St. Elsewhere

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Airing on NBC from 1982-1988, St. Elsewhere was the first prime-time Medical Drama in almost a decade to use Continuity for Character Development. It would be a model for many shows that followed it, including ER.

It was about the staff, and to a lesser extent the patients, in the rundown hospital St. Eligius (nicknamed "St. Elsewhere"). It was Soap Operatic at times and had numerous Very Special Episodes. It ran for six seasons, appeared to have strong Continuity for the most part, was written well enough for the most part that people got attached to the characters, had crossed over with numerous other network properties, and it was both popular and critically acclaimed while it was running. It was truly Must-See TV.

St. Elsewhere is now remembered as the definitive All Just a Dream series, and the entire run can be seen here...in the UK only. [1]


Tropes used in St. Elsewhere include:
  • All Just a Dream: The finale.
  • All There Is to Know About "The Crying Game"
  • And Starring: William Daniels gets an "and starring as Dr. Mark Craig" credit in the open.
  • Anyone Can Die: Not even Santa Claus and Mimsie, MTM Enterprises' adorable kitten mascot, are safe.
  • Ascended Extra: Dr. Jackie Wade (Sagan Lewis) goes from a character with one line in the pilot to recurring character in the same season before getting promoted to the opening titles in Season 6.
  • Bear Trap Bed
  • Break the Cutie: Poor Cathy Martin. After being raped twice and beaten by Peter White, she is irrevocably broken.
  • Break the Haughty: Dr. Craig. His son dies, his artificial heart patient regrets his surgery and then dies, he punches a mirror and injures his hand, leaving him unable to operate, and his wife leaves him and begins an affair with another man. They eventually reconcile. Oh, and in one episode, he's mistaken for being homeless.
  • Bunny Ears Lawyer: The nymphomaniac Hospital Hottie, pathologist Dr. Cathy Martin.
  • The Bus Came Back: Shirley Daniels, twice.
  • Bus Crash: Bobby Caldwell's (off-screen) death from AIDS in the finale.
  • Butt Monkey: Boomer Morrison, literally.
    • Let's see, his wife dies tragically, his toddler son disappears (but eventually is found), he gets raped during a prison riot by the husband of a former patient in an especially brutal Call Back to Season 1, and then later said rapist escapes prison, stalks Boomer, and finally takes him and his new wife and kids hostage, only to be saved when Boomer's son, who's around six by now, shoots the rapist dead. Boomer's entire arc on the show can be described as It Got Worse.
  • Call Back: Early in Season 1, a sociopathic domestic terrorist detonates a bomb in a bank, killing and wounding many, including the bomber. The causalities are brought to St. Eligius, including the bomber. The husband of one of the victims comes to the hospital, and after his wife dies ends up wondering around aimlessly throughout the episode. Finally, when the time comes to transfer the bomber to the US Marshals, the distraught husband appears out of nowhere and shoots the bomber dead. Roll credits. Now, flash forward several seasons. Boomer Morrison is volunteering at a prison clinic, where he ends up treating the husband who's been serving hard time for murdering the bomber. Somehow during the episode, a prison riot breaks out, Boomer ends up being taken hostage by the husband who then proceeds to make with the prison rape. It's stuff like this that makes the show memorable for its continuity.
  • Catch Phrase: Dr. Craig: "Oh, for crying out loud!".
  • Celebrity Paradox: Sort of. In the second season episode "Hello and Goodbye", Morrison takes his son to "the bar that inspired Cheers", but then in the third season episode "Cheers", Dr. Craig and Dr. Westphall visit the bar from Cheers where they interact with the characters from the show!
  • Christmas Episode: A particularly heart-wrenching one following the death of the Craigs' son, which is also the one where they actually kill off Santa Claus himself!!
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Drs. Ben Samuels and Annie Cavanero both disappear without explanation.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Dr. Cathy Martin.
  • CPR: Clean, Pretty, Reliable: Sometimes played straight, but often averted.
  • Crossover: The show had connections with a number of other shows and had minor crossovers with others including Cheers of all things.
  • Cuckoo Nest: Either a subversion, or a really hardcore example.
  • Digging Yourself Deeper: Erlich is an expert at this trope.
  • Downer Ending: The finale's reveal that it was an "All Just a Dream" Mind Screw, although that evidently wasn't enough since the credits make it worse by killing Mimsie, the kitten mascot. You Bastard. [2]
  • Dr. Jerk: Dr. Craig and Dr. Erlich.
  • Drugs Are Bad: Dr. Peter White. Also, Helen Rosenthal went into drug rehab due to an addiction to prescription pain killers.
  • The Eighties
  • Everybody Smokes: Especially in the early episodes. Patients smoke in their rooms and doctors smoke in the hallways, and it's all quite jarring for a modern audience.
  • Every Episode Ending: Every episode ends with the picture freezing on the last few seconds of action.
  • Face Heel Turn: Dr. White.
  • Furry Fandom: The Birdman of St. Elsewhere is probably the Ur Example in mainstream media. Ironically, he's written with considerably more nuance and sensitivity than most people who think they're animals are written on TV today, now that furry fandom is more widely known, and heavily associated with squickiness. The show still used him mostly for laughs, although it avoided making viewers look down their nose at him, and when the Birdman decides he can fly away from the hospital by jumping off the roof...nobody's laughing.
  • Gone Horribly Right: Dr. Craig's artificial heart patient ended up feeling like a freak, with a side of What Have I Become?.
  • Gratuitous Rape: Dr. Morrison couldn't catch a break.
  • Hahvahd Yahd in My Cah
  • Heroic Sacrifice: While he's being treated for a massive heart attack that almost killed him, Dr. Elliot Axelrod's room-mate goes into a Code Blue situation. Elliot, despite being on his last legs, gets out of bed to help as he's technically the closest doctor around. The strain and the stress of cause Axelrod to have another heart attack, but even while dying himself he gets the patient's heart restarted.
  • Hollywood Tourette's: One Very Special Episode featured a homeless woman with Tourette's who spewed profanity and racial slurs...or at least TV-friendly versions including "ssss!" and "nnnnn!".
  • Hospital Gurney Scene: All the time.
  • I Have This Friend: Erlich tries this one a lot.
  • Instrumental Theme Tune: Composed by Dave Grusin. Hear it here.
  • Intercontinuity Crossover: Several, which raises some interesting questions...
  • It Got Worse: Lots and lots of times, especially Jack Morrison (see Butt Monkey above).
  • It Is Not Your Time: Wayne Fiscus' near-death experience after being shot by an ER patient.
  • Killed Off for Real: Duh.
    • Main characters who were Killed Off for Real include Dr. White (shot by Shirley Daniels),Nina Morrison's sudden death due to a freak slip-and-fall head injury, Wendy Armstrong's suicide,Mrs. Huffnagel getting eaten by her hospital bed, and Elliot Axelrod's heart attack. Not to mention Dr. Auschlander's death in the series finale.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: Especially in the first couple of seasons.
  • Logo Joke: The MTM kitten meows while in a surgical outfit, which is adorable. At the very end of the Grand Finale, she flatlines and dies...which is about the only way you could possibly make the Downer Ending-All Just a Dream Mind Screw worse.
  • Magical Defibrillator: Frequently, but not always.
  • Marijuana Is LSD: When Dr. Auschlander asks Dr. Fiscus to get him some pot to help with the side effects of chemo, Intoxication Ensues.
  • Mind Screw: Guess. Go on, guess.
  • Mistaken for Gay: Dr. Craig and Dr. Westphall, along with Dr. Craig and Dr. Erlich.
  • Napoleon Delusion: "John Doe #6", a patient in the psych ward who suffered from amnesia and imagined himself at various times to be different people including Mary Richards, John McEnroe, and Dr. Craig.
  • Near-Death Experience: Fiscus has one after getting shot in "After Life".
  • Not What It Looks Like: Several times.
  • Phrase Catcher: Especially throughout Season 2: "You're a pig, Ehrlich."
  • "Previously On..." / "On the Next...": Every episode began with a summary of previous events that were pertinent to the episode, and then a little snippet of events from that night's episode.
  • Promotion to Opening Titles: Happens to several characters over the years.
  • Put on a Bus: Several characters, but most notably Shirley Daniels and Bobby Caldwell.
  • Rape as Drama: One season had a running story arc about a rapist preying on the hospital. The rapist was series regular Dr. White, who a nurse ends up shooting dead in cold blood.
  • Recycled in Space: Early ads said it was "Hill Street Blues IN A HOSPITAL!"
  • Revenge: Shirley Daniels shoots Dr. White to avenge the rape of Cathy Martin. If you watch the scene carefully, you'll see that she actually shoots him twice...and, appropriately, the first shot isn't to the heart.
  • Sanity Slippage: The residency program, coupled with marital problems, eventually became too much for Dr. White.
  • Scenery Censor: A few times.
  • Series Continuity Error: In a season two episode, Dr. Westphall tells a family that he doesn't believe in taking comatose patients off of life support, and yet in the Season 4 Whole-Episode Flashback "Time Heals", he is shown personally disconnecting his brain dead wife from life support, which happened several years before the events of the Season 2 episode!
  • Shout-Out: Dr. Craig starts singing "Sit Down, John" from 1776 when the Craigs go to Philadelphia.
    • In one episode, Dr. Beale (the psychiatrist) is heard speaking with someone on the phone: "I'm sure your daughter-in-law isn't a witch, Mrs. Stevens... you saw the sofa levitating?"
    • In the morgue: "Patient #4077, Blake, Henry. Cause of death: Plane crash."
    • Reference is made to a one-armed patient being sought by a "Dr. Kimble".
    • In the second season episode "After Dark", Shirley Daniels goes to the morgue to get "the report on that Hassllehoff car wreck".
    • Overheard on the hospital PA at least once:
  • The Shrink: Dr. Beale in Season One, and Dr. Ridley in Season Two.
  • Slap Slap Kiss: Victor Erlich and Lucy Papandrao.
  • Southies
  • Surfer Dude: Erlich's best friend Dogger. Dogger implies that Erlich also fit this trope before he moved to the East Coast.
  • Surgeons Can Do Autopsies If They Want: Unusually for a medical drama, this is mostly averted.
  • Surprise Pregnancy: Happened to an obese woman in "Hearts", and to a severally developmentally disabled women after she and a similarly-disabled young man get it on. It's kind of hard to believe this show was on network TV.
  • Title Montage
  • That Came Out Wrong: Erlich, all the time.
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Heart transplant patient Eve Leighton.
  • The Troubles: In the Season 2 episode "Under Pressure", two Irish boys, one Catholic and one Protestant, end up in the ER after fighting. One boy's mother references The Troubles by name.
  • Uncle Tomfoolery: Luther, in earlier seasons. Dr. Chandler even called him out on it. Luther eventually got better in later seasons, first becoming a paramedic and then studying to become a physician's assistant.
  • Vanity Plate
  • Very Special Episode
  • Whole-Episode Flashback: Fourth season episodes "Time Heals (Part 1)" and "Time Heals (Part 2)", in which we see St. Eligius in its early days, Dr. Auschlander as a young doctor, and Dr. Westphall as an angry young juvenile delinquent. Also features Dr. Craig as an arrogant, sycophantic resident and Helen Rosenthal as a young newlywed.
  1. We'll just leave this right here...
  2. To be fair, they just used a photo of a different {not dead} cat lying on its side. Mimsie did die later that year, though.