In the show, Rob Morrow played New York City native Joel Fleischman, a recently graduated physician who is sent to practice in Anchorage, Alaska, 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 and remote town of Cicely, which is in need of a general practitioner. Originally the show focused on Fleischman's fish-out-of-water experiences in rural Alaska, but as it progressed, it became more of an ensemble show, focusing on various other Cicely residents.
The series was created by Joshua Brand and John Falsey, who also created the award-winning shows St. Elsewhere and I'll Fly Away. It started as an mid-season replacement summer series on CBS in 1990 with 8 episodes. It returned for seven more episodes in spring 1991, then became a regular part of the network's schedule in 1991–92. It ranked among the top 10 viewed by 18- to 49-year-olds, and was part of the network's 1992–93 and 1993–94 schedules. Its last season, 1994–95, included a gap during the May 1995 sweeps when CBS broadcast other programming. "The show had a lot of life in it, and the move (Wednesday at 10pm) killed it," said executive producer Andrew Schneider. "This piddling out is sad."
In 1994, writer Sandy Veith won a suit in a jury trial against Universal, alleging that the series was based on his idea, yet he received no credit or compensation. Veith won $10 million in damages and legal fees on appeal in 1997. His suit was against the studio, not Brand and Falsey. In 1994, the Los Angeles Times reported that jurors seemed to believe the studio came to Brand and Falsey with the basic concept for the show rather than that the latter knowingly stole his idea. Some Universal executives had worked with Veith and Brand and Falsey. Veith's script was about an Italian-American doctor who moves to a small town in the South.
Morrow 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, whose last appearance came midway through the show's final season.
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 be a general practitioner in the small town of Cicely, where he is a proverbial fish out of water. His struggles to adjust to the very unfamiliar environment drive the plot of 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, former fighter pilot and astronaut who moved to the area after retiring from the military in the 1970s. Maurice owns Cicely's newspaper and radio station (KBHR 570 AM) along with over 15,000 acres (61 km2) of land 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 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. Before the timeline of the series, he had brought the much younger Shelly Tambo to Cicely with the intention of marrying her, but his best friend Holling Vincoeur won her heart and hand in marriage.
Maggie O'Connell (Janine Turner) is a tomboyish debutante 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 in the 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 bizarre deaths, leading her to believe that she suffers from an "O'Connell curse".
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 married. Though at least 40 years older than Shelly, he fears that he will outlive her, since the men in his family tend to 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. It was planned for the character to be a Native American until Geary was cast.
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 Maurice, who fires and rehires him several times. The first of these conflicts comes when Chris reads Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass over the air and Maurice storms the studio, decks Chris and fires him, not over the reading, but for suggesting that Whitman was homosexual. Chris is also a nondenominational clergyman and occasionally officiates at weddings.
Ruth-Anne Miller (Peg Phillips) is the elderly, 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 stockbroker. He comes to see her in one episode.
Marilyn Whirlwind (Elaine Miles) is Joel's Native Alaskan receptionist. Her few words and exceptionally 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.
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.
Notable episodes in the series include the pilot (nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Writing), the third season's last episode, "Cicely" (which won a Peabody Award, three Creative Arts Emmy Awards, and a Directors Guild of America Award), and the fifth-season episode "I Feel the Earth Move", which featured the second same-sex marriage story arc on U.S. prime-time television. (Fox's Roc aired the first U.S. prime-time television episode depicting a same-sex marriage, "Can't Help Loving That Man", on October 20, 1991.)
On 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 has an 83 based on nine, indicating "universal acclaim".
Entertainment Weekly’s Ken Tucker gave the first episode a B+, writing that the show “may well prove to be summer television’s most likably eccentric series”.
Thomas R. Moore, for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Editing for a Series for the episode "Cicely" (1992)
Woody Crocker, Kenneth Berg and Gene Serdena, for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Art Direction for a Series for "Cicely" (1992)
Frank Prinzi, for Outstanding Cinematography for a Series for "Cicely" (1992)
William H. Angarola et al., for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Sound Editing for a Series for "Fish Story" (1994)
Golden Globe Awards
The series won two Golden Globe awards for Best Drama series, in 1992 and 1993. In addition, Morrow and Turner were each nominated three times consecutively from 1992 to 1994 for Best Actor and Actress, while Corbett was nominated in 1993 for his supporting role.
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 rereleased together in packaging that matches the third through sixth seasons. On July 21, 2020, "Northern Exposure" was rereleased by Shout Factory, containing all 110 episodes but not with all original music. The R2 editions released in Germany on DVD contain all the original music.
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 July 21, 2020
October 8, 2007
November 11, 2009
On March 19, 2018, Fabulous Films released the entire series on Blu-ray in the UK containing all original music.
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. The working title for this project is "Northern Exposure: Home Again". Despite not meeting the original $100,000 goal, Darren decided to continue with the project.
On June 17, 2016, Film Farms announced that writer David Assael had been hired to write for the project. He previously wrote several episodes, including "Russian Flu," "Spring Break," and "It Happened in Juneau," among others. The revival was originally envisioned as a two-hour "visit to Cicely," but a 10-episode series was reportedly being pitched to various network, cable, and streaming venues.
On November 20, 2018, it was reported that a revival series was in the early stages of development at CBS, with Brand, Falsey and Morrow executive producing and Morrow again playing Fleischman. Corbett was named as producer but his appearance as a performer was not confirmed.
Falsey died in January 2019, and on May 19, 2019, Josef Adalian, an editor from the New York City-based magazine "Vulture"."tweeted". that CBS had canceled development work on the series. Adalian subsequently tweeted that the rights holder, Universal Studios, could pitch the revival elsewhere, but it was unclear whether Universal was planning to move the project to another outlet. Morrow, who was busy with other commitments, found out about Falsey's death on Twitter.
On November 15, 2019, Morrow revealed in an interview on radio station WGN 720AM in Chicago that he and Brand were continuing revival efforts despite Falsey's death and CBS's decision.
^Mark Harris & Kelli Pryor (July 26, 1991). "Total Exposure". Entertainment Weekly. (via Moosechick Notes, a fansite). Archived from the original on May 21, 2009. Retrieved July 21, 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.