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.

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