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10 Wild Facts About Northern Exposure

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CBS

Created by Joshua Brand and John Falsey, Northern Exposure—the Twin Peaks-esque sitcom set in small town Cicely, Alaska (population 215)—premiered on CBS during the summer of 1990. (It was almost called Dr. Snow.) For six seasons and 110 episodes, it followed the adventures of New York City doctor Joel Fleischman (Rob Morrow) and the misfit denizens (and a moose) who lived in town.

Near the end of its run, ratings suffered—and that was before Morrow left the show midway through the final season, in February 1995. As a replacement, the show cast Paul Provenza as yet another doctor who moves to town. Northern Exposure captivated audiences—including viewers in Poland—because though the show dealt with loss, it didn’t get too heavy-handed. Here are 10 wild facts about the show.

1. FOR THE CREATORS, ALASKA WAS A “STATE OF MIND.”

European movies like Local Hero, My Life as a Dog, Cinema Paradiso, and Amarcord influenced the show’s creators. “America tends not to make those gentle, warm, offbeat character comedies,” co-creator Joshua Brand told Entertainment Weekly. “We always say that we wanted to create Alaska as a state of mind, a place where people could recreate themselves in a nonjudgmental universe.”

2. JANINE TURNER THOUGHT ROB MORROW TRIED TO HIT ON HER.

Janine Turner and Rob Morrow in 'Northern Exposure'
CBS

The two auditioned together, and as Morrow told Entertainment Weekly, “When Janine came into the room, it was so clear that she was Maggie.” Morrow said after the audition, they rode in the elevator together. “We’re riding up, and I turn to her and say, ‘It’s just you and me, ya know.’ And she blew me off. Later, she told me she thought I was hitting on her.”

3. THE “AURORA BOREALIS” EPISODE ALMOST DIDN’T AIR.

The episode titled “Aurora Borealis: A Fairy Tale for Grown-Ups” aired as the season one finale, in 1990. However, CBS execs thought the episode was “too weird” and so they didn’t want to air it. “Once we knew that people did like this episode, my partner and I turned to each other and we said, ‘We can do anything we want on this show,’ and it was incredibly liberating,” Brand told a crowd at the ATX Television Festival. “We understood that the audience was willing to go on any ride we wanted to take them ... It opened up the whole show for us.”

4. ELAINE MILES SPOKE OUT AGAINST NATIVE AMERICAN STEREOTYPES.


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The producers cast Native American actress Elaine Miles as Joel’s receptionist, Marilyn. During the first season, the producers made her talk slowly. “The first scene I did I was supposed to go out and tell Rob that the patients were still talking,” Miles said. “And I said, ‘Can’t I just say, ‘They’re still talking?’ And they said, ‘No, say, ‘They are still talk-ing.’” The producers also made her wear braids, even though she didn’t braid her hair like that in real life.

“The last time I remember wearing braids at home was when I was a little girl, or when I’m in my traditional dress I’ll braid my hair,” she said. “And Mom goes, ‘Well, tell them that.’ So I got up enough nerve to tell them, ‘Well, I don't like what you’re doing with my hair. Can I have it hanging, because Native Americans do let their hair hang down once in a while, and we don’t always wear two braids.’ And then they gradually got into letting me do what I would do with my hair.”

5. ROSLYN THROWS AN ANNUAL NORTHERN EXPOSURE FESTIVAL.

The small town in Washington, located about 80 minutes from Seattle, was the stand-in for Cicely, Alaska. (The Brick bar and other locations were filmed on a soundstage in Redmond, Washington.) When the show was filmed there, it brought jobs and tourism to the economy. Eleven new businesses opened after the show began, and 100 new jobs were created. Coal mining used to be its main economy until that phased out and thousands of people abandoned the town, which currently has a population of 903.

Though tourism dipped when the show went off the air, Roslyn maintains its place in pop culture history. Moosefest takes place every year in the town. Informal Moosefest (hanging out, watching episodes, no scheduled events) took place in July 2017 and formal Moosefest will be held July 27-29, 2018, when actors from the show are expected to attend.

6. MORTY THE MOOSE DIED IN 1994.

Rob Morrow and Morty the Moose in 'Northern Exposure'
CBS

The famous moose that was featured in the opening credits passed away on January 6, 1994 at the age of five. In captivity, moose live to be less than 10 years old whereas moose in the wild can live to be 16. Morty was part of a behavior and nutrition study, which sought to figure out why moose don’t live as long in captivity. To film Morty walking around the town in the credits, the crew lured him with bananas and willow leaves; he was paid $5000 for his hard work.

7. MORROW HAD A DIFFERENT ENDING IN MIND FOR JOEL.

Morrow and Joel departed the show in February 1995. The final shot featured Joel on a boat in New York Harbor, insinuating that the doctor had returned to his pre-Alaska life. Morrow told People he considered a different trajectory for the doctor. “Josh [Brand] always felt that Joel would go back to New York and would step into the life he always wanted [as a big-city physician],” Morrow said. “I didn't care for that ending. He’s on a boat in New York Harbor in the last shot, but I think of it as mythical rather than literal. I’d like to think Joel moved on and didn’t go back to the life you expected.”

8. JOHN CORBETT REFUSED TO DO PUBLICITY FOR THE SHOW.

John Corbett was cast as radio DJ Chris Stevens, based on a Jack in the Box commercial he starred in. When the show became popular, Corbett hired a publicist and began making appearances on high-profile shows like Entertainment Tonight and The Tonight Show, but things didn’t work out for him, publicity-wise. “I found myself caring more about getting the cover of People Magazine, which I was in the running for at some time, than I cared about the f**king TV show that I was working on that put me in this eye,” Corbett said. “So, the next day I fired my publicist and I never did another press thing ever.” He said he refused to pose for Northern Exposure cast photos, including the reunion ones. “I just went, ‘You know what? I’m just here to act.’”

9. ADAM ARKIN’S CHARACTER WAS BASED ON HIMSELF.

For 10 episodes, Adam Arkin guest starred as a barefooted recluse chef named Adam, and was nominated for a Guest Actor Emmy for his performance. “The way in which he’s played and the level of hostility is mine,” Arkin told the Orlando Sentinel. Arkin found his wig in the Northern Exposure wardrobe department. “That’s 90 percent of what clued me into playing Adam,” he said. “I love the guy because he essentially knows everything in the world. You never know what he’s going to be an expert in.”

Arkin got his start directing TV when he directed the 1993 Northern Exposure episode “Family Feud.” Since then, he’s directed everything from Chicago Hope to Masters of Sex.

10. DARREN BURROWS IS TRYING TO REBOOT THE SHOW.

Darren Burrows played Ed Chigliak on the show and published the book Northern Exposed. His production company, Film Farms, is raising money to bring the show back. “Our working title is Northern Exposure: Home Again. We will be authentic. We will remain true to the spirit and values of the show,” Burrows wrote on the show's fundraising page.

At the ATX reunion this summer, the cast—including Morrow—said they'd be open to making another season of Northern Exposure.

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Bleat Along to Classic Holiday Tunes With This Goat Christmas Album
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Feeling a little Grinchy this month? The Sweden branch of ActionAid, an international charity dedicated to fighting global poverty, wants to goat—errr ... goad—you into the Christmas spirit with their animal-focused holiday album: All I Want for Christmas is a Goat.

Fittingly, it features the shriek-filled vocal stylings of a group of festive farm animals bleating out classics like “Jingle Bells,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.” The recording may sound like a silly novelty release, but there's a serious cause behind it: It’s intended to remind listeners how the animals benefit impoverished communities. Goats can live in arid nations that are too dry for farming, and they provide their owners with milk and wool. In fact, the only thing they can't seem to do is, well, sing. 

You can purchase All I Want for Christmas is a Goat on iTunes and Spotify, or listen to a few songs from its eight-track selection below.

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15 Things You May Not Know About Close Encounters of the Third Kind
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Columbia Pictures

We are not alone. Here are a few facts about Steven Spielberg’s 1977 UFO classic, on its 40th anniversary.

1. IT WAS INITIALLY A VERY DIFFERENT FILM.

Spielberg’s initial story outline involved UFOs and shady government dealings following the Watergate scandal, which became a script entitled “Watch the Skies.” The idea involved a police or military officer working on Project Blue Book, the Air Force’s official study into UFOs in the 1950s and 1960s, who would become the whistleblower on the government cover-up of aliens. There were numerous rewrites—Taxi Driver scribe Paul Schrader even took a crack at it, penning a political UFO thriller titled “Kingdom Come” that Spielberg and the movie studio rejected—before the story we know today emerged.

2. IT’S NAMED AFTER LEGITIMATE UFO RESEARCH.


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Spielberg partly based his idea on the research of Dr. J. Allen Hynek, a civilian scientific advisor to Project Blue Book who eventually admitted that 11 percent of the study’s findings about unidentified flying objects could not be explained using science.

The title (which is never specifically explained in the movie) is actually derived from Hynek’s own alien close encounter classification system: A close encounter of the first kind is sighting of a UFO; the second kind is physical evidence to prove the existence of an alien; and the third kind is actual contact with alien life forms.

3. THERE’S A CAMEO FROM THE GODFATHER OF UFO RESEARCH.

Hynek, who also served as a technical advisor on the movie, makes an uncredited cameo in the final scene of the movie. You can spot him pretty easily—he’s the goateed man smoking a pipe and wearing a powder blue suit who pushes through the crowd of scientists to get a better look at the aliens.

4. NOBODY WANTED THE STARRING ROLE.

Richard Dreyfuss in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
Columbia Pictures

The director first offered the part of Roy Neary to actor Steve McQueen, who turned it down because he said he couldn’t cry on cue, something he saw as essential to the character. Spielberg then went to Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino, Jack Nicholson, Gene Hackman, and James Caan who all turned him down as well before asking his friend Richard Dreyfuss, who previously worked with Spielberg on Jaws, to take the part.

5. BUT IT WASN'T THE MOST DIFFICULT ROLE TO CAST.

Spielberg approached French actors like Lino Ventura, Yves Montand, and Jean-Louis Trintignant to play Claude Lacombe—who was based on famous UFO researcher Jacques Vallée—before settling on director and sometimes-actor François Truffaut. The initially skeptical Truffaut, who was nervous about appearing in a big budget Hollywood movie, accepted the role because he wanted to compile research for a book about acting (he never did write the book).

6. MERYL STREEP COULD HAVE PLAYED ROY'S WIFE.

Many actresses—including a then-unknown Yale Drama School grad named Meryl Streep—auditioned for the part of Roy’s wife Ronnie, but he ultimately cast actress Teri Garr because he saw her in a coffee commercial and loved the way she was able to convey a wide range of emotions in a 30-second clip.

7. THEY SHOT IN A DISUSED AIR FORCE HANGAR.


Columbia Pictures

Spielberg wanted to shoot in real suburban locations rather than studio backlots, but the production had trouble finding locations. The biggest question: Where could Spielberg shoot the climactic canyon sequence with the mothership?

The production looked for huge indoor enclosures that would allow for the massive scale of the scene, though they only found ones with center support dividers that spoiled the openness Spielberg wanted for the UFO runway. The only location producers found without center dividers was a 300 foot by 300 foot disused hangar that had been used for dirigibles during World War II at Brookley Air Force base in Mobile, Alabama.

8. THE TEAM BOUGHT A HOUSE FOR THE PRODUCTION—AND SOLD IT FOR A PROFIT.

The Nearys' house, which is located at 1613 Carlisle Drive East in Mobile, was actually purchased by the production for $35,000 so they could do whatever they wanted with the interiors. It was later sold for $50,000 after production wrapped, netting a $15,000 surplus that went back into the film’s budget.

9. THE MEMORABLE 5-NOTE TONES TOOK A LONG TIME TO FIGURE OUT

Composer John Williams worked with Spielberg to come up with the movie’s distinct five-note musical method of communication between humans and aliens—which Spielberg partly based on the Solfège system of musical education—a year before shooting began.

Williams initially wanted a seven-note sequence, but it was too long for the simple musical “greeting” Spielberg wanted. The composer enlisted a mathematician to calculate the number of five-note combinations they could potentially make from a 12-note scale. When that number proved to be somewhere upwards of 134,000 combinations, Williams created 100 distinct versions, and they simply whittled the combinations down one by one until they had a winner.

10. SPIELBERG USED TRICKS TO GET THE PERFORMANCE OUT OF HIS CHILD ACTOR.


Columbia Pictures

Cary Guffey, who plays little Barry Guiler, had never acted before, so Spielberg set up ways to coax a performance out of the 3-year-old. To get a shot of Guffey reacting to the aliens first approaching the Guiler house, Spielberg slowly unwrapped a present for the young actor just off camera, making him smile. Guffey even exclaims “Toys! Toys!” in the final take.

To get the boy to react to the aliens offscreen, Spielberg had Guffey walk up to his mark where—unbeknownst to the little actor—two crewmembers were dressed as a gorilla and a clown standing behind cardboard blinds. When Guffey entered the kitchen, Spielberg dropped the first blind revealing the clown to scare him, and then dropped the other blind to reveal the gorilla, which scared him even more. The gorilla then took off his mask, revealing the film’s makeup man, Bob Westmoreland, who Guffey recognized, causing him to laugh and smile in the final take.

11. THE MOVIE NEARLY FEATURED VERY EARLY CGI.

Spielberg originally toyed with the idea of using computer generated images to create the aliens and their ships, even going so far as to have animator Colin Cantwell create a CGI test of three UFOs floating over a stadium. The single-shot test, which took three weeks to complete and was one of the first computer generated images ever created for a film, proved to be unfeasible for the whole movie—so the idea was dropped.

12. THERE WERE SOME UNORTHODOX IDEAS FOR CREATING THE ALIENS.

Spielberg wanted the aliens to be non-human beings that glided instead of walked, and he had a weird idea to pull it off: An orangutan dressed in a specially-made suit. For a screen test, the production team outfitted an orangutan in grey spandex and strapped it into roller skates. The orangutan immediately took off the skates and crawled to its owner, so a full test couldn’t be completed, and the team scrapped the idea. The majority of the small aliens in the final movie were played by local elementary school girls from Mobile in specially made grey suits and masks who were heavily backlit to create the final alien silhouette effect.

13. CLOSE ENCOUNTERS FEATURES A PRECURSOR TO E.T.


Columbia Pictures

To create the alien who bids farewell using the musical hand signals at the end of the film, Spielberg enlisted the help of Italian special effects artist Carlo Rambaldi, who designed a fully articulated steel, aluminum, and fiberglass animatronic puppet that Spielberg nicknamed “Puck.” Puck’s expressions were based on photos of Guffey. The puppet was operated by a crew of seven puppeteers, with Spielberg himself controlling the final articulation before the alien leaves to go to the mothership.

Puck would help inspire E.T. after Spielberg asked himself, “What if this little guy didn’t get back on the mothership?” Rambaldi would also go on to design the character of E.T.

14. SPIELBERG BET AGAINST HIS OWN MOVIE—AND REALLY CASHED IN.

Spielberg and his buddy George Lucas both had new movies coming out in 1977; Lucas’s was a little movie called Star Wars. Lucas thought his ramshackle space movie wouldn’t make back its budget, and he knew his friend’s new movie would break box office records just like Jaws had done, so he offered Spielberg a friendly wager. Both agreed to give the other 2.5 percent of the profits of their respective films. Lucas grossly underestimated his movie, which went on to become the second highest grossing movie of all time if adjusted for inflation (in comparison, Close Encounters is #71). The difference ended up being $40 million.

15. SPIELBERG DIDN'T LIKE THE VERSION THAT WAS INITIALLY RELEASED.

Spielberg wanted to release Close Encounters in the summer of 1978, which would have given him ample time to edit the film and finish its special effects—but Columbia Pictures, which was going through major financial troubles, insisted he have it ready for a November 1977 release, leaving the director with a final cut on a movie he didn’t feel was completely ready. 

Three years later, the company allowed Spielberg to “finish” the movie under one condition: That he show the inside of the mothership, which would give the studio’s marketing department an angle to sell this new version. The director capitulated, adding new scenes and cutting others to create a “Special Edition.” The director was unhappy with the scene, though, and later cut it for the Collector's Edition home video release.

ADDITIONAL SOURCES:Blu-ray special features; Close Encounters of the Third Kind: The Making of Steven Spielberg’s Classic FilmClose Encounters of the Third Kind Diary.

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