10 Wild Facts About Northern Exposure

CBS
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.


CBS

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.

11 Fun Facts About Them!

Joan Weldon and James Arness star in Them! (1954).
Joan Weldon and James Arness star in Them! (1954).
Warner Home Video

In the 1950s, Elvis was king, hula hooping was all the rage, and movie screens across America were overrun with giant arthropods. Back then, Tarantula (1955), The Deadly Mantis (1957), and other “big bug” films starring colossal insects or arachnids enjoyed a surprising amount of popularity. What kicked off this creepy-crawly craze? An eerie blockbuster whose impossible premise reflected widespread anxieties about the emerging atomic age. Grab a Geiger counter and let’s explore 1954's Them!.

1. Them!'s primary scriptwriter once worked for General Douglas MacArthur.

When World War II broke out, the knowledge Ted Sherdeman had gained from his career as a radio producer was put to good use by Uncle Sam, landing him a position as a radio communications advisor to General MacArthur. However, the fiery conclusion of the war left Sherdeman with a lifelong disdain for nuclear weapons. In an interview he revealed that upon hearing about the 1945 bombing of Hiroshima, he “just went over to the curb and started to throw up."

Shifting his focus from radio to motion pictures, Sherdeman later joined Warned Bros. as a staff producer. One day he was given a screenplay that really made his eyes bug out. George Worthing Yates, best known for his work on the Lone Ranger serials, had decided to take a stab at science fiction and penned an original script about giant, irradiated ants attacking New York City. "The idea appealed to me very much,” Sherdeman told Cinefantastique, "because, aside from man, ants are the only creatures in the world that plan to wage war, and nobody trusted the atomic bomb at that time.” (His statement about animal combat is debatable: chimpanzee gangs will also take organized, warlike measures in order to annex their rivals’ territories.)

Although he loved the basic concept, Sherdeman felt that the script needed something more. Screenwriter Russell S. Hughes was asked to punch up the script, but died of a heart attack after completing the first 50 pages. With some help from director Gordon Douglas, Sherdeman took it upon himself to finish the screenplay. Thus, Them! was born.

2. Two main ants were built for the movie.

Them! brought its spineless villains to life using a combination of animatronics and puppetry, courtesy of an effects artist by the name of Dick Smith. He constructed two fully functional mechanical ants for the production, with the first of these being a 12-foot monster filled with gears, levers, motors, and pulleys. Operating the big bug was a job that required a small army of technicians who’d pull sophisticated cables to control the ant’s limbs off-camera. These guys worked in close proximity and often crashed into each other as a result, prompting Douglas to call them “a comedy team.”

The big insect mainly appears in long shots, and for close-ups, Smith built the front three quarters of a second large-scale ant and mounted it onto a camera crane. During scenes that required swarms of ants, smaller, non-motorized models were used. Blowing wind machines moved the little units’ heads around in a lifelike manner.

3. Them! features the Wilhelm Scream.

Fifty-nine minutes in, the ants board a ship and one of them grabs a sailor, who unleashes the so-called "Wilhelm Scream." You can also hear it when James Whitmore’s character is killed, and the sound bite rings out once again during the movie’s climax. Them! was among the first movies to reuse this distinctive holler, which was originally recorded three years earlier for the 1951 western Distant Drums. Since then, it’s become something of an inside joke for sound recording specialists. The scream has appeared in Titanic (1997), Toy Story (1995), Reservoir Dogs (1992), Batman Returns (1992), the Star Wars saga (1977-present), all three The Lord of the Rings movies (2001-2003), and countless other films.

4. Leonard Nimoy makes an appearance.

In one brief scene, future Star Trek star Leonard Nimoy plays an Army man who receives a message about an alleged “ant-shaped UFO” sighting over Texas. He then proceeds to poke fun at the Lone Star State, because, as everybody knows, insectile space vessels are highly illogical.

5. Many different sounds were combined to produce the screeching ant cries.

Throughout the movie, the monsters announce their presence with a haunting wail. Douglas’s team created this unforgettable shriek by mixing assorted noises, including bird whistles, which were artificially pitched up by sound technicians.

6. Sandy Descher had to sniff a mystery liquid during her signature scene.

Like Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, Them! has a deliberate pace and the massive insects don’t make an onscreen appearance until the half hour mark. Douglas took credit for this restrained approach, saying, “I told Ted, let’s tease [the audience] a little bit before you see the ant. Let’s build up to it."

So instead of showing off the big bugs, the opening scene follows a little girl as she wanders through the New Mexican desert, listlessly clutching her favorite doll. That stunning performance was delivered by child actress Sandy Descher. Later, in one of the most effective title drop scenes ever orchestrated, a vial of formic acid is held under her character’s nose. Suddenly recognizing the aroma, the traumatized youngster screams “Them! Them!” Descher never found out what sort of liquid was really sloshing around in that container.

“They used something that did smell quite strange. It wasn’t ammonia, it was something else,” she told an interviewer. Still, the mysterious brew had a beneficial effect on her performance. “They tried to create something different and it helped me a lot with that particular scene,” Descher said.

7. Them! was originally going to be filmed in 3D and in color.

To hear Douglas tell it, the insect models looked a lot scarier in person. “I put green and red soap bubbles in the eyes,” he once stated. “The ants were purple, slimy things. Their bodies were wet down with Vaseline. They scared the bejeezus out of you.” For better or for worse, though, audiences never got the chance to savor the bugs’ color scheme.

At first, Warner Bros. had planned on shooting the movie in color. Furthermore, to help Them! compete with Universal’s brand-new, three-dimensional monster movie, Creature From the Black Lagoon, the studio strongly considered using 3D cameras. But in the end, the higher-ups at Warner Bros. didn’t supply Douglas with the money he’d need to shoot it in this manner. Shortly before production started on Them!, the budget was greatly reduced, forcing the use of two-dimensional, black and white film.

8. The setting of the climactic scene was changes—twice.

Yates envisioned the final battle playing out in New York City’s world-famous subway tunnels. Hughes moved the action westward, conjuring up an epic showdown between human soldiers and the last surviving ants at a Santa Monica amusement park. Finally, for both artistic and budgetary reasons, Sherdeman set the big finale in the sewers of Los Angeles.

9. Warner Bros. encouraged theaters to use Them! as a military recruitment tool.

The film’s official pressbook advised theater managers who were screening Them!& to contact their nearest Armed Forces recruitment offices. “Since civil defense in the face of an emergency figures in the picture, make the most of it by inviting [a] local agency to set up a recruiting booth in the lobby,” the filmmakers advised. Also, the document suggested that movie houses post signs reading: “What would you do if (name of city) were attacked by THEM?! Prepare for any danger by enlisting in Civil Defense today!”

10. The movie was a surprise hit.

Studio head Jack L. Warner predicted that Them!, with its far-fetched plot, wouldn’t fare well at the box office. So imagine his surprise when it raked in more than $2.2 million—enough to make the picture one of the studio's highest-grossing films of 1954.

11. Them! landed Fess Parker the role of TV's Davy Crockett.

When Walt Disney went to see Them!, he had a specific objective in mind: Scout a potential Davy Crockett. At the time, Disney was developing a new television series that would chronicle the life and times of the iconic frontiersman, and James Arness, who plays an FBI agent in Them!, was on the short list of candidates for the role. Yet as the sci-fi thriller unfolded, it was actor Fess Parker who grabbed Disney’s attention. Director Gordon Douglas had hired Parker to portray the pilot who ends up in a psych ward after an aerial encounter with a gargantuan flying ant. And while his character only appears in one scene, the performance impressed Disney so much that the struggling actor was soon cast as Crockett.

By the Texan’s own admission, his good fortune may’ve been the product of bargain hunting. “Walt probably asked, ‘How much would Arness cost?’ and then ‘This fellow [Parker], we ought to be able to get him real economical,” Parker once said.

George R.R. Martin Doesn't Think Game of Thrones Was 'Very Good' For His Writing Process

Kevin Winter, Getty Images
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

No one seems to have escaped the fan fury over the finals season of Game of Thrones. While likely no one got it quite as bad as showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, even author George R.R. Martin—who wrote A Song of Ice and Fire, the book series upon which the show is based, faced backlash surrounding the HBO hit. The volatile reaction from fans has apparently taken a toll on both Martin's writing and personal life.

In an interview with The Guardian, the acclaimed author said he's sticking with his original plan for the last two books, explaining that the show will not impact them. “You can’t please everybody, so you’ve got to please yourself,” he stated.

He went on to explain how even his personal life has taken a negative turn because of the show. “I can’t go into a bookstore any more, and that used to be my favorite thing to do in the world,” Martin said. “To go in and wander from stack to stack, take down some books, read a little, leave with a big stack of things I’d never heard of when I came in. Now when I go to a bookstore, I get recognized within 10 minutes and there’s a crowd around me. So you gain a lot but you also lose things.”

While fans of the book series are fully aware of the author's struggle to finish the final two installments, The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring, Martin admitted that part of the delay has been a result of the HBO series, and fans' reaction to it.

“I don’t think [the series] was very good for me,” Martin said. “The very thing that should have speeded me up actually slowed me down. Every day I sat down to write and even if I had a good day … I’d feel terrible because I’d be thinking: ‘My God, I have to finish the book. I’ve only written four pages when I should have written 40.'"

Still, Martin has sworn that the books will get finished ... he just won't promise when.

[h/t The Guardian]

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