St. Elsewhere

St. Elsewhere

The formula for 80s cop drama Hill St. Blues proved so successful that Hollywood execs decided to try it in a hospital setting. The result was St. Elsewhere, a poignant and gritty drama that kept fans entertained for six seasons as they followed the daily lives of a staff of doctors and a collection of colorful patients at St. Eligius, a run down teaching hospital in Boston.

Debuting in 1982, the series didn’t waste any time getting into the controversial stuff, with the first episode revolving around a newly discovered virus called AIDS. Episodes often were too big to be contained in a single week, leading to numerous two-part offerings, such as the 50th anniversary of St. Eligius, which provided plenty of backstory on the history of the staff. And what a staff they were.

The list of actors that appeared on the show included such veterans as Ed Flanders, David Birney, William Daniels and Norman Lloyd; some unexpected faces in Howie Mandell, Stephen Furst and Ed. Begley Jr.; and some Hollywood unknowns who would go on to make quite a name for themselves such as Denzel Washington and Helen Hunt.

Often when they least expected it, St. Elsewhere loved to throw audiences plenty of plot curveballs, so much so that NBC wondered if it was too much for its viewers to handle and considered pulling the plug after the first season.

But there was something undeniably special about St. Elsewhere, and clearer heads at the network prevailed. The risk was rewarded when the show started racking up numerous Emmy Awards, while ratings reflected that a significant portion of the population was thoroughly hooked.

In the show’s sixth season, the hospital was taken over by corporate interests, leading to Dr. Westphall’s resignation and in the final episode, producers couldn’t resist shocking their viewers one last time, when Donald Westphall, now appearing as if he is a regular old blue collar worker, removes a St. Eligius themed snowglobe from the hands of his young autistic son, suggesting that the entire series was nothing more than a young boy’s vivid imagination at play.

Some shows might not have been able to get away with such a far-fetched premise, but the producers of St. Elsewhere knew the tastes of their followers, who were sure to be disappointed with any ending that didn’t concoct a strange twist. That’s why they tuned in, and what made St. Elsewhere one of the most memorable hospital dramas to emerge from the 80s.

Did you tune in faithfully to St. Elsewhere back in the day? We’d love to hear all of your thoughts on this beloved series in our comments section below.

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