Monday, April 29, 2013

Video: Victor's Wife Airs their Dirty Laundry on the P.A.

A funny clip from season two: Roberta's marital issues with Victor accidentally get broadcast on the hospital's P.A. system.

Victor's wife Roberta (Jean Bruce Scott) spills the beans
about her failing marriage to her friend, St. Eligius's operator.
There seems to be a market for St. Elsewhere clips on YouTube, so as I'm researching other pieces, I'll be watching out for scenes that work well as stand-alone video clips.

This scene is one of my favorite gags, from the season two episode "Attack". Dr. Victor Ehrlich (Ed Begley, Jr.) has rather impulsively married his new girlfriend, Roberta Sloan (Jean Bruce Scott), who is a patient of the hospital's psychiatrist, Dr. Weiss (Philip Sterling), and a candy striper in the hospital. After an absence of a few episodes, Victor and Roberta return to work, but without the glow of connubial bliss you'd expect from returning honeymooners.

Turns out Roberta has a list of grievances, but she's not sure if she can confide in her friend, St. Eligius's operator. The operator assures Roberta that she can be trusted, and that she wouldn't breathe a word of Roberta and Victor's marital problems to anyone.

A call interrupts their conversation, and when Roberta fetches a pen so the operator can take a message, she accidentally switches on the microphone of the hospital's public address system. Unbeknownst to them, the remainder of their conversation is broadcast throughout the hospital. The gossip has everyone in the hospital spellbound until Nurse Shirley Daniels (Ellen Bry) calls the operator to inform her of the mishap.

I've been watching this stretch of episodes, and if you remember, the two young lovebirds both have issues with commitment and relationships that they discuss with the hospital's psychiatrists, Dr. Weiss and Dr. Michael Ridley (Paul Sand). It seems really strange to me that two mental health professionals would recommend that two people who barely know each other should get married (Weiss himself facilitated the proposal). Of course, that makes for better TV, so I'll willingly suspend my disbelief here.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

"Television's Second Golden Age" on Google Books Includes Chapter on St. Elsewhere

A must-read for die-hard St. Elsewhere fans: a chapter on the show in Robert J. Thompson's Television's Second Golden Age.

I've mentioned this book on this blog several times, as it's one of the best sources of background information on St. Elsewhere. Robert J. Thompson's Television's Second Golden Age discusses the emergence of the "quality television" movement that grew out of MTM Enterprises and their commitment to sophisticated television in the 1970's.

After I discovered St. Elsewhere in the late nineties and became obsessed with the show, I bought this book, which was published in 1997, as it appeared to be the only book that had any information on the show. It was the first thing I ever bought through the fledgling e-commerce website,

Thompson, probably the most oft-quoted television scholar, devotes entire chapters to MTM's Hill Street Blues and St. Elsewhere, and he gives the latter high praise as one of the most significant shows in the history of television for its innovation and envelope-pushing.

Now, thanks to Google Books, you can click the link in this sentence and read the entire chapter on St. Elsewhere for free online. It's a must-read for any St. Elsewhere fan, and it's where I learned to appreciate much of what the show has to offer.

Of course, if you're a fan of great television and curious about where it all came from, I'd encourage you to buy the whole book, especially if you're a fan of Hill Street and other MTM shows.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

St. Elsewhere's Series Finale: The Legendary Snow Globe Ending

Video of St. Elsewhere's classic ending: the whole series was imagined by Tommy Westphall, Donald's autistic son.

Tommy Westphall (Chad Allen), the real creative force
behind St. Elsewhere.
It's been great to actually get some feedback from readers of this site! I can say that this post is here by popular demand (i.e. two requests).

This is the classic ending from the series finale, "The Last One", which originally aired May 25, 1988. I've posted the clip on YouTube. (May be blocked in some countries, particularly those that get Channel 4.)

Yes, they did the it-was-all-a-dream ending...sort of. During the finale, we get some emotional closure for most of the show's characters, including Dr. Wayne Fiscus (Howie Mandel), who has completed his residency, Dr. John Gideon (Ronny Cox), who has quit after a disastrous run as the CEO of St. Eligius, and Dr. Donald Westphall (Ed Flanders), who has returned to St. Eligius with his autistic son Tommy (Chad Allen) to reclaim his post as boss after spending most of season six in New Hampshire.

Donald is listening to opera music in the office of long-time colleague and opera buff Dr. Daniel Auschlander (Norman Lloyd), who had passed away earlier that day. (In "Time Heals", we see how they met. In 1945, an angry, teenaged Donald Westphall calls the hospital's new Jewish doctor a "kike," earning him a slap from Father McCabe.) Tommy is watching snow fall through the window.

Then we see an exterior shot of the hospital, and we get a new perspective. Tommy is sitting on the floor of an apartment, holding a snow globe in his hands. We learn that "Auschlander" is his grandfather, and his father, "Westphall", is a construction worker, whose crew just finished the twenty-second storey on a building. (This was the 22nd episode of the season.)

Turns out Tommy spends most of his time staring into the snow globe, which contains a miniature building inside that looks an awful lot like St. Eligius, and his father wonders what he sees in there all day. We viewers know the answer--he imagines his father and grandfather as the heads of the hospital in the snow globe, and he apparently dreamed up a fifty-two year history of the place.

I'll write more about the ending later, and another time, I'll share my thoughts on the implications of the "Tommy Westphall Universe", the intertextual phenomenon that logically follows from this scene's revelation. For now, enjoy the clip!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Watch "Time Heals" on YouTube

St. Elsewhere's greatest episode, a chronicle of the hospital on its fiftieth anniversary, is available on YouTube.

From 1965: Rookie nurse Helen Rosenthal (Christina
Pickles) meets young Luther Hawkins, whose mother
is working upstairs.
It's hard to dispute that St. Elsewhere has one episode that stands out as the series' single best offering. "Time Heals" parts one and two were the seventeenth and eighteenth episodes of season four, airing on back-to-back nights on February 19 and 20, 1986. The episode was St. Elsewhere's most decorated, winning four trophies at the 1986 Emmy Awards, for writing, art direction, sound mixing, and costuming.

The two-parter used flashbacks to tell the backstories of several characters, jumping back and forth by ten-year intervals. It's easy to see why they won Emmys for art direction and costuming--you can tell at a glance whether you're seeing St. Eligius in 1935, 1945, 1955, 1965, 1975 or 1985.

We get backstories for Dr. Donald Westphall (Ed Flanders), Dr. Mark Craig (William Daniels), Dr. Daniel Auschlander (Norman Lloyd), Nurse Helen Rosenthal (Christina Pickles), and the hospital's founder and administrator, Father Joseph McCabe (Edward Herrmann).

The episode features guest stars Kate Mulgrew, Brian Kerwin, William Russ and John Scott Clough as the O'Casey family. Terrence O'Casey (Kerwin) has been admitted with mysterious symptoms, and it's up to an injured Dr. Jack Morrison (David Morse), whose diagnostic skills leave much to be desired, to figure out what's wrong. Jack explores the O'Casey family history at St. Eligius to find the answer.

Thanks to YouTube user Janewayish for posting these as part of a tribute to Mulgrew, who played Captain Janeway on Star Trek: Voyager.

There's a playlist with all twelve parts, or you can check out the embedded videos below.

"Time Heals" Part 1 of 12:

"Time Heals" Part 2 of 12:

"Time Heals" Part 3 of 12:

"Time Heals" Part 4 of 12:

"Time Heals" Part 5 of 12:

"Time Heals" Part 6 of 12:

"Time Heals" Part 7 of 12:

"Time Heals" Part 8 of 12:

"Time Heals" Part 9 of 12:

"Time Heals" Part 10 of 12:

"Time Heals" Part 11 of 12:

"Time Heals" Part 12 of 12:

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