Returning guest blogger Sunny Frazier, whose first novel in the Christy Bristol Astrology Mysteries, Fools Rush In, received the Best Novel Award from Public Safety Writers Association, is here today to reminisce about a wonderful TV show, “Northern Exposure”.
The third Christy Bristol Astrology Mystery, A Snitch in Time, is in bookstores now.
Once upon a time there was a town in Alaska that didn’t exist. People in America wanted to believe it was real, clung every week to the characters who lived there and their quirks, plus a philosophical DJ who was the flawed moral center of the town. We followed the journey of a NYC doctor who wound up in the frozen North, unhappy with conditions and mystified with the mindsets.
Dr. Joel was finally won over, as were the viewing audience of “Northern Exposure”. The show premiered in 1990 as a summer filler and lasted five years. Its pedigree was solid, one of the producer’s past credits was “St. Elsewhere”. The NBC show rated #10 in viewers between 18-49 and won 27 awards. I think it was one of the most intelligent TV offerings we’ve ever been exposed to and nothing on today compares.
The premise is a tried and true fish-out-of-water story. Jewish New York doctor is assigned to work in isolated Cicely, Alaska, population 215. He’s sent there as per terms of his scholarship. He’s the only doctor within 500 miles. But there is Maggie, who flies a small airplane and believes she is cursed as each boyfriend dies in strange ways. Ed, an orphan raised by the Tlingit natives, is an auteur filmmaker. Maurice, a former astronaut and multi-millionaire, is determined to bring the town into the modern era. Holling is an old man who owns his bar, the Brick. He’s in love with Shelly, a girl one-third his age. Ruth-Ann owns the only grocery store in town. Holding all this together is DJ Chris-in-the-Morning and KBHR radio station, his weapon of choice. He dishes out philosophy along with tidbits of his life, a wide range of music, advice and local news. Everybody tunes in.
The backstory of the town of Cicely is this: over 100 years ago two lesbians wound up in the town when their automobile broke down. Cecily and Rosalyn stayed because it was good for Cecily’s health. They introduced poetry and art to the people. When Cecily died, Rosalyn moved on and left behind a place for creativity and acceptance.
The actors weren’t stars but a few would become known. John Corbett was the break-out as Chris Stevens, recently out of prison. He found enlightenment behind bars. Wanderlust led him to Cicely, where he became the voice of the town. From our TVs we listened to him paraphrase Jung and Nietzsche, praise Whitman and cite philosophers we’d never heard of. The incredible writing and references were never dumbed down for viewers. Corbett went on to “Sex and the City” playing Carrie’s carpenter boyfriend.
In the mid-90’s, my husband and I and my best girlfriend went to Rosalyn, WA, where “Northern Exposure” was filmed. It’s a real town, 80 miles east of Seattle in the Cascade Mountains. Population 893. Founded in 1886, the town survived on coal mining and timber. It’s now a historical site. They were filming that day, so we saw Joel and Maggie. All of the tourists were herded to an empty lot while Maurice drove his Cadillac repeatedly down the street for take after take. One of the tourists was selected to be an extra because he was wearing a plaid flannel shirt. We ate at Rosalyn’s Café and found a tiny gift shop. I bought a logo t-shirt.
The shirt is too small now. I’m thinking of sending it to my friend’s granddaughter. She won’t know the show but she might find it retro. Seniors my age will look at it and smile. Once upon a time, TV was graced with a smart, funny, philosophical little show that exposed us to so many important things in life.