4 Memorable TV Crossovers

The branches of the TV-land family tree can get very tangled. We've previously discussed backdoor pilots; another common offspring is the spin-off, where certain characters on an established series are deemed popular enough to support their own show. And then there is the crossover, where characters from one show appear on another show. Sometimes the crossover intersects with the spin-off (as will be seen tonight when Dr. Addison Montgomery returns to Seattle Grace Hospital in the conclusion of a multi-part Grey's Anatomy/Private Practice crossover.) Other times the crossover is something of an "in-joke" (see Murphy Brown below), while often it is just the whim of a network exec who uses a successful series to promote one that is struggling. Allow me to present a few examples:

1. Bewitched in Bedrock

For a sleepy prehistoric suburb, Bedrock had more than its share of celebrity visitors. Stoney Curtis, Ann-Margrock and Stoney Carmichael were just a few of the A-listers who appeared on the Stone Age sitcom (with their voices provided by their real-life counterparts). In Season Six, however, the Flintstones welcomed new next-door neighbors Samantha and Darrin Stephens, in an episode that featured Elizabeth Montgomery and Dick York voicing the animated versions of their Bewitched characters. The gimmick wasn't so out of the blue; Hanna-Barbera had done the opening animated credits for Bewitched, which was just beginning its second season, while The Flintstones was an established hit.

2. Norm Peterson's Former Client

Since St. Elsewhere was set in Boston, producers thought it might make for some nice symmetry if Doctors Westphall, Auschlander and Craig stopped by the Cheers bar after a particularly stressful day. The only problem was that Cheers was on hiatus at the time that this episode was conceived, but Rhea Perlman, John Ratzenberger and George Wendt graciously agreed to give up some vacation time in order to participate. As it happened, Carla had mentioned two years earlier that she'd had one of her babies at St. Eligius and that it had been a horrific experience, so that gave the writers a reason to have Ms. Tortelli vent her spleen at Dr. Craig. It was also revealed in this episode that Norm Peterson had once been Dr. Auschlander's accountant and had gotten him into big-time trouble with the IRS.

3. Murphy Brown's Competent Secretary

A running gag on Murphy Brown was Murphy's inability to retain a competent assistant, and as a result a different secretary appeared in each episode. Then the fates turned in Murphy's favor, and she walked into the office to find none other than Carol Kester-Bondurant (Marcia Wallace) of The Bob Newhart Show behind the desk. Carol of course was an ace at the job, and would have stayed on the FYI staff had Dr. Bob Hartley not appeared on the scene in the final moments of the episode. After a frenetic bidding battle between employers, Carol finally went home to Newhart-land, where she truly belonged.

4. Paul Buchman's Tenant

When Mad About You debuted, it was given the sweet time slot following the very popular Seinfeld. It was eventually revealed in one episode that Paul Buchman was still paying rent on his "bachelor" apartment (in case his marriage didn't work out), which upset wife Jamie. The punch line to the episode was that Seinfeld's Kramer was Paul's tenant. Crossovers tend to work best when they're sprung on the audience as a surprise, so this particular episode fell a bit flat, since it was hyped in print ads and TV commercials ad nauseum before it aired, so by the time Michael Richards poked his head out of that apartment door the thrill was long gone.

Which crossovers do you remember/love/hate? How about when Daphne (of Frasier fame) didn't understand a Caroline in the City cartoon? There's also the episode of Wings that featured Frasier and Lilith Crane visiting Nantucket to promote a book and host a seminar (this earned Kelsey Grammer an Emmy nomination). In an episode of Seinfeld, struggling actor Kramer lands the part of Murphy Brown's secretary, Stephen Snell. And how many of you remember when George and Weezie Jefferson visited the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air?

Matthew Simmons/Getty Images
How Accurate are Hollywood Medical Dramas? A Doctor Breaks It Down
Matthew Simmons/Getty Images
Matthew Simmons/Getty Images

Medical dramas like Grey's Anatomy get a lot of things wrong when it comes to the procedures shown on the screen, but unless you're a doctor, you'd probably never notice.

For its latest installment, WIRED's Technique Critique video series—which previously blessed us with a dialect coach's critique of actors' onscreen accents—tackled the accuracy of medical scenes in movies and TV, bringing in Annie Onishi, a general surgery resident at Columbia University, to comment on emergency room and operating scenes from Pulp Fiction, House, Scrubs, and more.

While Onishi breaks down just how inaccurate these shows and movies can be, she makes it clear that Hollywood doesn't always get it wrong. Some shows, including Showtime's historical drama The Knick, garner praise from Onishi for being true-to-life with their medical jargon and operations. And when doctors discuss what music to play during surgery on Scrubs? That's "a tale as old as time in the O.R.," according to Onishi.

Other tropes are very obviously ridiculous, like slapping a patient during CPR and telling them to fight, which we see in a scene from The Abyss. "Rule number one of CPR is: never stop effective chest compressions in order to slap or yell words of encouragement at the patient," Onishi says. "Yelling at a patient or cheering them on has never brought them back to life." And obviously, taking selfies in the operating room in the middle of a grisly operation like the doctors on Grey's Anatomy do would get you fired in real life.

There are plenty of cliché words and phrases we hear over and over on doctor shows, and some are more accurate than others. Asking about a patient's vitals is authentic, according to Onishi, who says it's something doctors are always concerned with. However, yelling "We're losing him!" is simply for added TV drama. "I have never once heard that in my real life," Onishi says.

[h/t WIRED]

When The Day After Terrorized 100 Million Viewers With a Vision of Nuclear War

Before Nicholas Meyer's made-for-television film The Day After had its official airing on November 20, 1983, then-President Ronald Reagan and his Joint Chiefs of Staff were given screening copies. In his diary, Reagan recorded his reaction to seeing Meyer's graphic depiction of a nuclear holocaust that devastates a small Kansas town, writing:

"It's very effective and left me greatly depressed. So far they [ABC] haven't sold any of the 25 spot ads scheduled and I can see why. Whether it will be of help to the 'anti-nukes' or not, I can't say. My own reaction was one of our having to do all we can to have a deterrent and to see there is never a nuclear war."

Just a few days later, the rest of America would see what had shaken their president. Preempting Hardcastle and McCormick on ABC, the 8 p.m. telefilm drew a staggering 100 million viewers, an audience that at the time was second only in non-sports programming to the series finale of M*A*S*H. According to Nielsen, 62 percent of all televisions in use that night were tuned in.

What they watched didn't really qualify as entertainment; Meyer stated he had no desire to make a "good" movie with stirring performances or rousing music, but a deeply affecting public service announcement on the horrors of a nuclear fallout. He succeeded … perhaps a little too well.


The idea for The Day After came from ABC executive Brandon Stoddard, who had helped popularize the miniseries format with Roots. After seeing The China Syndrome, a film about a nuclear accident starring Jane Fonda, Stoddard began pursuing an "event" series about what would happen to a small town in middle America if tensions between the Soviet Union and the United States escalated to catastrophic levels. Films like Dr. Strangelove had depicted moments between politicians debating whether to use powerful weapons of mass destruction, but few had examined what the consequences would be for the everyday population.


Reagan had dubbed the Soviet Union "the evil empire" in 1982, so the time seemed right to bring such a project to TV viewers. Stoddard hired Barnaby Jones writer Edward Hume to craft a script: Hume drew from research conducted into the effects of nuclear war and radiation fallout, including a 1978 government report, The Effects of Nuclear War, that contained a fictionalized examination of how a strike would play out in a densely populated area. Stoddard also enlisted Meyer, who had proven his directorial chops with Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, but considered the assignment a "civic responsibility" more than a creative endeavor.

Meyer and the film's producers selected Lawrence, Kansas (pop. 50,000) as the setting for the movie and got permission from city officials to turn their town into a post-apocalyptic landscape. Throughout the summer of 1982, tons of ash, dirt, and rubble were trucked in and spread over the ground; food coloring blackened farming crops. Thousands of locals were enlisted to portray victims of a nuclear attack, agreeing to roll in dirt and have their hair shaved off to simulate a miserable death via radiation poisoning.

Meyer believed that setting the film in a small town would make it more impactful and relatable to audiences. "Other movies that had attempted to deal with the subject of nuclear holocaust had always been set in big cities," he recalled in 2003. "But a great number of people in the United States do not live in big cities, so they were witnessing an event that seemed to bear scant relation to them."

That pursuit of realism wasn't always to the network's benefit. ABC originally planned a four-hour film to run on two consecutive nights, but filling up that much commercial time proved to be a challenge. Fearing a graphic and partisan display of anti-nuclear propaganda, many loyal advertisers refused to let their spots air during The Day After. (Meyer later joked that all the "generals" pulled out, including General Mills and General Foods.) They were ultimately able to sell a little over 10 minutes of commercial time, which prompted executives to condense the movie to a two-hour presentation. Meyer, who thought the script was padded to begin with, agreed with the decision.

ABC sensed that the film would be provocative and took unprecedented steps to handle the inevitable viewer response. A 1-800 number was set up to field calls from people concerned about an actual nuclear disaster; the network also issued pamphlets that acted as viewing guides, with fact sheets on nuclear weapons. Psychologists warned audiences would experience "feelings of depression and helplessness." Meyer was, in effect, making a disaster movie with the characters being offered no help of rescue. The film had been openly endorsed by anti-nuclear organizations as being a $7 million advertisement for their stance, and some TV industry observers wondered whether ABC would even air it at all.


Prior to The Day After's November 20 debut, actor John Cullum appeared onscreen and delivered a warning. Calling the film "unusually disturbing," he advised young children to be led away from the television and for parents to be prepared to field questions older kids might have.

A still from 'The Day After' (1983)

With that, The Day After commenced. It was every bit as terrifying as viewers had been told it would be. For the first 50 minutes or so, actors like Jason Robards, John Lithgow, and Steve Guttenberg established their characters in Lawrence, largely oblivious to an incident on the border of East Germany that triggered an armed response from both Russia and the U.S. As missiles fell, a mushroom cloud vaporized the community; those who survived were doomed to brief and miserable lives as radiation destroyed their bodies.

Dramatizing what had previously been a sterile discussion about nuclear defenses had its intended effect. Viewers shuffled away from their televisions in a daze, struck by the bleak consequences of an attack. The people of Lawrence, who had a private screening, were particularly affected—it was their town that appeared destroyed. Residents exited the theater crying.

What ABC lacked in ad revenue it more than made up for in ratings. The mammoth audience was comparable to Super Bowl viewership; the network even presented a post-"game" show of sorts, with Ted Koppel hosting a roundtable discussion of the nuclear threat featuring Carl Sagan and William F. Buckley. Sagan is believed to have coined the term "nuclear winter" on the program, while Secretary of State George Shultz argued the necessity of harboring nuclear weapons to make sure the nation could protect itself.

The experience stuck with Reagan, who signed a nuclear arms treaty—the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces, or INF, Treaty—with Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987, leading to longstanding speculation that The Day After may have helped sober political attitudes toward mutually assured destruction.


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