St. Elsewhere

St. Elsewhere
St. Elsewhere
Main title card
Format Medical drama
Created by Joshua Brand
John Falsey
Developed by Mark Tinker
John Masius
Starring Ed Flanders
William Daniels
David Birney
Ed Begley, Jr.
Denzel Washington
Bonnie Bartlett
Christina Pickles
Mark Harmon
David Morse
Cynthia Sikes
Howie Mandel
Norman Lloyd
Kim Miyori
Theme music composer Dave Grusin
Composer(s) Dave Grusin
J.A.C. Redford
Country of origin United States
Language(s) English
No. of seasons 6
No. of episodes 137 (List of episodes)
Location(s) CBS/MTM Studios, Studio City, California
Running time 45–48 minutes
Original channel NBC
Audio format Monaural (Seasons 1-5)
Stereo (Season 6)
Original run October 26, 1982 (1982-10-26) – May 25, 1988 (1988-05-25)

St. Elsewhere is an American medical drama television series that originally ran on NBC from October 26, 1982 to May 25, 1988. The series is set at fictional St. Eligius, a decaying urban teaching hospital in Boston's South End neighborhood. The show starred Ed Flanders, Norman Lloyd and William Daniels all as teaching doctors, who gave interns a promising future in making critical decisions.

The hospital's nickname, "St. Elsewhere", is a slang term used in the medical industry to refer to lesser-equipped hospitals that serve patients not wanted by more prestigious institutions, and (to the further detriment of St. Eligius' reputation) also used in medical academia to refer to non-teaching hospitals in general. In the pilot episode, Dr. Mark Craig informs his colleagues that the local Boston media have bestowed the derogatory nickname upon St. Eligius since they perceive the hospital as "a dumping ground, a place you wouldn't want to send your mother-in-law." In fact, the hospital is so poorly thought of that its shrine to St. Eligius is commonly defiled by hospital staff and visitors, and is referred to by Dr. Wayne Fiscus as "the patron saint of longshoremen and bowlers." 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 original ad for the series quoted a critic that called the series "Hill Street Blues in a Hospital."

The series was filmed at CBS/MTM Studios, which was known as CBS/Fox Studios when the show began. Coincidentally, 20th Century Fox wound up acquiring the rights to the series years later.

In 1997, the acclaimed two-part episode "Time Heals" was ranked #44 on TV Guide's 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time.[1] In 2002, St. Elsewhere was ranked #20 on TV Guide's 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time.[2]



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 multiple seasons. Its influence can be seen in Northern Exposure, another Brand-Falsey series, as well as in other medical dramas, such as ER and Chicago Hope. The series was well regarded by critics 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 David Morse, Alfre Woodard, Bruce Greenwood, Helen Hunt, Christina Pickles, Kyle Secor, Ed Begley, Jr., Stephen Furst, Howie Mandel, Mark Harmon and Denzel Washington. The series is credited with helping propel the careers of several St. Elsewhere performers, such as Begley, Hunt, Morse, Mandel, Harmon and Washington, to greater heights of film and television stardom, which they enjoyed subsequent to the show.

The show's main and end title theme was composed by famed jazz musician and composer Dave Grusin. Noted film and TV composer J.A.C. Redford wrote the show's score. No soundtrack was ever released, but the theme was released in two different versions: the original TV mix and edit appeared on TVT Records' compilation, "Television's Greatest Hits, Vol. 3: 70s & 80s," and Grusin recorded a full-length version (4:13) for inclusion on his "Night-Lines" album, released in 1983.


For a list of cast members and which character they played, please see List of St. Elsewhere characters.


The first season aired Tuesdays at 10:00 p.m. and the rest of the series aired Wednesdays at 10:00 p.m.

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 camera pulls 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. Tommy is playing with a snow globe. 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 thinking about?" Tommy shakes the snow globe, and is told by his father to come and wash his hands. Donald places the snow globe on the family's television set and walks into the kitchen with Tommy and Auschlander. As they leave the room, the camera closes in on the snow globe. Inside it is a replica of St. Eligius.[3] NewsRadio paid homage to this scene at the end of the third season fantasy themed episode "Daydream".

One of the more common interpretations of this scene is that the entire 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.[4][5] One of the results of this has been an attempt by individuals to determine how many television shows are also products of Tommy Westphall's mind because of shared fictional characters: the "Tommy Westphall Universe".

While the series made a habit of incorporating television and film references, the final episode was particularly replete with them. Among them were The Fugitive (Dr. Kimball is said to be chasing a one-armed patient on the loose); The Mary Tyler Moore Show (the famous group hug from that series' finale is reenacted, including the shuffle to the tissue box); M*A*S*H (a patient #4077—Henry Blake—is said to have been injured in an aircraft crash); The Andy Griffith Show (a barber is referred to as Floyd); and the cliché, "It ain't over 'til the fat lady sings" (Dr. Fiscus makes the comment immediately before an injured and obese opera singer dressed as a Valkyrie sings an extended note, ending the hospital story and leading into the Tommy Westphall scene).

The episode's closing credits differed from those of the rest of the series. In all other episodes, the credits appeared over a still image of an ongoing surgical operation, followed by the traditional MTM Productions black-backgrounded logo, featuring Mimsie the cat in a cartoon surgical cap and mask. The final episode's credits appeared on a black background, flanked by an electrocardiogram and other medical equipment, with Mimsie lying on her side at the top of the screen; at the end of the credits, the electrocardiogram "flatlined", indicating Mimsie's death.

The series finale brought in 22.5 million viewers ranking as the seventh most-watched program that week and attracting a 17.0/29 rating/share.[citation needed]

In 2011, the finale was ranked #12 on the TV Guide Network special, TV's Most Unforgettable Finales.[6]

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

DVD releases

On November 28, 2006, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment released the complete first season of St. Elsewhere on DVD in Region 1. It is unknown if the remaining 5 seasons will be released at some point.

In Region 2, Channel 4 DVD released the first season on DVD in the UK on April 2, 2007.[7] The remaining episodes have been made available on Channel 4's UK on-demand internet stream 4od (4 On Demand) in the UK and the Republic of Ireland, as Channel 4 rescreened the series in 2009-10.

Currently, episodes from season 1 are available on Hulu.


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.)
  • 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".) Earlier, however, the recently-widowed Dr. Morrison and his young son spend a day sightseeing in Boston, and have lunch at Bull & Finch Pub replete with its banner announcing itself as the setting of Cheers.
  • St. Eligius orderly Warren Coolidge was played by Byron Stewart, who played a character by the same name in The White Shadow. In one episode, Timothy Van Patten, who played the character "Salami" in The White Shadow, is going down a hallway when Coolidge sees him. Coolidge does a double-take, and then says "Salami?" to which Van Patten's character shakes his head and replies, "Sorry buddy."
  • In a similar event, a recurring character—an amnesiac known as John Doe #6 (Oliver Clark) – watched an episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show on a hospital TV and started believing himself to be the character Mary Richards. Betty White, who played Sue Anne Nivens on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, was a guest star on this episode as a Naval officer; Doe sees her and calls her "Sue Ann!". She responds: "I'm afraid you've mistaken me for someone else."
  • In the same episode, another patient in the psychiatric ward is Elliott Carlin, the resident neurotic from The Bob Newhart Show, as played by veteran character actor Jack Riley; Riley and Clark (as Mr. Herd) frequently shared scenes on that series. 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.
  • Two St. Elsewhere characters were carried over to the NBC series Homicide: Life on the Street, which was executive produced by St. Elsewhere alumnus 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 an offscreen "Dr. Ehrlich". In the Homicide: The Movie finale, Ed Begley, Jr., makes an uncredited appearance as Dr. Victor Ehrlich.
  • Chicago Hope's Dr. Kate Austin (played by Christine Lahti) tells a journalist in Season 2 that her surgery mentor had been Dr. David Domedion. Domideon was also Mark Craig's mentor, and appeared twice on St. Elsewhere, played once by Dean Jagger, and once (in a flashback, as a much younger man) by Jackie Cooper. Craig, Domedion and Austin were all cardiothoracic surgeons.

Awards and nominations

Awards won

Emmy Awards:

  • Outstanding Directing in a Drama Series Mark Tinker (1988)
  • Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series Tom Fontana, John Tinker, John Masius (1986), and Masius, Fontana, and John Ford Noonan (1984)
  • Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series William Daniels (1985 and 1986)
  • Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series Ed Flanders (1983)
  • Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series Bonnie Bartlett (1986 and 1987)
  • Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series James Coco (1983)
  • Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series Doris Roberts (1983)

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)

St. Elsewhere was the first medical drama to ever have an african-american doctor on "staff". This honor established Denzel Washington's place in cinematic and television history.


  1. ^ "Special Collector's Issue: 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time". TV Guide (June 28-July 4). 1997. 
  2. ^ TV Guide Names Top 50 Shows
  3. ^ TV ACRES: Signoffs- Classic Series Finales (St. Elsewhere)
  4. ^ Gallagher, William (May 30, 2003). "TV's strangest endings". BBC News. Retrieved May 24, 2010. 
  5. ^ Feder, Robert (May 26, 1988). "Chicago Sun-Times:: Search". Chicago Sun-Times. 
  6. ^ TV's Most Unforgettable Finales - Aired May 22, 2011 on TV Guide Network
  7. ^

External links

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