Synopsis of TV Show
It was gritty, it was poignant, it would break your heart time and time again, but you couldn’t take your eyes off of St. Elsewhere. The show was hyped as “Hill Street in a hospital,” and much like Hill Street Blues, this medical drama completely changed the rules for one-hour television, setting the stage for every ER and Chicago Hope that would follow.
The show’s title came from the nickname of Boston’s St. Eligius hospital—when patients couldn’t afford pricier medical treatment, they were shipped to “St. Elsewhere.” Not that the medical staff of St. Eligius was any less competent or caring than those of other hospitals... Dr. Donald Westphall, St. Eligius’ chief of staff, was as highly praised as any physician in the area, and chief of surgery Dr. Mark Craig may have been a semi-heartless egomaniac, but his skills were unquestioned. Womanizing Dr. Ben Samuels was another first-season star, and the wide ensemble cast also featured young surgeon Dr. Victor Ehrlich (the brunt of Dr. Craig’s most caustic comments), workaholic Dr. Jack Morrison, practical joker Dr. Wayne Fiscus, Nurse Helen Rosenthal (who had a long fight with breast cancer), kind-hearted Dr. Annie Cavanero, hospital administrator Dr. Daniel Auschlander (who battled his own medical problems after being diagnosed with liver cancer), and many, many more.
St. Elsewhere prided itself on its realistic portrayal of life on the edge of death—patients didn’t always make it, doctors sometimes screwed up, and the staff’s lives didn’t begin and end inside the hospital walls. St. Eligius was also a well-known teaching hospital, and young interns came and went over the show’s run. The pressure got to be too much for some. Dr. Peter White became a serial rapist, stopped only when Nurse Shirley Daniels shot and killed him. And for Dr. Wendy Armstrong, the guilt over losing a baby through her misdiagnosis was so great that she ended up committing suicide.
If St. Elsewhere sounds a bit like a prime time soap opera, in one sense it was, but the show was also much more than that. There were moments of high comedy, moments of pure surrealism (such as Dr. Fiscus’ trip to Heaven, Hell and Purgatory after being shot), and more boundary-pushing TV writing than any drama this side of Hill Street. The show also rewarded careful viewers, throwing in references to other TV shows (including a visit to Cheers) and bringing back forgotten characters from earlier seasons in surprising new roles later on.
The highlights were many—a two-parter celebrating the 50th anniversary of St. Eligius (complete with flashbacks to the character’s younger lives), the first TV episode dealing with the then-new AIDS virus, Dr. Westphall’s memorable farewell gesture to new chief of services Dr. John Gideon (hint: it involved dropped pants) and too many more to mention. Stories continued from week to week, but you never knew when a sudden shock would turn your expectations around. It was too much for some, and the show was nearly cancelled after its first season. But NBC stuck with St. Elsewhere, and the network was rewarded with several Emmy awards and a legion of fiercely loyal viewers.
The hospital was taken over by a more business-minded private health corporation in the show’s sixth season (the cause of Dr. Westphall’s exit), and by the end of the 1987-88 season, the series came to an end with one last shocker: At the close of the series finale, Donald Westphall (now a blue-collar worker) takes a St. Eligius snow globe from the hands of his autistic son Tommy, implying that the whole series was but a young boy’s dream. Perhaps more than any other moment on the show, this bizarre ending encapsulated what everybody loved about St. Elsewhere: it was unexpected, it was downright puzzling, but you couldn’t stop talking about it, and above all, you couldn’t stop watching.
Release History of Prime Time Show10/26/82 - 5/25/88 NBC
TV Sub Categoriesdrama
Television StudioMTM Enterprises Inc.
TV CastDr. Donald Westphall Ed Flanders
Dr. Mark Craig William Daniels
Dr. Ben Samuels (1982-83) David Birney
Dr. Victor Ehrlich Ed Begley Jr.
Dr. Jack Morrison David Morse
Dr. Annie Cavanero (1982-85) Cynthia Sikes
Dr. Wayne Fiscus Howie Mandel
Dr. Cathy Martin (1982-86) Barbara Whinnery
Dr. Peter White (1982-85) Terence Knox
Dr. Hugh Beale (1982-83) G.W. Bailey
Nurse Helen Rosenthal Christina Pickles
Dr. Phillip Chandler Denzel Washington
Dr. V.J. Kochar (1982-84) Kavi Raz
Dr. Wendy Armstrong (1982-84) Kim Miyori
Dr. Daniel Auschlander Norman Lloyd
Nurse Shirley Daniels (1982-85) Ellen Bry
rest of cast listed alphabetically
Tommy Westphall Chad Allen
Mrs. Ellen Craig Bonnie Bartlett
Father Joseph McCabe Edward Herrmann
Orderly Luther Hawkins Eric Laneuville
Erin Scheinfeld Cady McClain
Nurse Lucy Papandrao Jennifer Savidge
Elizabeth Westphall Dana Short
Orderly Warren Coolidge Byron Stewart
Myra White (1982-84) Karen Landry
Dr. Elliot Axelrod (1983-88) Stephen Furst
Dr. Robert Caldwell (1983-86) Mark Harmon
Dr. Jaqueline Wade (1983-88) Sagan Lewis
Dr. Michael Ridley (1983-84) Paul Sand
Joan Halloran (1983-84) Nancy Stafford
Mrs. Hufnagel (1984-85) Florence Halop
Clancy Williams (1984-86) Helen Hunt
Dr. Alan Poe (1984-85) Brian Tochi
Terri Valere (1985-86) Deborah May
Dr. Roxanne Turner (1985-87) Alfre Woodard
Dr. Seth Griffin (1986-88) Bruce Greenwood
Dr. Paulette Kiem (1986-88) France Nuyen
Dr. Carol Novino (1986-88) Cindy Pickett
Joanne McFadden (1986-88) Patricia Wettig
Dr. John Gideon (1987-88) Ronny Cox