before the show went off the air, and I'm not sure we were specifically banking it for the end of the show."

TOM FONTANA
"Now, for me, I don't know if it was because the character was named Tommy, but I always took it very personally, and I loved the face that the entire show had existed in the imnd of a little boy named Tommy (laughs)."

But not everyone loved the idea. NORMAN LLOYD, who is a good friend and admirer of Tom Fontana's, voiced his concern at the outset.

NORMAN LLOYD
"I said to Tom, 'You're out of your mind!' 'No, it's great!', Tom said. So that's it, I had a point of not interfering in these things, and there was no reason for me to, but on this I saw the whole Orson Welles imitation here, and it just didn't sit right. I didn't understand it. What we were saying to an audience was 'everything we've shown you for six years didn't exist; it was in the mind of an autistic child, so I felt bad. I felt it was a cheat. I'm sorry to say that, but my love for this show is unequaled... I really objected to that last episode."

BONNIE BARTLETT and BILL DANIELS agreed.

BONNIE BARTLETT
"To me I didn't like it because it made the whole thing so confusing... that the whole thing was a figment of this boy's imagination in his autistic mind, and that Norman and Eddie were suddenly different people - I mean, it was just weird. My feeling about the last show was the that the writers wanted to do it, and they deserved to be allowed to do it. I did not personally like it, but I didn't care. I mean they (the writers) had done so much for us, and so much for the show that I thought 'if this is what they want to do -- OK, they have a right'."

BILL DANIELS
"I didn't much care for it, except these people keep coming to me over the years and saying how much they like it. There were people who felt it was very original, and wasn't a put down... just a very original way of ending it a la Orson Welles. I didn't buy it myself. It seemed too engineered and too conceptual - but it was at the end an dyou have to accept that some people hated it and some people loved it."

Like Norman, Bonnie, and Bill, ED BEGLEY, Jr. also had great respect for the writing team, but Begley's critique was more positive.

ED BEGLEY, JR
"It was very interesting and offbeat, that's for sure, but I would expect no less from them. That's the way they conducted the show from the beginning."

MARK TINKER offered insight into Fontana's approach. "Tom's take on writing is never let anybody get comfortable, always keep them on their heels, and surprise people to the point of shocking them sometimes, just because the status quo bores him.

"Incidentally, I though that the last episode was terrific! I don't feel any lack of closure, I loved the little twist on it. I hated that we were compared to the 'shower' episode of Dallas, and some people felt cheated by that whole thing with the kid. But for a unique way to go out, that was pretty cool."

To this day, Tom Fontana openly accepts responsibility for series television's most controversial ending, which for him, represented a personal challenge.

TOM FONTANA
"Somehow in my mind, what I thought it did was it said to not only the audience, but it said to us as writers on the show, that this was only a fantasy. It wasn't real, and as much as it was a part of my life, I kind of needed to let it go, and put it in its proper perspective... which was, after all, that it was just a television series. It wasn't life, which was a very hard thing for me to do."

And so, in 1988, Tommy Westphall (and his alter ego Tommy Fontana) turned our world upside down by telling us that St. Elsewhere never really existed, but if that is so, then perhaps young Westphall didn't exist either. Perhaps Daniel Auschlander slumped over his desk, lapsed into a coma, and dreamed that Tommy had imagined everything. Perhaps Auschlander is now recovered and serving as CEO Emeritus at St. Eligius. Well, we can only hope. But what we do know is that Tom Fontana is much too modest about the show's impact. St. Elsewhere was NOT "just a television series"... It was and is an American institution that has helped to improve our quality of life, influence medical careers, and even save lives. And those are realities that can't be shaken away in any size globe.

Originally produced by Longworth Communications.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

On Call, Vol. 1, No. 2 - Medical Histories: St. Elsewhere Resuscitated


From On Call: The Official Newsletter of the St. Elsewhere Appreciation Club, July 1997, volume 1, number 2.

"The Magnificent 7" - Masius, J. Tinker, Paltrow, Fontana,
M. Tinker, Eglee, Gibson
It is difficult to imagine now, but there almost wasn't a second season for St. Elsewhere. Many people credit Grant Tinker with saving the show, but others played key roles as well, including someone named Tartikoff. To understand the story behind St. Elsewhere's now famous "near death experience", ON CALL spoke with some of the folks whose lives were forever changed during the Spring of 1983.

MARK TINKER (Producer/Director, St. Elsewhere / Executive Producer, NYPD Blue)
"What happened is we were having really tepid ratings and going no place fast, and the Network was not really returning our calls... nothing much was going on. So John Masius and Tom Fontana (no longer under the aegis of Brand and Falsey) wrote an episode (#22) of that first year that I directed, that was very unlike everything else. It was more hopeful, it was brighter. It ended with the birth of Morrison's baby and, at the end, everyone "toasts to life", which was not such subtle irony (because) we were hoping the show would survive."

Still the was no word on renewal, except for speculation that "no news was bad news".

ED BEGLEY
"I don't remember it ever being officially canceled. I just remember Bruce Paltrow saying 'It doesn't look good'."

MARK TINKER
"So Bruce went to Paris and Tom Fontana went back to New York and John Masius went to Hawaii, and I'm by myself in the office sort of cleaning up loose ends, and show #22 airs. We get like a 26 share which was 10 points higher than we had been getting - maybe more, and that, coupled with Lilly Tartikoff saying to Brandon 'this show is great!...If this is what they're trying to do with it, you've got to pick it up!'."

Enter "Tinker the elder".

MARK TINKER
"My old man was in the meeting where they (NBC) were programming, and he picked up the little magnetic piece that said "St. Elsewhere", and he stuck it on the board and said, "This is coming back!' I didn't find out until many years later that he saved it."

Some critics have suggested that Grant's courageous decision might just have been a favor to his son... a claim that Mark disputes.

MARK TINKER
"He didn't even want me to come to the Company in the first place. He had to be talked into it by Arthur Price, who at the time was the number two guy (at MTM)... he didn't want nepotism... so it was very unlike him to (interfere)."

Prior to that fateful NBC programming meeting, though, most of St. Elsewhere's cast and crew had assumed the worst, and decided to move on with their lives.

TOM FONTANA (Writer/Producer, St. Elsewhere / Executive Producer, Homicide)
"You have to understand I had been a starving playwright in New York, so after the first season of St. Elsewhere, I had already made more money in one year than I could have ever conceived of that I was ever going to make in my lifetime. So I came back to New York the happiest little boy there was because I had money in the bank, and I was married to a woman I loved (Sagan Lewis), and I thought 'wasn't that a great experience!', and I was out of television. I was finished. I had said goodbye to everybody, and I was gone."

MARK TINKER
"So I got the call and everyone was gone. Now I'm calling everyone around the country saying 'hey, hey, we're back! Get back and write!'."

TOM FONTANA
"Well, I'm sitting there at the Writer's Theater, which is a theater I was involved in here in New York, and the phone rings and it's John Masius, and he goes, 'Guess what?' I said, 'What?'... he said, 'We're doing it again.' And I was like 'What are you talking about?' And John said, 'You've got to come back to California'. And that was scary because Falsey and Brand were gone and NBC waited until the last minute, so we virtually had no lead time. This was late May (and we always start shooting in July), so we had no time to write anything. We had no stuff... We had nobody. Basically, in terms of the staff, it was Paltrow (who wasn't writing at that point), Mark - who was occasionally writing, and Masius and me. Well, I got on a plane as fast as my little butt could get me on a plane, and I got to L.A. and Masius and I started writing. I think we wrote every day, weekends included, for six months. I mean, we never saw the light of day, because once we started, the race was on, and you couldn't stop. I mean, the wonderful thing about Bruce is, Bruce says 'You're a writer, I'm paying you to write, so write!' So you'd be in this kind of forced march behind Caesar, going, Well, Caesar's going to the Rubicon, I guess we're going too, you know (laughs). That's the kind of leader he is, I mean, you don't think about the consequences, you just jump."

Meanwhile, cast members, unaware of the writers' panic in progress, were being notified to return.

BONNIE BARTLETT
"Well, we thought it was canceled. Bill had made some money - our boys were older, so we decided to go to Europe, and we went to Italy. And when we got back to the airport in New York, we called our son Robert and said 'Well Rob, we're back and we'll be home' and he said 'Your show got picked up'... and that's how we found out. Robert had taken the call from Bill's agent. It surprised us, we thought it was gone - we weren't counting on it at all."

ED BEGLEY
"I always knew we'd be picked up... Bruce said I was crazy for saying that. He had said, 'We don't have a prayer.' I am generally an optimist... I knew it would be picked up."

Thus, St. Elsewhere was resuscitated through a team effort with episode #22 serving as the catalyst. Credit went to: new writing, new direction, strong performances, a network executive's wife cheerleading from the sidelines, and Grant Tinker sticking his neck out.

MARK TINKER
"He sort of championed us. And as it turned out in the course of the six years our demographics (were strong)... if we were getting a 24 share, which was about our average, it really sold like a 30 or 32, because our viewers had the money and the intelligence, so at the time it was one of NBC's best demographically-oriented shows."

And so, here's to Mark, Tom and John... and here's to Grant and Lilly... and here's to everyone who helped revive television's greatest drama. Here then, is a "Toast of Life!".

Originally produced by Longworth Communications.