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.
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.
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.
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.