St. Elsewhere

St. Elsewhere is a U.S. drama series that originally ran on NBC from October 26, 1982 to May 25, 1988. The series is currently being aired in the U.S.A. on the American Life Network (ALN) on Sunday evenings, and in the U.K. on Channel 4. The series was set at St. Eligius, a decaying urban teaching hospital in Boston's South End neighborhood (said at the time to be based on Boston City Hospital, now Boston Medical Center). The hospital's nickname, "St. Elsewhere," is medical industry slang for poor hospitals that serve patients not wanted by the more prestigious institutions. As a medical drama, St. Elsewhere dealt with serious issues of life and death, though episodes also included a substantial amount of black comedy.

Although the series never ranked higher than 49th place in the yearly Nielsen Ratings, it maintained a large enough audience to last six seasons and 137 episodes, and the show's famously provocative ending is frequently mentioned in discussions about television series finales. It was produced by MTM Enterprises, which found success with Hill Street Blues around the same time. (The shows were often compared to each other for their ensemble casts and serial storylines.)


The series had a large ensemble cast, a "realistic" visual style, and a profusion of interlocking stories, and could be regarded as something of a "serial" for its ongoing storylines that continued over the course of many episodes, and sometimes many seasons. Its influence can be seen in Northern Exposure, another Brand-Falsey series, as well as in other medical dramas, such as ER and Grey's Anatomy. The series was well-regarded by critics, including the influential David Bianculli of the New York Daily News, and received 13 Emmys during its six-season run.

The producers for the series were Bruce Paltrow, Mark Tinker, John Masius, Tom Fontana, John Falsey and Abby Singer. Tinker, Masius, Fontana, and Paltrow wrote a number of episodes as well; other writers included John Tinker, John Ford Noonan, Charles H. Eglee, Eric Overmyer, Channing Gibson, and Aram Saroyan.

In addition to established actors Ed Flanders, Norman Lloyd and William Daniels, St. Elsewhere is also noted for a strong ensemble cast that included Denzel Washington, David Morse, Alfre Woodard, Mark Harmon, Bruce Greenwood, Helen Hunt, Christina Pickles, Kyle Secor, Ed Begley, Jr. and Howie Mandel.


Image:St Elsewhere.jpg|250px|right|thumb|The cast of St. Elsewhere (first season, 1982-1983) Click on character for actor bio default desc bottom-left rect 20 120 56 212 Dr. Annie Cavanero (Cynthia Sikes) rect 67 128 111 220 Dr. Mark Craig (William Daniels) rect 118 136 164 220 Dr. Donald Westphall (Ed Flanders) poly 204 144 205 156 222 157 239 209 181 214 170 120 203 115 Dr. Ben Samuels (David Birney) rect 0 48 41 110 Dr. Phillip Chandler (Denzel Washington) rect 48 74 75 113 Dr. Wendy Armstrong (Kim Miyori) rect 82 76 116 122 Dr. Victor Ehrlich (Ed Begley, Jr.) rect 123 75 156 130 Dr. Jack Morrison (David Morse) rect 160 74 202 109 Nurse Shirley Daniels (Ellen Bry) rect 206 58 248 143 Dr. Daniel Auschlander (Norman Lloyd) rect 0 8 52 41 Dr. Vijay Kochar (Kavi Raz) rect 52 28 84 71 Nurse Helen Rosenthal (Christina Pickles) rect 91 7 128 70 Dr. Hugh Beale (G.W. Bailey) rect 138 6 165 65 Dr. Cathy Martin (Barbara Whinnery) rect 170 20 197 67 Dr. Wayne Fiscus (Howie Mandel) rect 200 0 248 52 Dr. Peter White (Terence Knox)

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The cast of St. Elsewhere (first season, 1982-1983)


Final episode

The final episode of St. Elsewhere, known as "The Last One", ended in a context different from every other episode of the series. As the viewer pans away from snow beginning to fall at St. Eligius, the scene changes to Donald Westphall's autistic son Tommy, and Daniel Auschlander in an apartment building. Westphall arrives home from a day of work, and it is clear that he works in construction from the uniform he wears and from a conversation in this scene. "Auschlander" is revealed to be Donald's father, and thus Tommy's grandfather. Donald laments to his father, "I don't understand this autism thing, Pop. Here's my son. I talk to him. I don't even know if he can hear me, because he sits there, all day long, in his own world, staring at that toy. What's he thinkin' about?" The toy is revealed to be a snow globe with a replica of St. Eligius inside. Tommy shakes the snow globe, and is told by his father to come and wash his hands. Donald Westphall places the snow globe on the family's television set and walks into the kitchen and the camera closes in on the snow globe.

One of the more common interpretations of this scene is that the total series of events in the series St. Elsewhere had been a product of Tommy Westphall's imagination, with elements of the above scene used as its own evidence

One of the results of this has been an attempt by individuals to determine how many television shows are also products of this Tommy Westphall's mind because of shared fictional characters: the "Tommy Westphall Universe".

The series finale brought in 22.5 million viewers and was the highest-rated program that week.

After struggling in syndication, the reruns had cable runs on TV Land, Bravo and currently, AmericanLife TV.

DVD releases

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has released the complete first season of St. Elsewhere on DVD in Region 1 for the first time. Despite a large and loyal fan base, Fox Home Entertainment has stated there are currently no plans to bring any remaining seasons to DVD.

According to the site, there was an article dated August 31st by Movies Unlimited, that stated the entire series (along with other MTM Studios shows) is being planned to be released in its entirety "in 2009".

The first series was also released in the UK under Channel4DVD, and again has been discontinued. The remaining series though are available on Channel 4's UK internet stream 4od (4 On Demand), available for free and uncut to watch (in the UK and the Republic of Ireland only) when you like.

Currently, episodes from season 1 are available on Hulu.

DVD Name Ep # Release Date
Season 1 22 November 28, 2006

Production notes

  • Donald Westphall's exit is notable in TV history. Frustrated by the new administration of the hospital, he quit and then mooned boss John Gideon, with the mooning shown on camera. Westphall returned twice in 1988 for the "Their Town" episode and the series finale where Ed Flanders rambled off-script in a scene and had to be edited for coherence.
  • The building used in exterior shots of the hospital, while only a block away from Boston City Hospital (now Boston Medical Center, and ostensibly the basis for the hospital depicted on the show), is an apartment building and was never used as a hospital. (It was, however, used as a nurses' residence.)
  • In the opening credits, a rare (and, by the end of the show, anachronistic) shot of an MBTA Orange Line train can be seen on the Washington Street Elevated, above Washington Street. This line was demolished and relocated about one mile west in 1987. In 2002 the MBTA Silver Line began running Bus rapid transit service on Washington Street, following the former Orange Line route. Newton Street Station is next to the building which "played" St. Eligius Hospital.
  • Bonnie Bartlett, who played Mark Craig's wife Ellen, is married to William Daniels in real life. Ellen Craig was a recurring character during the show's early years, appearing in a few episodes per season. She became a regular cast member beginning with St. Elsewhere's fifth season after winning an Emmy for Best Supporting Actress.
  • Actor Tim Robbins appeared in a first-season story arc, playing an injured, nasty and unrepentant terrorist who had set off a bomb within a bank as a form of social protest. At the conclusion of his story arc, he is shot dead inside the hospital by the husband of one of his victims. Seasons later, the husband, played by Jack Bannon, now in prison, resurfaces in a story arc involving Jack Morrison.
  • "Time Heals", a two-part episode in the middle of Season 4, has been cited by David Bianculli and others as one of the finest moments in television history. Over the course of the two episodes of "Time Heals," the dense narrative goes back in time to reveal the back stories of many of the show's main characters. Among the compelling threads is one involving Father Joseph McCabe, played by Edward Herrmann. "Time Heals" was listed 44th on TV Guide's ranking of the greatest television show episodes of all time. The episodes aired on Nick at Nite during a marathon coinciding with the TV Guide list.
  • In "After Life", a Season 5 episode, Wayne Fiscus is shot and, while his life hangs in the balance and he is being operated on, his soul or spirit has a series of experiences in heaven and hell, meeting past characters from the series who have died, including Peter White, Murray Robbin, Eve Leighton and Ralph (the "Bird Man" from Season 1). Fiscus also encounters a man claiming to be God, who looks just like Fiscus.
  • Mimsie, the kitten in the MTM logo at the end of each episode, is wearing a scrub suit and a surgical mask, which is animated to look like a mouth is moving underneath when she meows. In the final episode of the series, she is hooked on life support on a hospital bed and then dies. This was meant to symbolize the end of the series. In a twist of sad irony, the actual cat that was used for the logo had also died around the same time as St. Elsewhere's ending.
  • The show was sued by the Humana Hospital system because the name "Ecumena" was so close it was considered to be a put down of their hospitals. St. Elsewhere obliged by not only having Ecumena give up St. Eligius, but the large sign above the steps of the hospital came crashing down and broke into pieces when being removed. They then changed the corporate name to "Weigert Hospitals, Inc."
  • Notable guest stars on St. Elsewhere over the years included Eric Stoltz, Pauly Shore, Ray Charles, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Tom Hulce, Jane Kaczmarek, Lainie Kazan, Jayne Meadows, Laraine Newman, James Coco, Doris Roberts, Piper Laurie, Alan Arkin, Robert Davi, Christopher Guest, Lance Guest, Ray Liotta, Betty White, Michael Madsen, Ernie Hudson, Kate Mulgrew, Kathy Bates, John Astin, Michael Richards, Austin Pendleton, Kyle Secor, Jason Bateman, Tim Thomerson, Blythe Danner (wife of producer Bruce Paltrow) and then-Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis.
  • Hal Linden was first offered the role of Donald Westphall, but turned it down. Character actor Josef Sommer was then cast as Westphall, but was cut from the unfinished original pilot, and replaced by Ed Flanders.
  • Actor David Paymer was originally cast as Wayne Fiscus. But he was fired and replaced by Howie Mandel. Paymer later appeared as a guest star during a Season 6 episode.
  • Regular cast members William Daniels, David Morse and Eric Laneuville each directed at least one episode of the series.
  • The series' theme music, composed by Dave Grusin, enjoys popularity on radio and ambient music services long after the show ended on television.
  • The series has aired on TV Land and Bravo networks. On Bravo, the series was digitally re-mastered and surrounded by introductions and recollections by series staff, stars and guest stars. However, the closing credits were altered to delete the end references to MTM Enterprises, as that logo was replaced by that of 20th Century Fox Television. Newer airings run both logos, one after the other.

In-jokes, puns and crossovers

  • The series was noted for its unusually large number of in-jokes and oblique pop culture references. A favorite device was to use the hospital's P.A. system to page doctors from other medical series. (This was usually only heard in the background, and was never remarked upon by any St. Elsewhere character.)
  • Other pop culture references were buried in dialogue, such as Mark Craig telling his housekeeper, "Watch out Grace, the roads are a little slick" (ref. Grace Slick); or Daniel Auschlander telling Donald Westphall "When you're petty, you can be a heartbreaker" (ref. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers); or having several of the regulars on Steve Allen's Tonight Show appear as various St. Elsewhere cast members' fathers — and then, in a line of dialogue about a fire, having Allen say to the other 'fathers', "Well, that's tonight's show over."
  • A 1985 episode featured a Cheers crossover, in which Westphall, Auschlander and Craig stop into the fictional Cheers pub (also set in Boston) for a drink, and Craig gets into a verbal altercation with barmaid Carla Tortelli (Rhea Perlman). (Carla had mentioned going to St. Eligius to give birth in the Cheers season two episode, "Little Sister Don Cha".) This was perhaps unprecedented at the time, as it crossed sitcom characters over into a dramatic series.
  • Chicago Hope's Dr. Kate Austin (played by Christine Lahti, cast regular) tells a journalist in Season 2 that her surgery mentor had been Dr. David Domedion, who is also Mark Craig's mentor and appeared St. Elsewhere episode 68, played by Dean Jagger, and episode 86, played by Jackie Cooper, in a flashback. Craig, Domedion and Austin were all cardiothoracic surgeons.
  • Orderly Warren Coolidge, played by Byron Stewart, was a crossover character from the 1970s TV series The White Shadow, in which he played a flaky but talented high school basketball player in Los Angeles. In one St. Elsewhere episode, Coolidge is seen wearing a "Carver High School" T-shirt. Over the years, several oblique references were made to Coolidge's basketball days, usually by fellow orderly Luther Hawkins, which explained his crossover to St. Elsewhere. In one episode, Coolidge explains that he accepted a basketball scholarship at Boston College but blew out his knee during his sophomore year. In another, Timothy van Patten, also a regular from The White Shadow, guest-starred. Coolidge called out to the man who, he was convinced, was his old teammate, but was told by van Patten's character that he had "the wrong guy."
  • Betty White, when she appeared on St. Elsewhere, was called "Sue Ann" by a psychiatric patient, a reference to Betty White's character on The Mary Tyler Moore Show (White was playing a different character, totally unrelated to Sue Ann). Furthermore, the patient believed himself to be Mary Richards. In the same episode, another patient in the psychiatric ward is none other than Elliott Carlin, the resident neurotic from The Bob Newhart Show, as played by veteran character actor Jack Riley. Carlin tells another patient he is there because his life was ruined by "a quack psychologist in Chicago."
  • B.J. Hunnicutt, a fictional character from the series M*A*S*H, was referred to by Mark Craig as a drinking buddy in Korea.
  • Show creators Joshua Brand and John Falsey went on to create Northern Exposure. In that show's pilot episode, Ed Chigliak (Darren E. Burrows) tells Dr. Joel Fleischmann (Rob Morrow) how he became fascinated with doctors after watching St. Elsewhere.
  • The snow globe scene in the series finale is parodied and reenacted by Dave Foley, Maura Tierney and Stephen Root in the "Daydream" episode of NewsRadio.
  • The Scrubs episode "My Sacrificial Clam" (original air date, April 30, 2002), featured four unnamed doctors sharing a single hospital room, played by St. Elsewhere cast members William Daniels, Ed Begley Jr., Stephen Furst and Eric Laneuville. (However, this is not a crossover, as Laneuville did not play a doctor on St. Elsewhere, and Furst's St. Elsewhere character died in season six.)
  • Jack Dodson, who played Howard Sprague in The Andy Griffith Show had a recurring role as a patient who happened to be a judge. When he finally died he called out for "Floyd" as in Floyd, the barber, in Mayberry.
  • In one St. Elsewhere episode, reference is made to William Daniels' role as John Adams in the musical play and movie 1776. As Daniels' character, Dr. Mark Craig, visits Philadelphia, he sings a line from one of the 1776 songs.
  • Another film featuring Daniels, 1967's The Graduate was parodied in a 1985 episode, in which Victor Ehrlich was to be married, but was seduced away from his ceremony by a beautiful woman driving a red Alfa Romeo convertible (the same model as Dustin Hoffman's character had driven in the film). Victor then has rush through town to make it to his wedding on time, echoing Hoffman's frantic rush to reach the church. Upon arriving at the church, Craig remarks to Erlich, "It's time you graduat-ed to adulthood".
  • Two St. Elsewhere characters were carried over to the NBC series Homicide: Life on the Street, which was executive produced by St. Elsewhere alum Tom Fontana. In an episode in season six entitled "Mercy", Alfre Woodard reprises her role of Dr. Roxanne Turner, who is accused of illegally euthanizing a cancer patient. Woodard was nominated for an Emmy Award as Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series for her performance. In other Homicide episodes, the character of Detective Tim Bayliss (played by Kyle Secor) develops a bad back and is treated by a "Dr. Ehrlich." In the Homicide: The Movie finale, Ed Begley, Jr., makes an uncredited appearance as Dr. Victor Ehrlich.
  • In Season Three Episode Ten, Dr. Craig is informing Joan Halloran that he will be speaking in front of the Phelps' committee, while in the background a female patient walks out of a room and then down the hallway. The patient shows her naked butt as she walks down the hallway.
  • In an episode from Red Dwarf called "Camille", when Dave Lister first meets a pleasure GELF whom he sees as a sort of biker chick, he says "No, but I've seen every episode of St. Elsewhere" when the GELF asks if he is really a surgeon.

Awards and nominations

Awards won

Emmy Awards:

Peabody Award (1984)

Humanitas Prizes

Television Critics Association Award for Drama Series (1988)

Awards nominated

Emmy Awards:

  • Outstanding Drama Series (1983-88)
  • Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series Ed Flanders (1985, 1986)
  • Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series William Daniels (1983-84, 1987)
  • Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series Alfre Woodard (1986)
  • Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series Ed Begley Jr. (1984-88)
  • Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series Bonnie Bartlett (1988)
  • Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series Piper Laurie (1984)
  • Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series Christina Pickles (1983, 1985-1988)
  • Outstanding Guest Performer in a Drama Series Alfre Woodard (1988)
  • Outstanding Guest Performer in a Drama Series Lainie Kazan (1988)
  • Outstanding Guest Performer in a Drama Series Steve Allen (1987)
  • Outstanding Guest Performer in a Drama Series Jayne Meadows (1987)
  • Outstanding Guest Performer in a Drama Series Edward Herrmann (1986 and 1987)

Golden Globes:

  • Outstanding Drama Series (1985, 1986, 1987, 1988)
  • Outstanding Supporting Actor Ed Begley Jr. (1986)

Directors Guild of America:

  • Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Drama Mark Tinker (1985, 1987, 1988, 1989)

References and further reading

  • Robert J. Thompson, Television's Second Golden Age (1996)
  • David Bianculli, Teleliteracy: Taking Television Seriously (1992)
  • David Bianculli, Dictionary of Teleliteracy: Television's 500 Biggest Hits, Misses, and Events (1997)
  • Joseph Turow, Playing Doctor: Television, Storytelling, and Medical Power (1989)


External links

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