sworn off

Northern Exposure

Northern Exposure is a dramedy series. It was created by Brand-Falsey Productions, which was recognized with a rare pair of consecutive Peabody Awards in 1991–92 for the show's "depict[ion] in a comedic and often poetic way, [of] the cultural clash between a transplanted New York doctor and the townspeople of fictional Cicely, Alaska" and its stories of how "people of diverse backgrounds and experiences strive to accept their differences and co-exist." Most of Northern Exposure's story arcs are character-driven, with the plots revolving around the intricacies and eccentricities of the citizens. Critic John Leonard called Northern Exposure "the best of the best television in the past 10 years."

The show started as an eight-episode summer replacement series on CBS in 1990. It returned for seven more episodes in spring 1991, then became a regular part of the network's schedule in 1991-92, 1992-93, and 1993-94, three seasons in which the show was among the top 20 in the ratings. Its last season, 1994-95, included a gap during May sweeps when CBS broadcast other programming. A total of 110 episodes were produced.


Main characters

  • Joel Fleischman (Rob Morrow) is the central character, a young Jewish doctor from New York City who is contractually bound to practice in the remote Alaskan town of Cicely for four years to repay a student loan from the state. The comedy centers originally on the clash between Fleischman's neurotic urban mindset and the easy-going, community-minded people around him. As time went on, the show focus shifted to the quirky characters of the town. Morrow left the series in the middle of the sixth (and final) season.
  • Maurice Minnifield (Barry Corbin) is a patriotic ex-astronaut and millionaire entrepreneur, owner of the local radio station KBHR and newspaper, as well as fifteen thousand acres (60 km²) of local land. Determined to make tiny Cicely the next boomtown, on "the cusp of the new Alaskan Riviera," Maurice arranges to bring Dr. Fleischman to the town, which previously had no permanent physician.
  • Chris Stevens (John Corbett), an ex-felon, is the disc jockey at KBHR. He intersperses the music of his morning show with musings on the nature of life and readings from such writers as Walt Whitman, William Shakespeare, Leo Tolstoy, Carl Jung and Maurice Sendak (Where the Wild Things Are). Chris is also Cicely's only clergyman, ordained through an advertisement in Rolling Stone magazine.
  • Maggie O'Connell (Janine Turner) is a professional bush pilot and property agent. She was a debutante from a wealthy WASP family in Grosse Pointe, Michigan. She sometimes believes herself to be cursed because all of her former boyfriends died in bizarre accidents. She maintains a strong love-hate relationship with Fleischman.
  • Shelly Marie Tambo Vincoeur (Cynthia Geary) is a young beauty pageant winner, Miss Northwest Passage, who comes from Saskatchewan and is brought to Cicely by Maurice, who had hoped to marry her. Shortly after her arrival, she met and fell in love with the much older Holling Vincoeur. Shelly nearly becomes a bigamist when she almost marries Holling, having previously married schoolmate and hockey player Wayne Jones (Brandon Douglas) solely to get him to stop proposing.
  • Holling Vincoeur (John Cullum) is a sexagenarian hunter and owner of the Brick bar and restaurant, where he lives upstairs with Shelly. Born in Quebec (or the Yukon; both are mentioned in different seasons) and later becoming a naturalized US citizen, he had been best friends with Maurice until they had a falling out over Shelly. His father and grandfather both lived to be over 100 years old, spending most of their lives as widowers despite having married much younger women; fearing the same bitter fate, Holling had sworn off love until Shelly appeared. He claims to be a direct descendant of King Louis XIV of France and attempts to distance himself as much as possible from his despotic forebears. After 23 years as mayor of Cicely, he loses that post to Edna Hancock who runs against him because of a grudge.
  • Ed Chigliak (Darren E. Burrows) is a mild-mannered, amiably tactless, half-Native Alaskan foundling raised by the local Tlingits. He does odd jobs for Maurice and also works part-time at Ruth-Anne's general store. A film buff and would-be director, Ed learned everything he knew about life and the outside world from movies, especially those of Woody Allen and Federico Fellini. He is a shaman-in-training and is occasionally visited by his invisible spirit guide, One-Who-Waits, and by his personal demon, Low Self Esteem, who resembles a leprechaun. Ed writes, directs and produces his own film about Cicely.
  • Ruth-Anne Miller (Peg Phillips) is the septuagenarian owner of the general store. A widow, Ruth-Anne lives alone until late in the series, when she becomes involved with retired stockbroker and fur-trapper, Walt Kupfer.
  • Marilyn Whirlwind (Elaine Miles) is Fleischman's stoic, Native American receptionist. Marilyn barely ever speaks, while her boss rarely stops talking.

In the show's last season, two new characters were introduced:

  • Phil Capra (Paul Provenza) is recruited as town physician after Fleischman takes to the wilderness. A refugee from Los Angeles, Capra is more gracious than Fleischman in a small town setting, but even more hapless. Provenza was originally hired to take over the role of Dr. Joel Fleischman. The difference in their appearance was to be attributed to a new haircut, with Maggie O'Connell commenting, "It suits you." This idea was rejected to avoid alienating Morrow's fans.
  • Michelle Schowdowski Capra (Teri Polo) is Phil's wife. She works as a reporter on a newspaper owned by Minnifield. When he starts applying editorial pressure, she decides she prefers waitressing at the Brick and has visions of Fleischman's rabbi, Schulman.

Recurring characters

  • Lester Haines (Apesanahkwat) is the fifth wealthiest man of the tundra and is considered a rival by the richest, Maurice. He is the father of Heather Haines, who becomes Ed Chigliak's love interest, although they are part of the Raven clan.
  • Adam (Adam Arkin) is an abrasive, ungroomed, misanthropic gourmet chef who may or may not have worked for the CIA in the past, which explains how he has so much information about everyone. His character was first introduced as a mythic legend figure, something akin to Bigfoot. People in Cicely spoke of him as a tall-tale figure at first. Adam usually has a chip on his shoulder and offers an offensive rebuttal to anyone who compliments him. Arkin also directed one of the episodes in the fourth season.
  • Bernard Stevens (Richard Cummings Jr.) is Chris' "half-brother and spiritual doppelgänger." Their relationship extends beyond being merely half-brothers, as they also share dreams, emotions, and thoughts. They have the same birthday and birth year, making them "twins," despite having different mothers, one white and the other black. Their father was a "travellin' man," whose double life was exposed only after his death.
  • Sergeant Barbara Semanski (Diane Delano) is an Alaskan state trooper and gun enthusiast, and the on-again/off-again love interest of Maurice Minnifield, whom she finally dumps for protecting the fugitive Cal Ingram.
  • Mike Monroe (Anthony Edwards) is a hyper-allergic lawyer, called "The Bubble Man" by the citizens of Cicely at first. Mike comes to Alaska to escape the pollution that gave him multiple chemical sensitivity. Maggie O'Connell, attracted by Mike's show of courage in battling his illness, encourages him to come out of his airtight house more often, and they briefly become a couple. In an apparent inversion of "Maggie's Curse," Mike's symptoms suddenly vanish, whereupon he leaves to join a Greenpeace ship at Murmansk.
  • Richard 'Rick' Pederson (Grant Goodeve) is Maggie O'Connell's first season boyfriend. He dies at the end of the second season when an errant satellite falls on him during a camping trip. After his death, it is revealed that he was a compulsive sex addict who cheated on Maggie with hundreds of other women.
  • Leonard Quinhagak (Graham Greene) is a native medicine man and Ed's mentor. He is also the local totem pole carver, which is featured in an episode where he creates a totem for the Whirlwind family, which rekindles a long-running feud between the Raven and Bear tribes.
  • Eve (Valerie Mahaffey) is a hypochondriac, heiress to a tungsten fortune, and Adam's wife. Mahaffey won an Emmy Award in 1992 for her portrayal. Eve and Adam spend part of each year as jet-setters and part as near-hermits in a cabin near Cicely. She and Adam eventually have a child together, named Aldridge.
  • Earl the Barber (Jerry Morris). Morris was a frequent background extra and was the real owner of the barbershop used in the television series.
  • Walter 'Walt' Kupfer (Moultrie Patten) is a rugged but friendly trapper, and love interest of Ruth-Anne Miller in later seasons. He was addicted to his work as a stockbroker in New York City and retired to Cicely on the advice of his doctor approximately "more than 30 years" ago.
  • One-Who-Waits (Floyd Westerman) is Ed Chigliak's spirit guide, the ghost of a long-dead chief from Ed's Native American side of his family, the Bear clan.
  • Dave (William J. White) is the Native American cook at the Brick. In early episodes, he has few speaking parts, but in later seasons, began participating in scenes, particularly with Holling and Shelly, but also Joel, who often asks him to explain local Native American customs. He was replaced by Eugene near the end of the fifth season.
  • Caldecott E. Ingram (Simon Templeman) aka "Cal" is a violinist hired by Maurice to check out a rare Guarneri violin. Cal literally falls in love with it, and when Maurice explains that he plans to lock the violin away as an investment, rather than allow it to be played, Cal snaps and tries to kill Maurice; but Maurice forgives him, allowing Cal to play the Guarneri occasionally, and even connives at his escape from the state mental hospital.
  • Rabbi Schulman (Jerry Adler) is Joel's rabbi in New York who inexplicably appears to Joel in "visions".
  • Hayden Keyes (James L. Dunn) is a Cicelian, generally liked but occasionally dishonest.
  • Eugene works at the Brick as a bartender and as a cook who fills in for Dave, and later replaces him.

Guest stars

  • Jo Anderson was Roslyn and Jane Harris. She appeared in "Cicely" and "Learning Curve".
  • Adam Ant, a British pop star, appeared as Brad Bonner, the lead singer of a heavy metal band, who arrives in Cicely instead of Sicily, Italy, in the fourth season episode "Heroes".
  • Elya Baskin was Nikolai in "War and Peace," a second season episode.
  • Jack Black was Kevin Wilkins, 1/3 of the graduating class of Cicely High School.
  • David Hemmings was Viktor Bobrov in Season 4, Episode 9 "Do The Right Thing" — a Russian ex-spy who arrives in Cicely to sell Maurice his official dossier prepared by the Russian government.
  • Bill Irwin was Enrico Ballati, The Flying Man, a circus performer who woos Marilyn. Irwin is a clown known for his mime and physical comedy talents. The character almost never speaks and communicates through hand gestures and body language.
  • Mickey Jones was Tooley in "Heroes," a season four episode.
  • James Marsters appeared as Father Harding (a friend of the O'Connell family) and a bellhop.
  • Yvonne Suhor was Cicely, lover of Roslyn and eponym of the town. She appeared in the third season episode "Cicely".


Under the increasingly dark production hand of David Chase and due to CBS moving the show into various time slots (as part of the network's future move toward more youth-oriented programming), the show spiraled downward in 1994-95. Unexplained character trait changes, the loss of clashes that had marked Fleischman's tenure, and the departure of Morrow, resulted in a precipitous drop in the show's ratings.

In its original conception, Northern Exposure was intended to be a show about Joel Fleischman, with storylines revolving around his fish-out-of-water difficulties with adjusting to Alaska, and his hot-and-cold romantic involvements with Maggie O'Connell. In keeping with this original vision, Morrow was top-billed in the credits as the "star" of the series.

In two unforeseen developments, Northern Exposure became a ratings hit, and minor characters such as Chris, Ed, Holling and Shelly, and Ruth-Anne (along with newly-created characters as Adam and Eve, Barbara Semanski and Bernard) became part of a strong ensemble cast, undermining Morrow's status as the "star" of the show, just as its popularity rose to unexpected heights.

Morrow and his representatives spent much of Seasons 4 and 5 lobbying for an improved contract, and intermittently threatened to leave the show. The producers responded by reducing Fleischman's role in the storylines, and introducing characters such as Mike Monroe (season 4) and Dr. Phil Capra (season 6) to partially compensate for the absence of Morrow. With Morrow's reduced presence in (but not departure from) the show, several ongoing storylines involving Fleischman were unable to be logically resolved.


The town of Cicely is widely thought to be patterned after the real town of Talkeetna, Alaska. The main street of Cicely and the filming location was actually that of Roslyn, Washington. Because of this, the bar features a number of signs from Pacific Northwest microbreweries, which in 1990 were still fairly small and only known outside of the area by beer enthusiasts.

Until recent years, an annual gathering of Northern Exposure fans was held each year in Roslyn. Known as Moosefest, it was traditionally held the last weekend of July, and often featured some former cast members. An "informal" Moosefest was held in 2006, and others are planned for 2007 and 2008.

Prior to producing Northern Exposure, Joshua Brand and John Falsey created the popular television program St. Elsewhere. Series producer and writer David Chase went on to produce, amongst other things, The Sopranos.

According to The Northern Exposure Book, the moose in the opening titles was named Mort and provided by Washington State University, where he was part of a captive herd. Mort was an orphan from Alaska and had been bottle-raised. To film the opening sequence, the crew fenced off Roslyn, set him loose, and lured him around with bananas and willow leaves. $5,000 was paid for Mort's work because "he's the only working moose in the business."

Alaskan inaccuracies

The town of Cicely is sometimes said to be within Arrowhead County, although Alaska has no counties. The state is divided into boroughs (and one large Unorganized Borough), so some episodes refer to "the borough of Arrowhead County".

When being given directions out of town, a visitor is told to follow Main Street down to the Interstate, though Alaska has no signed Interstate highways (while some Alaska roads have Interstate designations for funding reasons, they are unsigned by ADOT&PF). Few highways in Alaska have more than two lanes.

There was also an episode in which Ed talks about Alaskan snakes. There are no snakes native to Alaska.



Over the course of Northern Exposure's run, the series was nominated for over fifty Emmy Awards and multiple Golden Globe awards. In addition, Joshua Brand and John Falsey received two Peabody Awards, in 1991 and 1992, sharing the latter award with CBS and Finnegan-Pinchuk Company. During one of their thank you speeches, Brand and Falsey said that they appreciated the drama awards, "but it's a comedy."

The show's other awards include:

  • Emmy Award (1992), Joshua Brand and John Falsey, Outstanding Drama Series.
  • Emmy Award (1992), Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series, Valerie Mahaffey.
  • Emmy Award (1992), Andrew Schneider and Diane Frolov for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Writing for a Drama Series for "Seoul Mates."
  • Golden Globe (1993), Best Drama series.
  • Golden Globe (1994), Best Drama series.
  • Directors Guild Award (1993), Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Dramatic Shows, "Cicely"

DVD releases

The DVD sets, which were released by Universal Studios Home Entertainment, have caused controversy among the show's fans, both for their high prices and for the changes to the soundtrack introduced in order to lower their costs. The release of season 1 contained the original music, but retailed for $60 due to the cost of music licensing. Subsequent seasons replaced some of the music resulting in a lower cost release. The first and second seasons were also re-released together in packaging that matches the third through sixth seasons.

Title Region 1 Region 2
The Complete First Season May 25 2004 May 21 2001
The Complete Second Season November 30 2004 May 9 2005
The Complete Third Season June 14 2005 January 30 2006
The Complete Fourth Season March 28 2006 July 31 2006
The Complete Fifth Season November 13 2006 January 22 2007
The Complete Sixth Season March 6 2007 June 25 2007
The Complete First &
Second Seasons
May 9 2006 Unavailable
Seasons 1, 2, 3, & 4 Unavailable November 20 2006
The Complete Series
(Seasons 1 - 6)
November 13 2007 October 8 2007
Note: See the DVD region code article.

See also

  • St. Elsewhere, a similar premise medical drama created also by Joshua Brand and John Falsey.
  • Due South, a drama-comedy series which in many ways attempted to reverse the central Northern Exposure dynamic.
  • Everwood, a drama from the WB with a fish out of water doctor moving from New York City to a mountain community full of quirky characters.
  • Men in Trees, a more recent series with similarities to Northern Exposure.
  • Going to Extremes, a 1992 single-season series by Joshua Brand about medical students on a tropical island

References and footnotes

External links

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