J. Alfred Prufrock
Shelly & Holling
The Brick Tavern
Homage to Northern Exp
Set in the fictional hamlet of Cicely, Alaska, "Northern Exposure" is the story of "fish out of water" Dr. Joel Fleischman, compelled to serve as town doctor in order to repay the state of Alaska for his medical school tuition. His initial disdain for Cicely's outwardly unsophisticated inhabitants is exceeded only by his desire to return to his beloved Big Apple where his ambition, cosmopolitan tastes, and Jewishness might have free reign.
The frontier theme is extended and personified in many of the town's multi-cultural, multi-generational denizens. Former astronaut and wealthy entrepreneur Maurice Minnifield (Barry Corbin) is forever devising ways to exploit Cicely's natural wonders. No-nonsense septuagenarian Ruth-Anne Miller (Peg Phillips) operates Cicely's General Store, where Native American Ed Chigliak (Darren E. Burrows) helps out while aspiring to be a filmmaker and, eventually, a shaman. Broadway star John Cullum plays French-Canadian immigrant Holling Vincoeur, who owns and manages Cicely's watering hole, The Brick. He is assisted by girlfriend-turned-wife Shelly Tambo (Cynthia Geary), an ex-beauty queen some forty years his junior. Joel's receptionist, Marilyn Whirlwind (Elaine Miles), orients her "boss," a man of science, to her Native American customs and spirituality while keeping him in line with the slightest grimace or glare. Chris Stevens (John Corbett), ex-con and deejay for Cicely's KBHR "Kaybear" radio, peppers the narrative with eclectic musical selections, self-taught philosophy, and Greek chorus-like commentary. Finally, Maggie O'Connell (Janine Turner), a local bush pilot and Joel's landlady, engages him in a tangled romance reminiscent of 1930s and 1940s screwball comedy. When Joel exited the scene during the 1994-95 season, Dr. Phillip Capra (Paul Provenza) and his journalist-spouse Michelle (Teri Polo) were introduced.
NX ON U.S. CABLENews! January 8, 2005:
The Hallmark Channel airs Northern Exposure early Tuesday morning at 2 am. Go to their Northern Exposure page to see schedule.
You can send email to the Hallmark website but paper mail always makes a bigger impression. Try 12700 Ventura Blvd., Suite 200, Studio City, CA 91604. Maybe we can get them to release the rights.
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Joel: The quintessential "fish-out-of water." Joel is an inveterate New Yorker who has been reluctantly transplanted to the remote town of Cicely, forced by the state of Alaska to serve as town doctor in accordance with the terms of his medical school tuition loan (he owes $125,000 to Columbia University).
Maggie: The beautiful, independent pilot, landlady, and mayor of Cicely. Originally from Grosse Pointe, Michigan, Maggie (Mary Margaret) grew up far away from the Alaskan wilds as the daughter of the youngest CEO in automotive history.
Chris: Cicely's resident disc jockey. Known to quote Walt Whitman, Jung and Dostoevsky over the air on KBHR's "Chris in the Morning Show," Chris also "spins" an off-the-wall musical mix, ranging from jazz to show tunes to rock-n-roll, and provides a running commentary on the offbeat goings-on in Cicely, Alaska. Chris also doubles as the town's minister, ordained by the Worldwide Church of Truth and Beauty after answering an ad at the back of Rolling Stone.
Ed: A young Native American with unclouded observations and an 180 I.Q. Possessing an uncanny sense of timing, Ed often appears out of nowhere, spouting bits of wisdom gleaned from the films of cinema idols, which include Woody Allen, Fellini, and Francis Ford Coppola.
Marilyn: Dr. Joel Fleischman's quietly sage assistant. Marilyn's consistently calm demeanor accentuates Fleischman's neurotic behavior. From the moment they meet at Cicely's makeshift medical office, where Marilyn insists on applying for and accepting a job which Fleischman claims doesn't exist, the doctor knows he has met his match.
Holling: A naturalist and adventurer. Having exchanged his days of big-game hunting to become the proprietor of Cicely's only tavern, "The Brick," Holling's main concerns in life now are keeping the townspeople well fed and keeping Shelly happy.
Shelly: A former Miss Northwest Passage, Shelly lives with her much older lover, Holling Vincoeur, and together they run Cicely's tavern and restaurant "The Brick." She is originally from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, and is the only Canadian citizen in Cicely. Shelly is also known for her unique fashion sense, often seen sporting spandex.
Ruth Ann: A wise storekeeper who dispenses psychological insight with each purchase. A woman who has lived through it all and has learned to appreciate life for everything it has to offer. Proprietor of a one-stop shop which serves as everything from the library, post office, local market, to the video store, her quiet strength, wise words, and life experiences guide the town through their many crazy predicaments. She has two sons: an investment banker and a poet.
Town patriarch of Cicely. A burly ex-astronaut and gung-ho president of the Cicely Chamber of Commerce, Maurice sees Cicely as a haven of limitless potential, soon to be the new "Alaskan Riviera."
It is around intermittent characters that some of Exposure's most ground-breaking episodes and themes have emerged. Chris's African-American half-brother Bernard (Richard Cummings, Jr.) and Marilyn's healer cousin Leonard Quinhagak, played by noted film actor Graham Greene (Dances With Wolves), deepen and enhance the show's representation of multi-culture. Gender and sexuality are explored through Ron (Doug Ballard) and Erick (Don R. McManus), proprietors of the local inn, whose gay wedding was a prime-time first. Ron and Erick's arrival also helped to provide a larger context within which to recollect the town's founding by a lesbian couple, Roslyn and Cicely, later featured in a flashback episode. Eccentric bush couple Adam (Adam Arkin) and Eve (Valerie Mahaffey) allude to the ongoing battle of the sexes rendered center stage by Joel and Maggie and, with their exaggerated, back-to-nature facade and conspicuously consumptive habits, poke lighthearted fun at Exposure's "yuppie" audience.
The "fish out of water" narrative exemplified by Joel's gradual softening toward Cicely, Cicelians, and small-town life is replicated again and again in episodes about visitors who give of themselves in some fashion while becoming enriched by their interactions with worldly wise, innately intelligent, and accepting locals. Humanity's place within the larger natural environment is another significant thematic thread running through the program's extended text. Behavior and temperament are often seen to be influenced by phenomena such as seasonal winds, Northern Lights, midnight sun, and ice breaking in springtime. The lesson is clear: nature tames human beings--not the other way around.
Northern Exposure, perhaps the best example to date of a crossbred television "dramedy," began inauspiciously as a CBS replacement series in the summer of 1990 and quickly garnered critical acclaim as well as an audience sufficient to warrant its return for a short stint the following year. Its popularity grew, and for its first complete season, 1992, Exposure received ratings in the top twenty, the Emmy for Best Television Drama, and an unusual, two-year commitment from the network. During its fifth full year, 1995, the show's future appeared questionable. The mid-season departure of one of its key players, Rob Morrow, and a move from its established, Monday night time slot to Wednesday, contributed to a decline in ratings and reputation. The program was canceled by the network at the end of the season.
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