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Rob Morrow (Joel Fleischman) and his representatives spent much of Seasons 4 and 5 lobbying for an improved contract, and intermittently threatened to leave the show. The producers responded by reducing Fleischman's role in the storylines, and introducing characters such as Mike Monroe (season 4) and Dr. Phil Capra (season 6) to partially compensate for the absence of Morrow.
New York City native Joel Fleischman is a fish out of water adjusting to Alaska. A recently graduated physician, Fleischman is sent to practice in Anchorage for several years to repay the state of Alaska for underwriting his medical education. However, much to his chagrin, he is assigned to the much smaller, remote, fictional town of Cicely, which is in need of a general practitioner.
Cast and characters
Cynthia Geary, Rob Morrow, and Janine Turner at the 1993 Emmy Awards
Peg Phillips and Barry Corbin at the 1993 Emmy Awards
Joel Fleischman (Rob Morrow) is a neurotic young Jewish physician from New York City. Fresh out of family medicine residency, he is legally contracted to practice medicine for four years in Alaska according to the terms of a student loan underwritten by the state. Expecting to work in a relatively large, modern hospital in Anchorage, he is unexpectedly reassigned to the small town of Cicely, where he is a proverbial fish out of water. His struggles to adjust to his very unfamiliar new environment drive the plot in many episodes, especially in the early seasons. Morrow left the show midway through its final season due to a contract dispute. His character's departure was handled by having him "go native", abandoning Cicely for a remote fishing village and embracing the wilderness in a search for spiritual enlightenment.
Maurice Minnifield (Barry Corbin) is a multi-millionaire businessman, retired fighter pilot and celebrated former astronaut who moved to the area decades before upon retiring from the military. Maurice owns Cicely's newspaper and radio station (KBHR 570 AM) and 15,000 acres (61 km2) of land near the town which he hopes to develop into the "Alaskan Riviera". It is Maurice who arranged to bring Joel to the town, which previously did not have a physician. Beneath a thin veneer of gentility, he is pompous, overbearing, and openly bigoted, leading to conflicts with other residents, such as the gay couple Ron and Eric. Despite his habitual demeanor, Maurice can be generous, and he aids almost every other major character in some way during the show's run. He brings the much younger Shelly Tambo to Cicely, but it is his best friend Holling Vincoeur who wins her heart.
Maggie O'Connell (Janine Turner) is a tomboy-ish Grosse Pointedebutante turned Alaska bush pilot. Maggie and Joel quickly develop a love-hate relationship, with their opposing views on most subjects coupled with unacknowledged attraction resulting in sexual tension during the series' early seasons. They become romantically involved later in the show's run, and it is their breakup that is the impetus for Joel to leave Cicely during the last season. A running theme through the series is that all of Maggie's romantic partners die strange deaths, leading her to believe that she suffers from an "O'Connell Curse". The character of Maggie was inspired by the real-life aviator Norah O'Neill, who wrote the book Flying Tigress, about her experiences flying in the Alaskan bush in the 1970s.
Holling Vincoeur (John Cullum) is the Canadian-born sexagenarian owner and operator of The Brick, a popular local bar and restaurant and mayor at the beginning of the show. He and Maurice are old friends, though their relationship was strained at one time by their mutual romantic interest in Shelly Tambo, whom Holling ends up marrying. Though at least forty years older than Shelly, he looks much younger than his age, and he fears that he will eventually outlive her since most men in his family live well past 100 and spend their final years as heartbroken widowers.
Shelly Tambo (Cynthia Geary) is another Canadian expatriate and former Miss Northwest Passage. She was brought to Cicely by Maurice, who had hoped to marry her. Instead, she chose Holling and became a waitress at The Brick. Though seemingly naive and flighty, she regularly shows flashes of unexpected wisdom. The character was planned to be of Native American descent until Geary was selected for the role.
Chris Stevens (John Corbett) is a philosophical free spirit and ex-convict who works as the disc jockey at KBHR 570 AM. Between songs, Chris offers comments on events in Cicely and on more intellectual and controversial subjects, often leading to conflict with station owner Maurice Minnifield, who fires and rehires him several times during the series run. The first of these conflicts came when Chris read Leaves of Grass and Maurice stormed the studio, decked Chris and fired him, not over the reading of poem but suggesting Whitman was homosexual. Chris is also a non-denominational clergyman and occasionally officiates at weddings.
Ruth-Anne Miller (Peg Phillips) is the elderly and level-headed owner of the local general store and a 30-year resident of Cicely. A widow, Ruth-Anne lives alone until late in the series, when she becomes involved with Walt Kupfer (Moultrie Patten), a fur trapper and retired stockbroker. She too is a film buff and, along with Holling, a keen birder. She has two adult sons, one of whom is a stock broker. He comes to see her in one episode.
Marilyn Whirlwind (Elaine Miles) is Joel's remarkably patient Native Alaskan receptionist. Her few words and calm demeanor are a strong contrast to her employer's loquaciousness and high-strung temperament.
In the show's last season, two new characters were introduced to try to fill the void left by Morrow's departure:
Phil Capra (Paul Provenza), a doctor from Los Angeles who is recruited as Joel's replacement after Joel takes to the wilderness.
Michelle Schowdowski Capra (Teri Polo), Phil's wife. She also works as a reporter for a newspaper owned by Maurice.
Although the town of Cicely is widely thought to be patterned after the real town of Talkeetna, Alaska, the main street of Cicely and the filming location was that of Roslyn, Washington, located in the Cascade Mountains. "Northern Exposure II" (the main production facility) was located in Redmond, Washington, in what is now the headquarters of Genie Industries, (Genie (Terex)) behind a business park.
According to The Northern Exposure Book, the moose in the opening titles was named Mort and was provided by Washington State University, where he was part of a captive herd. To film the opening sequence, the crew fenced off Roslyn, set Mort loose, and lured him around with food.
On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the first season of Northern Exposure has a score of 100% based on six reviews, with an average rating of 7.0/10. On Metacritic, which uses a weighted score, the first season is rated 80 based on seven reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews," while the second season received an 83 based on nine, indicating "universal acclaim".
Season 6 (Monday at 10 pm; Wednesday at 9 pm): 11.2 rating (highest rated episode: Eye of the Beholder; 13.7 rating)
Over the course of Northern Exposure's run, the series was nominated for over fifty Emmy Awards and multiple Golden Globe awards. The series won a pair of consecutive Peabody Awards: in 1991-92 for the show's "depict[ion] in a comedic and often poetic way, [of] the cultural clash between a transplanted New York City doctor and the townspeople of fictional Cicely, Alaska" and its stories of "people of different backgrounds and experiences" clashing but who ultimately "strive to accept their differences and co-exist".
Universal Studios Home Entertainment has released all six seasons on DVD in Regions 1, 2 and 4. The Region 1 DVD releases have caused controversy among the show's fans due to their high prices and the changes to the soundtrack introduced in order to lower their costs. The release of Season 1 contained the original music, but retailed for $60 due to the cost of music licensing. Subsequent seasons replaced most of the music with generic elevator-style music, resulting in a lower-cost release. The first and second seasons were also re-released together in packaging that matches the third through sixth seasons.
The Complete First Season
May 25, 2004
May 21, 2001
February 18, 2004
The Complete Second Season
November 30, 2004
May 9, 2005
July 13, 2005
The Complete Third Season
June 14, 2005
January 30, 2006
March 8, 2006
The Complete Fourth Season
March 28, 2006
July 31, 2006
September 20, 2006
The Complete Fifth Season
November 13, 2006
January 22, 2007
February 21, 2007
The Complete Sixth and Final Season
March 6, 2007
June 25, 2007
July 4, 2007
The Complete Series
November 13, 2007
October 8, 2007
November 11, 2009
On March 19, 2018, Fabulous Films released the entire series on Blu-Ray in the UK. Unlike the DVD releases, all of the original music is intact. This Blu-Ray release is a Region "B" release and a Region-Free Blu-Ray player is required to play it in the United States [Region "A"].
In 2016, Darren Burrows and his production company, Film Farms, held a crowdfunding campaign to fund a development project with the goal of creating more episodes of Northern Exposure. The working title for this project is "Northern Exposure: Home Again" according to the "More Northern Exposure Now" website. Despite not meeting the original $100,000 goal, Darren decided to continue with the project.
On June 17, 2016, Film Farms announced on their Facebook page that writer David Assael had been hired to write for the project. He previously wrote several episodes of Northern Exposure, including "Russian Flu," "Spring Break," and "It Happened in Juneau," among others. Originally envisioned as a two-hour "visit to Cicely," a 10 episode format is currently being pitched for network, cable, or streaming venues.
On November 20, 2018, it was reported that a revival series is in development at CBS, with Joshua Brand, John Falsey and Rob Morrow executive producing. Falsey died in January 2019. Morrow would return as Dr. Joel Fleischman. John Corbett was named as producer but his appearance as performer was not confirmed.
^Mark Harris & Kelli Pryor (26 July 1991). "Total Exposure". Entertainment Weekly. (via Moosechick Notes, a fansite). Archived from the original on 21 May 2009. Retrieved 2009. The loyalty the show excites even reached into network offices. "Of course it will be back next September," said one senior CBS executive long before the series was renewed. "My God, there are people here who would start a hanging party if it weren't." When CBS, thirsting for younger viewers, brought Exposure back this spring, it became a top 10 hit among the coveted audience of 18 to 49 year-olds. In the 10 p.m. Monday time slot following Designing Women, the show is drawing its best ratings ever.