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.

"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."

"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.

"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.

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