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.


Roberts & Coco
SAGAN LEWIS ... "In the early 1980s not many shows were ensemble shows like ours, so what the judges would see is fifteen minutes of Ed Begley, but on another show they'd see an hour of somebody else, so it would be hard to compare."

BONNIE BARTLETT DANIELS ... "You almost had to have the whole show to win. You're not going to go in and do a scene or two... you can't compete if you just have a couple of scenes."

SAGAN LEWIS ... "That was a huge hole in the way they did things, it was so unfair. I was always amazed that Ed Begley was nominated every year and never won, and then I was totally amazed that David Morse was never nominated. I think they do it as fair as they can, but sometimes I really do think it comes down to a popularity contest."

Sagan Lewis
Again, St. Elsewhere's case was an ensemble and so, no ONE performer was ever the focus of an ENTIRE show. Fortunately, though, the "Cora and Arnie" cameo awards (and the controversy that ensued) eventually helped to change the Emmy process).

JOHN LEVERENCE (Emmy Official)... "I think one of the most interesting rules changes that was precipitated by an event on St. Elsewhere was the beginning of the Guest Performer category, which was precipitated by James Coco and Doris Roberts... and there was such a hue and cry coming out of St. Elsewhere about the fact that the regulars (who were there week after week) were effectively knocked out of a nod in each category and the win. It was after that, that we went and formed sort of the '400 Pound Gorilla' category, we call it (Outstanding Performance by a Guest Performer). And then you get rid of the celebrity cameo things that tended to, at least in that year, give Doris and Jimmy the win."

But the rule change didn't occur overnight. It would be implemented in 1986, not in time to make a difference in 1984 when history repeated itself. Meanwhile, the 1983 awards (for the '82/'83 season) also marked the first of six straight nominations St. Elsewhere would receive for Outstanding Drama Series, none of which it would win. Hill Street Blues took top honors for '83.

ABBY SINGER (legendary Executive in Charge of Production) ... "We were actually heartbroken. We won every award but best series."

ON CALL: Why do you think that happened?

BERNIE OSERANSKY (long-time CBS/MTM executive, later took over from Singer) ... "If we knew the answer we would have been Fred Silverman (laughs)."

ABBY SINGER ... "We were up against a cult that voted for Hill Street Blues, and Hill Street was a great show."

SAGAN LEWIS ... "I think some of the other shows, which were great, would bullseye one of their episodes for the Emmys... they would 'up' the budget. I can recall one year when Hill Street spent a fortune on one episode and that was what they were going to submit to the Emmy Committee."

TOM FONTANA ... "They (Bochco/Hill Street) were very conscious of winning the Emmy. We weren't that smart, and we never learned, and I guess I still haven't learned (laughs). What they would do... I'm not 100% sure how much money they would spend... but I do know they would do a completely self-contained episode that had huge emotional bang at the end of the episode, and that was the one they would put up for best series. So they were very smart about it."

1984 - "THREE WOMEN AND A BABY"

In 1984 St. Elsewhere garnered ten nominations for the '83/'84 season, including those for ART DIRECTION (episode #38, "AFTER DARK") and MUSIC (episode #35, "IN SICKNESS AND IN HEALTH"). Once again Ed Begley was passed over, and once again the females of St. Elsewhere were killed by the "Cameo Epidemic". Piper Laurie was nominated as Best Supporting Actress for her cameo appearance on St. Elsewhere (episode #24, "LUST ET VERITAS") and ironically, future St. Elsewhere regular Alfre Woodard won for a one-shot performance on Hill Street Blues (ouch!). As it turns out, this would be the last time that a cameo performer would interfere with a St. Elsewhere regular's chance at a Supporting Actor/Actress Emmy. Meanwhile, Bill Daniels lost to Tom Selleck for Lead Actor, and once again, Hill Street Blues took home the Outstanding Drama trophy.

It should be noted that, in those days, nominated shows were only allowed to submit one episode for consideration by the judges (remember Fontana's observation of Hill Street's "self-contained episode"). Apparently (and following a string of losses by St. Elsewhere), Emmy officials eventually agreed that the system needed revising, so in 1994 producers were allowed to submit two episodes for consideration. In 1996 the rule changed again, giving us the present day system of allowing eight submissions.

ON CALL: Do you think you have a better system now?

JOHN LEVERANCE ... "Yes, I do. In the first place, rather than having a single panel doing the judging, we now have four separate panels. Each panel has fifteen to twenty people on it, and each one of the panels takes a look at a set of two episodes from each of the five nominated programs. The combined vote gives you the winner. If you're the producer, you send in eight episodes and you pair them up for me. You tell me 'This is A and B, show them to panel Number One, C and D to panel Number Two ... so you have four separate panels and they're all operating separately."

ON CALL: What is the scoring based on?

JOHN LEVERANCE ... "It's a golf-type score in which the lowest score wins, so the one you like the best, you give a 1, second preference a 2. You would look at two episodes but you would just make a single (scoring) preference. It's a plus in my opinion... you have a situation in which the producer is able to present a much broader range of programming... that you're not stuck to a single episode in which you get into the kind of stunt programming as you mentioned where you jack up the budget, and bring in big cameo stars."

In 1984 St. Elsewhere also captured four of the five nominations for Outstanding Writing including for "NEWHEART" (episode #25), "QUI TRANSTULIT SUSTINET" (episode #26), "ALL ABOUT EVE" (episode #30), and "THE WOMEN" (episode #41), the latter of which gave St. Elsewhere its only win of the year. But these multiple nominations by Fontana and company prompted yet another rules change.

JOHN LEVERANCE ... "It was a rule aimed not specifically at St. Elsewhere, but at Hill Street Blues... what would happen is that every time you had a 'team' change you would have another opportunity to make another entry for the Emmy... and what we were getting from staff that Bochco had under his organization is that writer X would write the whole show, then (on another episode) writer X would do the screenplay but writer Y would do the story... then X and Y would do a story and Z would do the screenplay, etc. ... and so you would have all these people collaborating and all of a sudden... out of twenty-two episodes of Hill Street, fifteen of them would be separate teams, and then they might be taking four out of five nominations. Tom Fontana's group could have very well been the same thing because they were operating much the same way."

SAGAN LEWIS (Fontana's former wife) ... "It was exciting to go to the Emmys, it was particularly exciting the first time Tom won... he was nominated for every writing spot, and I think they had to change the rules because of Tom... it was so silly because out of the five nominations ... I think there was one for Hill Street Blues and the rest were by Tom. After that, the Emmy Committee actually changed the rule so that you couldn't be nominated that many times (laughs). But it was a question of which one Tom would win for, it wasn't a question of WOULD he win. I was just so proud because his name was all over the place."

JOHN LEVERANCE ... "There was a general pattern of that going on, so I'm not certain that the rule would not have been equally enthusiastically applied by the Academy to keep the number down in Tom Fontana's camp... these were rules that we got from the Writers Guild of America, that effectively, through a very complicated assignment of percentages for certain jobs, limited drastically the number of entries and therefore the number of nominations."

In any event, Tom and company DID sweep the nominations and picked up a win for "THE WOMEN"... an episode that was also notable for its behind the scenes origins and for generating one of the funniest stories in the history of television writing. The story was prompted by a question from ON CALL to Tom Fontana.

ON CALL: How did the idea for "THE WOMEN" originate and who is John Ford Noonan... I've never heard of him, but his name showed up in the writing credits.

Paltrow directing wife Danner
TOM FONTANA (immediately begins to laugh)... "John Ford Noonan is a New York playwright who Bruce Paltrow and I knew from our theatre days. John was having a down turn in his career and decided, like a lot of people, that maybe the money was in TV. So he asked Bruce if he could write an episode of St. Elsewhere, and the first one he wrote he basically did a bad job. Why we hired him again I don't know... it was the milk of human kindness (laughs). To make a long story short, he had written a play called A Couple of White Chicks Sitting Around Talking, so Maish and I designed an episode which we referred to as THREE WOMEN SITTING IN A WARD TALKING. Actually, the story itself is based on a conversation I had with Sagan's mother, who talked about the time she had been in the hospital, in this Women's ward, and of the interaction between the women. Initially, we were going to have four women in the ward, but ended up with three. Anyway, we designed this script for Noonan to write, and basically said to him 'Just write three great women's parts.' Before a word was written, we got Blythe Danner to say she'd do it. We got Brenda Vaccaro to say she'd do it (who was an old friend of Bruce and Blythe), and I called Eva LeGallienne whom I had known from when she did The Royal Family on Broadway. So we designed this whole thing and gave it to Noonan to write, and he basically wrote all three characters exactly the same. All three women had long, long monologues about the Boston Red Sox, right? (laughs) Anyway, we gave him our notes, and he then went off to do a re-write. And we never saw him again... never got another page... never sent in the second draft. (We) called the agent and his agent said 'Yeah, we can't find him.' He had disappeared off the face of the earth. So much for the milk of human kindness (laughs)."

ON CALL: This is too weird.

TOM FONTANA ... "Believe me, I'm only telling you bits and pieces of the story. (John Masius, Bruce) and we started writing, and we wrote, and we wrote, and we wrote, because we had these three women committed, and we were nervous because we didn't want them to get the script and hate it right? Fortunately, the all loved their parts and we started shooting. Now flash forward to (Emmy night). We had an unspoken agreement on St. Elsewhere that even if a writer had no dialogue in the script, we would leave their name on it, because it meant insurance, and there are a lot of financial benefits through the Guild that we don't want people to be deprived of. So we never challenged Noonan's right to authorship, we just put it in the credits as it was. Maish and I did the story and Noonan did the teleplay. Lo and behold we got nominated for the Emmy, and this was the year we had four of the five nominations, so I was convinced Hill Street Blues was going to win, that we would have split our vote so much, you know. And lo and behold they call out St. Elsewhere, and as John Masius and I are walking up to the podium, we feel this person behind us, and we look around, and there's Noonan in a tuxedo (laughs), walking with us to the stage and Maish makes a little speech, then we walk off stage and when you win the Emmy, you go into five different rooms... a photography room where they take your picture, then you go into a room for Newspapers, then TV, then Radio... you go from room to room. Well, nobody gave a shit about US. I think the person ahead of us was Cloris Leachman (she won for Individual performance in Variety/Music) and people were laughing and having a great time, then we would come into a room and they (press) would say 'And what do you do?' And we would say 'St. Elsewhere', and they would say, 'Oh, well, we have no question for you' (laughs). So we get to one of the rooms and somebody says, 'Mr. Noonan, will you be writing another St. Elsewhere story?' (Tom and ON CALL editor are now laughing hysterically.) To which Noonan replied... (and this is why I love John Ford Noonan to this day) he says 'No, I won't', and they ask 'Why?' And he replied, 'Because success breeds contempt in Hollywood' (laughs). Now, I don't have balls that big! (laughs). After that, Noonan would show up in restaurants with the Emmy, and he would put it in the middle of the table... I think somebody told me one of the wings on the statue finally broke off... so now it looks like a Golden Globe (laughs). That's the John Ford Noonan story."

1985: "DANIELS WINS FOR 'AAA' PERFORMANCE"

In 1985, Cagney & Lacey began its two year run as Best Drama Series and St. Elsewhere had its leanest night at the Emmys picking up nine nominations and only one win. Nominations included those for SOUND MIXING (episode #52, "SWEET DREAMS"), WRITING (episode #52, "SWEET DREAMS" and episode #65, "MURDER SHE ROTE"), and for MUSIC (episode #51, "FADE TO WHITE").

J.A.C. REDFORD ... "Composers in the television industry have to put up their own work for consideration... the parameters that I used to decide were, first of all, you needed to have more music than the average episode because I'd be competing with other dramatic scores that might be as much as forty minutes out of the hour. So I had a substantial body of music in ("FADE TO WHITE"). Secondarily, it needed to be music that had some profile. Music that took charge of some scenes, and was featured, not just background, but which made a real contribution that the voting members of the Academy could recognize. So, that's how it got nominated."

Nominated once again, Ed Begley this time bowed to Edward James Olmos, while Christina was edged out by Betty Thomas. St. Elsewhere picked up its one and only award of the evening in the Lead Actor category with Bill Daniels winning over his good friend Ed Flanders.

WILLIAM DANIELS ... "I almost didn't show up because the limo broke down on the freeway just one stop down from us on Laurel Canyon, and these two ladies drove by, and I'm in a tuxedo (I feel like Dean Martin after a night out, but it's three in the afternoon), and they drove by me and said 'Could we give you a lift?', and I said 'No thank you', and I kept walking. And they kept riding along and they said 'You know, we KNOW who you are, and we would really like to take you home or wherever you want to go.' So I said 'Well that's very sweet of you... I'm just a mile down the road.' I got in their car and they drove me home. I got home and I was already undressed and watching John McEnroe play on television - (which I would rather do than go to the Emmys) and Bonnie said 'Damn it Bill, I got all dressed up, had my hair done... we'll get another limo.' So when I got the award I (told the story and) said that I had this rotten limo and that Don Johnson probably had the better one. The press asked me if I had made up the story. I'm sure those two ladies were still watching."

1986: "TIME HEALS OLD EMMY WOUNDS, WHILE BILL AND BONNIE ARE PUTTIN' ON THE BLITZ"

Daniels & Bartlett
As far as the Emmys go, 1986 was St. Elsewhere's best year, with fourteen nominations and seven wins. Most of the awards, however, came as a result of the two-part masterpiece, "TIME HEALS" (episodes #85/#86 - Aired February 19th and 20th) in which the history of St. Eligius unfolds in flashback, cross-cut with and interwoven into modern day activities and relationships.

EDWARD HERRMANN was nominated in the newly created Guest Performer category for his portrayal of Father McCabe, and for the first time, a guest star didn't have to compete with the regular supporting players. His performance was Emmy-worthy but he did not get the win; John Lithgow won for "THE DOLL".

"TIME HEALS" was a special event, an "epic" of sorts, and so it is not surprising that it presented a number of special challenges for Paltrow's team.

Edward Herrmann
BERNIE OSERANSKY ... "The problem was the budget was more than normal because of the different make-up to make them look younger. We also had this special snorkel camera with a crane."

ABBY SINGER ... "And it took half a day to shoot one shot."

BERNIE OSERANSKY ... "We got no more money from the Network, but yet we had to do it within the confines of our regular budget."

ABBY SINGER ... "That was one of the reasons we shot a six day show after that (Bernie & Abby in unison) to make up the money we spent on that show... we did six day shows after that."

ON CALL: Why go to all the trouble?

ABBY SINGER ... "It was a class show, and Bruce wanted it to be classy, he felt it was important."

BERNIE OSERANSKY ... "And when the writers come up with something so great, we don't like to shoot it down."

ABBY SINGER ... "What Bernie said is correct. We tried to give them what they wanted. I don't think I ever read a bad script on all the time I was there." (Of course, Abby never saw the first draft of "THE WOMEN".)

BERNIE OSERANSKY ... "Our job is to figure out how to make it, and get it done for the money."

And get it done they did. But not without some discomfort to several actors, among them Bill Daniels, who underwent an ordeal in order to look like Craig as a young, suck-up intern (to mentor Dr. David Domedion) circa 1955.

"The Young Doctors"
WILLIAM DANIELS ... "It took six or seven days to shoot the episode and I would say at least three or four days was spent in flash backs. They dyed our hair, and they pulled our skin back and clamped it in the back, the way I understand Lucy Ball used to do. It was the most painful thing in the world, I mean you couldn't move your head without it hurting. In other words they would pick up your skin around the temples, and on the back of your neck, and then pull all your loose flesh back. Women used to do that in the old days, now they get it done surgically. But we did it the old fashioned way ... it was painful."

There were also challenges for other behind-the-scenes personnel as well, including in ART DIRECTION which won an Emmy, due, in no small measure to veteran set decorator the late NORMAN ROCKETT.

ABBY SINGER ... "Norman was a set decorator on Gone with the Wind. He was a tremendously classy man. When I hired him, our set decorator left and went to another show, and I hired Norman and he was about 70 years old then."

BERNIE OSERANSKY ... "I'll tell you something that maybe Abby won' because he an Bruce are real tight. Bruce didn't want Norman. He said (ABBY in unison with Bernie) he was too old."

ABBY SINGER ... "And I told Bruce, I hired him and he'll do good job."

BERNIE OSERANSKY ... "And Bruce came to love him... he was a great guy who didn't want to retire, he was very competent and very healthy, and did a great job."

MARK TINKER (Director, "TIME HEALS") ... "Norm was great. He'd been around a million years. You know, there aren't a lot of people in the business still working when they're deep in they're seventies. He had a great sense of humor, a great attitude, a lot of energy, and good ideas. You will recall that we had five different decades in that show, and we shot it in only one day per episode longer than our normal seven day schedule. And a lot of that time had to do with shooting other things while they were re-dressing the set. We had to have some down time so they could re-dress for the next (decade). Leslie (Jacqueline) Webber did a great job too... she passed away a few years ago."

"TIME HEALS" also produced a win for Costumers SUSAN SMITH NASHOLD, CHUCK DRAYMAN, and KATHY O'REAR.

MARK TINKER ... "They had a ton of characters to dress. They had to find all these old clothes, and they did great. And I thought in that show everybody pulled together more than in any other episode across the run of the series, because it was such a mammoth undertaking, across so many different decades. Hair styles, make-up appliances to make people look younger, clothing from the era, set decoration from the era. It was a remarkable achievement, and frankly I think that may be my favorite overall show in this scope. The episodes are like children... you can't really love one more than the other, you just love them because each one is different."

Others in the production team were recognized on Emmy night as well, including Sound Editors and Sound Mixers, with the latter group taking home statues. BILL NICHOLSON was the crew chief, and BLAKE WILCOX was the production mixer (he was usually on set, recording dialogue).

MARK TINKER ... "Blake was great, he really went with the flow. The best sound guy is the guy you don't hear from too much... he just watches rehearsals, figures out what he has to do, works with the camera man and does it."

Other members of the Sound Mixing team were ANDREW MacDONALD who mixed effects, and WILLIAM GAZECKI who was the music mixer. Gazecki recalled the challenges involved with editing music for the opening scene where Father McCabe strolls through the hallways of the new St. Eligius circa 1935, with music blaring from a P.A. system.

WILLIAM GAZECKI ... "The whole sequence was rather complex for me because it was all music-based, and the music had to come from the different perspectives of the building AND sound like it was a recording. I was given a track that was recorded with modern recording technology, full fidelity, and I had to create a 1930's audio atmosphere, as well as have it sound like it was coming from different locations in the building as he was walking down the hallways."

Other nominations for the '85/'86 season included two for writing. One was for "HAUNTED"  (episode #71), and the other for "TIME HEALS", which won, giving the epic story five Emmys for the night.

J. Tinker, Fontana, Masius
TOM FONTANA ... "For some reason, and I don't know why, when I heard we were nominated for "TIME HEALS", I knew we were going to win. (So) we get to the Emmys and I look at the program, and we're the first award after the musical number. We had already agreed since Maish had done the speech the last time we had won, that I would do the speech this time. So we're sitting there and this bad musical number ends... a really bad, boring musical number, and then they say 'And the winner is St. Elswhere' and as we're going up to the stage I'm thinking, 'Ho my God, these people have just seen a bad musical number, and now the first thing they're going to see is this long-haired, bearded guy who's not a star going - 'And I'd like to thank my Mom'.... so I said in my head, 'Talk as fast as you possibly can, and get the f___ off stage... that was my mission - say what I had to say and get off because I thought there are going to be channels changing all over America if I go into a long speech."

The Emmy was Fontana's second in two years. Later he would pick up another for Homicide. But today, one of his St. Elsewhere statues is missing from his home... on purpose.

MARIE FONTANA (Tom's Mom) ... "When he won the first one, I said to him, 'Tom, if you ever win three, I think Momma should have one in her home (she laughs).' Lo and behold my daughter and I went to New York two Christmases ago and Tom said 'Here, this is for you', and when I opened it up I saw the Emmy (for "THE WOMEN"). I couldn't believe it. I flew back to Buffalo, and I had to make sure it was safe, so I had it like right in front of my knees on the plane and hanging on to it for dear life."

And while we remember 1986 as a good year for St. Elsewhere, it was also Cagney and Lacey's second straight season for taking top honors. Along the way Ed Belgey and ALFRE WOODARD were run over by the C&L juggernaut. Sharon Gless won for best actress. Christina Pickles was matched up against Bonnie Bartlett Daniels, and Bill was once again pitted against Ed Flanders. The Daniels made history that night by becoming the first and only married couple to win Emmys on the same night. (See ON CALL, Volume One, Number Two.) For Bonnie, it was the start of a two-year win streak.

1987: "IS THERE A LAWYER IN THE HOUSE?"

In this, St. Elsewhere's next to last season, the Emmys are still a decade away from changing their submission requirements. And so, for the fifth straight year, the Paltrow gang was upstaged (but not outclassed) by television dramas that could conjure up one great show for consideration by the judges. In 1987, L.A. Law submitted the most likable single episode, and they won. In all, there were eleven nominations for St. Elsewhere, but only one win - BONNIE BARTLETT DANIELS in the Supporting Actress category. Once again she edged out her friend Christina Pickles, while this time Ed Begley bowed to Magnum P.I.'s John Hillerman.

Bill Daniels and Ed Flanders (two of America's greatest dramatic actors) were passed over for Bruce Willis, in Moonlighting).

Meanwhile, two show business legends worked their magic in a real drama. STEVE ALLEN and JAYNE MEADOWS appeared as Victor Ehrlich's long lost covert parents, the Oseranskys, and were nominated in the Guest Performer categories for "VISITING DAZE" (episode #106). Their characters (like much of the humor on St. Elsewhere) was a tribute to Allen's brilliant comedy stylings of the '50's and '60's.

Meadows, Begley & Allen
STEVE ALLEN ... "It was no surprise that St. Elsewhere called Jayne and me because it had always had an element of the comic that was usually interwoven with the series."

JAYNE MEADOWS ... "I felt absolutely shocked and almost embarrassed because I knew that (it was) a popularity nomination. The thought of 'we deserved it' never entered my head.""

Their competition for the award included EDWARD HERRMANN who reprised his Father McCabe role, this time in "WHERE THERE'S HOPE, THERE'S CROSBY" (episode #93).

Finally, St. Elsewhere picked up two nominations for "AFTER LIFE" (episode #101)... one for editing and one for writing. Amazingly, neither won the Emmy, but both should have. In "AFTER LIFE" Fiscus is shot by the wife of a furious patient and proceeds to have an out of body experience, complete with a visit to Heaven and a conversation with deceased rapist Peter White.

MARK TINKER ... "We went on location for that... we had special effects. That was a tough one."

But it would be a quiet, simple story with no special effects that would eventually bring Tinker his own prize.

1988: "TINKER'S CHANCE"

St. Elsewhere's final season was honored with eight nominations . "THE LAST ONE" (episode #137) garnered a nomination for writing, and "THE ABBY SINGER SHOW" (episode #136) gave LAINIE KAZAN a nomination for Guest Performer. (Note: The origin of the title for this episode will be explained in our next issue.)

This time, Bonnie and Christina (who played a forty-something nurse) were run over by the Thirtysomething juggernaut, with St. Elsewhere alum Patricia Wettig winning for Best Supporting Actress. Again, though this one really belonged to Christina for her work throughout he season, but especially for "DOWN AND OUT IN BEACON HILL" (episode #131) in which she battles her addiction to drugs. Alas, voters and judges went with the popular trend that year and Thirtysomething also took the top award.

NORMAN LLOYD ... "A lot of the voting for Emmys is a popularity contest... it has nothing to do with the real quality of a show. Today people speak of St. Elsewhere with reverence; even doctors say these shows today can't compare with St. Elsewhere... so it's a popularity contest... whoever gets the most votes gets it. It's not a critical contest."

Even Emmy official JOHN LEVERENCE, himself a fan of St. Elsewhere, agrees.

JOHN LEVERENCE ... "I thought it was a brilliant show, but as Lyndon Johnson used to say about legislation 'It passes if it gets the votes', and St. Elsewhere didn't get the votes. I don't know how close St. Elsewhere came to wining. I don't know what the votes were internally, if it got creamed or if it typically lost by one point."

Bill Daniels has his own Mark Craig-style analysis.

WILLIAM DANIELS ... "A bunch of old people (Emmy judges) go in and they give them lunch or something, and they watch all these shows and... (Bonnie in the background interrupts Bill -- "BILL! I WAS A JUDGE!" Bill pauses and resumes) Well, I know, but you were younger. Anyway, in order for an actor to be up for an Emmy, he has to pay $40 or $50... I quit when they started charging money (laughs)."

Pay or not, Ed Begley still couldn't buy an Emmy, this time losing out to L.A. Law's Larry Drake. Again though, just as with the series itself, Ed was consistently great week after week, and if he, Christina, David and others had been working at St. Eligius in the 1990's (post rules changes), there would be Emmy statuettes covering their shelves.

St. Elsewhere's only Emmy for 1988 was also its final one, but it couldn't have gone to a more deserving person and it couldn't have been for any finer episode. "WEIGH IN, WAY OUT" (episode #124) brought Mark Tinker an Emmy for best direction. The story was divided essentially into the four ages of man. The first segment dealt with the birth of a baby, while segment two focused on Wayne's coming to grips with turning 30. But it was the last two segments that provided the most emotional punch, literally and figuratively. In segment three, Mark Craig climbs into the boxing ring as a means of exorcising his demons which include finally dealing with his father's death. The ring action was painfully realistic.

BONNIE BARTLETT DANIELS ... "Bill can do things like that so easily. He just picks up things... he's in great shape and he's a natural at physical things."

WILLIAM DANIELS ... "There's not too much I remember about it except that I was too old to be doing what I was doing... I've always been pretty athletic, so I kidded myself to think that I was going to be able to do those things that they wanted me to do. I remember we went down to a crummy little boxing club somewhere in L.A., and we went all afternoon and all night. You're a ham so you try to do the best you can with what little you have, and we worked it out. I got hit a couple of times when I wasn't supposed to and I hit him when I wasn't supposed to. I remember the next day I had trouble getting up I was so sore (laughs)."

MARK TINKER ... "He (Bill) literally gave everything he had. Those guys were about to puke by the time we finished with them. I just thought he was great."

And Bill Daniels returned the compliment to his Emmy-winning director.

WILLIAM DANIELS ... "I'll go out on a limb and say Mark was our best director overall, that's been my experience. He had a very active camera, a very good moving camera... and he loved doing it. His camera was a good part of creating the illusion of that fight. He's very simpatico to actors, and he lets you go with it, you know? I don't remember him giving us too much direction in terms of what you had to do emotionally."

The closing segment of "WEIGH IN, WAY OUT" was even more emotionally draining than the preceding one and it was to be Jennifer Savidge's finest moment of the series. The scene centers on a dying old man who has only moments to live. In his weakened condition (the fourth age of man), he reverts to an almost infantile state, and just as Warren Coolidge walks into the room, the patient asks to be held and rocked. At Lucy's urging, the gentle giant orderly picks up the old man (played by Charles Lane) and rocks him. The episode ends as the camera pulls out slowly. As it turns out, the story and the performance were inspired by both Director and Actress.

MARK TINKER ... "I actually dreamed the night before shooting that Warren picks the guy up. That was something that was improvised and wasn't in the script. It was actually based on something that happened with my Grandfather when he was dying and that's why I sort of related to it."

JENNIFER SAVIDGE ... "When I first got that script I was not the person in the room... it was Stephen Furst's character Axelrod. And I read the script and my Grandfather had recently died and it had been a very emotional thing for me. I remember going to the hospital and seeing this man who had been the main male figure in my life, who had shown me the most love, this man who was suddenly reduced to having diapers on. And you'd see this look in his face that 'My life is going and I don't know how to deal with it.' It broke my heart. And so, when I read this script, that part with the old man just moved me so much that I wept while I was reading it. And I called John and Channing Gibson, and told them I really loved the script, that it was wonderful and that the whole segment moved me deeply, and I told them why. Later when I got the blue pages, my character was the one, (not Stephen's) who was in there. I remember many things about making that episode. The man who played the dying patient had a very difficult time remembering his lines... he had these long monologues, and Mark was so wonderful with him... they just broke it up into pieces and when you saw it on TV you never knew that it had been broken up, almost line by line. Very good editing. Mark was great with him - he didn't pressure him or anything."

J.A.C. REDFORD's music for "WEIGH IN, WAY OUT" was not nominated, but it should have been, and it should have won. It was perhaps his best score and it greatly enhanced and already magnificent episode, particularly for the final two segments.

And so, through all of its hits and misses, St. Elsewhere's Emmy chase was a huge success, chiefly because it did for the Television Academy what it had done for millions of viewers every week... it brought about change, and made a difference. And, credit for that achievement goes to the one person who never picked up a statue.

SAGAN LEWIS (a former Emmy judge) ... "I kept thinking, they should make the Committee watch ten of the twenty-two shows of the series, so they can see that consistently Bruce turned in on budget a very, very high quality show every week. People don't understand how good Bruce is."

ON CALL agrees with Sagan, who after all was an Emmy judge and also plays a judge on TV (Homicide). So, now that TV GUIDE has named St. Elsewhere the Best All Time Drama, why don't we just have a special Emmy made up to reflect that honor. And just to make sure Steven Bochco doesn't try and steal it, we'll give it to Marie Fontana for safe keeping.

2 comments:

  1. Yay, been waiting for something new to show up here! This is an interesting article. I like how they pretty much think St Elsewhere should have won every single Emmy is was nominated for. I have to agree Begley was hard done by though.

    Been rewatching the series from the start and just saw Weigh In, Way Out ... excellent episode.

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  2. I just discovered this blog, it's terrific. I'm so enjoying reading all the entries since St. E. was my all time favorite show. I used to watch it in my dorm room, back when I was a grad student. Along about the start of the 4th season, I had to tape it (yes, tape it) on my VCR, because I had evening classes. I always taped it after that so I could watch it more than once. I still have those tapes (which I continued to make for the rest of the series' life). The one where Stephan Craig was killed, HAUNTED, I believe, was so gripping, and powerful, it's not hard to see why Bonnie and Bill both won Emmys that year. They really had something on screen.

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