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St. Elsewhere is a American medical drama that originally ran on NBC from October 26, 1982 to May 25, 1988. The series is set at St. Eligius, a decaying urban teaching hospital in Bostonmarker's South End neighborhoodmarker. The hospital's nickname, "St. Elsewhere," is a slang term used both in the medical industry to refer to poor hospitals that serve patients not wanted by more prestigious institutions, and 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, and referred to by Dr. 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 20th Century Fox Studios, which wound up acquiring the rights to the series years later.


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, 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 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 to propel the careers of Harmon and Washington to the ranks of film and television superstardom, which they enjoyed subsequent to the series.)


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


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?" (A reference to the rock opera, Tommy by The Who) 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. 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 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".

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" (from Richard Wagner's opera, Der Ring des Nibelungen) (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 his 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 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.


In the third season episode, "Breathless", Auschlander asks Westphall if he'd ever met St. Eligius founder Father McCabe, and he respond no, but in the fourth season "Time Heals" episode, flashback scenes show Father McCabe acting as a mentor to a teenaged Westphall.

Current runs

The series is currently being aired in the U.S.A. on the American Life Network (ALN) Monday through Thursday evenings, and in the U.K. on Channel 4.

DVD releases

In 2006, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment released the complete first season of St. Elsewhere on DVD in Region 1. Fox Home Entertainment has stated there are no plans to bring any remaining seasons to DVD.

According to the site, there was an article dated August 31 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 released in the UK under Channel4DVD, and has been discontinued. The remaining episodes are available on Channel 4's UK on-demand internet stream 4od (4 On Demand) in the UK and the Republic of Ireland.

Currently, episodes from season 1 are available on Hulu.

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

Production notes

  • The reestablishment of the "guest actor/actress..." Emmy Award categories is generally attributed to a first season episode St. Elsewhere. From 1978 until 1987, guest performances were treated as supporting actors/actresses. James Coco and Doris Roberts both won the 1983 Emmys for Best Supporting Actor and Actress for their sole episode, "Cora and Arnie", airing 23 November 1982. As a result, no regular castmember of any drama series won a supporting actor Emmy in 1983.
  • 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. Ironically, the discontinuation of the Orange Line's use of the elevated tracks was referred to in dialogue near the end of the final season's premiere episode as Dr. Morrison mistakenly began to walk toward Washington Street to board the train, and location shooting around the "hospital" exterior had been performed in advance of the season (thereby providing an unused opportunity to refilm the anachronistic footage), yet the Orange Line continued to be shown throughout the season.
  • 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. A number of the older cast members (Flanders, Daniels, Pickles and Lloyd) played younger versions of their characters during some of the flashback scenes. "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, Michael Learned, Betty White, Michael Madsen, Stephen Elliott, Ernie Hudson, Kate Mulgrew, Kathy Bates, John Astin, Michael Richards, Austin Pendleton, Kyle Secor, Jason Bateman, Tim Thomerson, Harold Gould, Bill Macy, Herb Edelman, Alex Rocco, Brenda Vaccaro, Blythe Danner (wife of producer Bruce Paltrow), Eva Le Gallienne, 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 was 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 the episode "Dog Day Hospital" a vasectomy is conducted, which would be prohibited by the Catholic Church. According to "Time Heals," St. Eligius was founded as a Catholic hospital, but in the time frame of the series it is owned by the city of Boston.

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.) The joke was returned on an episode of Degrassi Junior High, in which various St. Elsewhere characters and "Dr." Bruce Paltrow are paged while one of that series' characters visits her father in hospital.
  • 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 Pubmarker replete with its banner announcing itself as the setting of Cheers.
  • 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.
  • 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 none other than 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." Mr. Carlin was apparently later released and moved north to Vermont, as a nearly identical line was delivered by a psychologist when Jack Riley made a cameo appearance as Carlin on Newhart.
  • 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 a "Dr. Ehrlich." In the Homicide: The Movie finale, Ed Begley, Jr., makes an uncredited appearance as Dr. Victor Ehrlich.
  • In the final season of Oz, it is revealed that Nurse Carol Grace, who has been murdering prisoners in the infirmery, came to Oz from St. Eligius in Boston.

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 Americamarker:
  • 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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