The Northern Exposure Guide

Northern Exposure has been hailed by many as the finest example of a “dramedy” , a comedy drama. It started off as a replacement series for CBS in 1990. However, soon after its launch, it began rising up the popularity charts and collected heaps of critical acclaim. As expected, Northern Exposure returned to the television screens the next year and ran the whole year.


Northern Exposure continued its successful run for four consecutive years and picked up several awards, such as the Emmy for “Best Television Drama”, along the way. But during the 1994-95 seasons, the show began to show signs of decline. Two of the primary reasons for this were probably the departure of Rob Morrow, and the shifting of its slot from Monday night to Wednesday night. By the end of the 1994-95 seasons, the show was cancelled owing to its dwindling popularity. In total, Northern Exposure ran for 6 seasons, with 110 episodes altogether.


The backdrop of Northern Exposure was a fictional rural community by the name of Cicely, which was supposedly located in Alaska. The hour-long series was a brainchild of Joshua Brand and John Falsey, who already had a hit series St Elsewhere under their belt. The shooting was done predominantly in Washington’s picturesque towns of Redmond and Roslyn, which featured beautiful campgrounds and images of the unspoilt American frontier.


Joel Fleischman, played by Rob Morrow, feels completely out of place when he first visits Alaska’s quaint little town Cicely. He has to serve in Cicely for four years as a town doctor because he needs to repay his medical tuition fees to the state of Alaska. He is unimpressed with the bland lifestyles of Cicely’s inhabitants, and he yearns to return to his favorite city, New York City. However, after staying in the hamlet for a while, which at first seemed like a campground compared to New York, his outlook begins to transform gradually. He starts building new relationships and weaving bonds with people like former astronaut Maurice Minnifield, store owner Ruth-Anne Miller, pilot Maggie O’Connell, as well as the town’s mayor Holling Vincoeur and his beautiful wife Shelly Tambo.


Besides Joel Fleischman, there’s the character of Maurice Minnifield, played by Barry Corbin, who is an affluent entrepreneur and a former astronaut who is always searching for opportunities to exploit the natural resources of Cicely for profit. Ruth-Anne Miller, played by Peg Phillips, is a widow who operates a general store that employs the aspiring filmmaker Ed Chigliak, played by Darren E. Burrows. The character of Holling Vincoeur is played by Broadway star John Cullum, and he is the owner of the pub, The Brick. Marilyn Whirlwind, played by Elaine Miles, is yet another important character in the series. She plays the role of Joel’s receptionist, who introduces Joel to the customs and rituals of Native Americans. And of course, there’s the love interest of Joel, pilot Maggie O’Connell, played by Janine Turner.


Northern Exposure achieved a cult status, and it has conjured up numerous fan clubs and internet cyberspace bulletin boards. It even spurred the popularity of camping and campgrounds. The inventive storytelling which delved deep into issues relating to the environment, gender, sexuality, and the values of culture didn’t fail to leave an indelible mark on the audience.


One of the most endearing parts in Northern Exposure was the interweaving of its characters with the pristine environment of America’s North. It seemed that the moods and personalities of all the characters were being influenced by the forces of nature, such as Alaska’s seasonal winds, the Northern Lights and the melting of ice in springtime. The message was clear - nature is far superior to humans and humans should orient themselves around nature, not vice versa. Another merit of the show is that it managed to combine drama and comedy seamlessly.