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
That would cost about a half a million?

Bruce Paltrow
BRUCE PALTROW
"Oh, I would say today it is in excess of a million dollars. And I said, 'If you're not going to rebuild the set, I don't see how you can do it. I said to try and cheat it, I would want no part of that.' It's not an impossibility, but I think it's an improbability. I think it would be very costly."

MARK TINKER
"At one point Jeff Sagansky was talking about trying to do one when he was at CBS, and that never came to pass, and frankly, I didn't think it was going to. When we built the set in 1981 it cost half a million dollars. The pilot I just worked on (Brooklyn South) has a set that's nowhere near as complex (as St. Elsewhere's) and it was three quarters of a million dollars. The St. Elsewhere set would cost well over a million dollars today."

But TOM FONTANA doesn't consider the old set as a major roadblock.

TOM FONTANA
"Well my idea is you don't even need to rebuild the set - because you don't have to do the show on the St. Elsewhere set. In fact, you could do a series of reunion movies, each one featuring a couple of characters.

MARK TINKER
"Clearly they can't all work in the same hospital, but they can meet at some sort of convention, and maybe be involved in going to some other hospital. But I'd leave that to Tom to come up with something clever."

TOM FONTANA
"You could have Craig needing a bypass or transplant and Ehrlich having to go to Cleveland to perform the operation. You could do Fiscus and another character in Chicago."

JOHN TINKER
"I would love it... if I could call Billy Daniels. I would love to have him do the show (Chicago Hope) or Begley, and I'm sure he would too, (but) I'd rather do a reunion movie myself. You know, it always gets complicated in so far as rights to characters are concerned. That's where it, for me, bogs down creatively. I love those ideas, and I can run with them all day."

ON CALL
How do you get past those barriers?

JOHN TINKER
"It's hard. You gotta go to MTM and secure the rights and then you gotta secure the rights with whoever created the show - it's credited with (John) Falsey and (Josh) Brand, and Maish (John Masius) and Mark (Tinker) are credited with developing it. I don't know, it gets all tangled and twisted."

ON CALL
What would it take for the idea of a reunion to start happening?

JOHN TINKER
"I guess some phone calls, but in the past when I've tried to do it with other characters (not St. Elsewhere) I've hit dead ends. It takes phone calls, and I guess I've also not gone there because we all, sort of as a group, laid them to rest, and I wouldn't want to disturb that without certainly being in agreement with Tom and John (Masius)."

But schedules, logistics, and budget aside, there are also issues to be resolved with the "Snow Globe" ending, and with Auschlander's unpopular death. Most of the cast members believe both situations can be remedied for a reunion.

CHRISTINA PICKLES
"I don't think it matters. I mean if the soaps can bring people back from the dead, I don't think it matters. When people have said 'Reunion', I have thought, 'How wonderful!'."

STEPHEN FURST
"I think there's always a way out of it... hey, if you can have two Darrins on Bewitched, why can't you have St. Elsewhere come back. Maybe Tommy comes out of his autism."

And since Furst's character died in the final season, Elliott Axelrod could not appear in a reunion movie (although "Elliott the Veterinarian" appeared on Chicago Hope), Stephen would, however, be available to direct his colleagues.

STEPHEN FURST
"Oh, absolutely! That would be a great challenge. I'd have to sit with the writers and think about it, but I would love to do that."

Unlike Furst, though, NORMAN LLOYD (also an accomplished director and himself none too happy with the last episode) hasn't conceded the irreversible death of his alter ego.

NORMAN LLOYD
"It would be difficult, but not impossible. That is to say, you'd have to start fresh. Just wipe out everything that went past. Bring back those people that you still want to bring back, but forget the whole autistic thing. Forget that it was all in the mind of this kid."

BONNIE BARTLETT
"I don't know how they would get around the snow globe bit, because they did that for the very reason that that would be it... this would finish it, and we don't have to do any more, there's no way of bringing it back. (If they did make a reunion) they'd have to just ignore (the last episode) with a continuation of figments of this boy's imagination."

TOM FONTANA
"You can't save Auschlander - he's dead. When they're dead, they're dead! Unless you want to do Obi Wan Kenobi. What? His long lost (twin) brother comes in?"

ON CALL
But Auschlander could have been in a coma and imagined Tommy's snow globe.

TOM FONTANA
"That seems like a stretch to me."

ON CALL
A stretch? That from a man who wrote that Westphall was the second gunman in the JFK assassination?

TOM FONTANA
"(Laughs) Hey, we didn't do it, did we?"

MARK TINKER
"I don't know how the hell you'd do that (bring back Auschlander) unless someone had a vision of him, or someone who looks exactly like him comes back."

And what about reuniting cast members who exited early into the series?

CYNTHIA SIKES
"I would be positive about it, I mean, that would be kind of interesting to see what they would do with my character... they'd probably have me as on old hag on the street begging. What WOULD they do to me? Find out for me, and I'll do it! (laughs)"

Then, there are real life problems to consider such as the natural aging process of St. Elsewhere's lead characters, and the suicide of Ed Flanders in 1995.

BILL DANIELS
"I don't know, maybe I'm getting too old to play that part. But I think there is a way that it could be done. With film you can do anything, you can reverse, like you're backing up a car, you can bring it back to someplace that you want it to be. But I can't imagine doing a two hour show without Ed (Flanders). He and I worked most together, more than any other two actors on the show."

But despite these and other trepidations, everyone who spoke with ON CALL is in favor of getting back together for one or more reunion movies.

SAGAN LEWIS
"Oh, I'd love to... Jackie all grown up! As I remember in the last episode they were making me chief resident... Mmmh? I'm sure everyone would love to do it

ED BEGLEY, JR.
"I will simply say that I love so much working with Tom Fontana and Bruce Paltrow and Mark Tinker - these guys remain good friends of mine. The entire cast - ANY project that those fine people would be involved in - you could color me there."

MARK TINKER
"A reunion would be pretty cool!"

And those reactions do not surprise St. Elsewhere guru Bruce Paltrow.

BRUCE PALTROW
"No, it doesn't surprise me at all. You know, when you work together with people for a number of years with the pressures we had - people get married, people get divorced, people have relatives who dies, people who had babies... so you really develop strong bonds with people, and you know them in ways that other people in other walks of life don't know them. You see them everyday at six in the morning and everyday at eight at night... you have a kind of closeness in show business that you don't get in the workplace in other businesses. So I'm not the least bit surprised that they would like to do it."

For now, of course, nothing is firm, but at least some options have been considered, and that's a start. Several key players are in favor of rebuilding the old St. Elsewhere set, while others believe a series of reunion movies would be more plausible, "sans" the set. Either way, it is clear that such an undertaking would require massive planning. In the meantime, ON CALL has suggested to several St. Elsewhere alum that some of today's more popular television series should feature cameos with characters from St. Elsewhere, allowing us and new generations of fans to celebrate and recognize the contributions made by TV's All-Time Greatest Drama.

TOM FONTANA
"It would be great if it happened!"

Indeed.

Originally produced by Longworth Communications.

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