At the recent WGA Awards, Joshua Brand and John Falsey won the Laurel Award for Television. Among the shows they created was Northern Exposure, a series I dearly loved. It's one of the few TV programs I never missed an episode of. I even got my dad to watch it, halfway through, and my dad did not watch series television. Seriously. I don't mean he "didn't watch a show weekly," I mean he didn't even watch even single episodes. He watched sports, the news and PBS, but at that point, the only other network series I recall him watching -- ever -- was Columbo. And that was really more a collection of individual movies. But he and my mother (who watched TV series almost as rarely as he did) fell in love with Northern Exposure and watched it every week.
(I had an additional connection to it. I got written into the series. When my friend Jeff Melvoin worked on Northern Exposure, he decided to write an episode that brought back a character named 'Cal' who had a bizarre obsession for a violin owned by the character of 'Maurice.' But Jeff needed a name for the sanitarium where the patient broke out of, and a town where it was located. He decided on "The State Home for the Criminally Insane, at Ellisberg." Jeff felt that having two l's made it look more like a town name. I recall in that episode, the violinist was asked what the institution was like. "They're a mean and vindictive lot at Ellisberg," he said. The episode proved so popular that they brought the character and Ellisberg back several times. And in the second to last episode of the series, in fact, one of the sub-plots was Cal getting over his obsession after having broken out, yet again, and so he decided to serve out his sentence and therefore the recurring line was that "I have get back to Ellisberg.")
While thinking about the series, one thing came to mind -- as it always does. The last sequence of the last episode. It's one of the finest endings of a concluding episode as there's ever been on television. Even if you've never seen the show, it's easy to fall in love with it, because it's like a near-perfect music video. But if you did watch the series, it's heart-wrenching in it's beauty.
Underneath it all is the song "Our Town," written and performed by Iris Dement. Watching the sequence, it's hard to believe that the song wasn't commissioned and written specifically for the show and the closing of the last episode. It's that spot-on perfect. But it wasn't, the song (which co-producer Martin Bruestle remembered and suggested) had been written years before. But the way it fits, and the editing is flawless.
Jeff was co-executive producer of the series at that point and since the ratings were falling, he told me that he figured they should start planning for a final episode, not expecting that the show would be brought back another year. If they had returned for another year, then they'd just figure out another ending. But Northern Exposure got its cancellation notice.
There's good and bad about the show getting cancelled and not coming back. The bad is that -- well, it didn't come back, there were no more episodes. The good is that it got to go out like this...
UPDATE: The last time I check, the video for the last scene of Northern Exposure was blocked by NBC Universal, the rights holder. That's fine, it's their right. If it remains down, however, here's the official music video for the song by Iris DeMent which stands in appropriately.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
Feedspot Badge of Honor