Was pointed out that May 25 represents the anniversary of one of the most infamous TV endings of all time.
ST. ELSEWHERE, for those that don’t remember, was a medical drama that ran on NBC from 1982 to 1988. It was sort of a companion to HILL STREET BLUES in its depiction of a painfully real, gritty city hospital where patients often died and tragedy was always around the corner — along with a fair amount of absurd humor.
The large and varied cast included everyone from Denzel Washington to Mark Harmon to Howie Mandel to Ed Begley Jr. to the great William Daniels as the arrogant Dr. Mark Craig, but of interest here is Dr. Donald Westphall, played by the late Ed Flanders.
Westphall had an autistic son, Tommy, played by Chad Allen. Throughout the series, the writers (including Tom Fontana, later of HOMICIDE and OZ), loved to insert all manner of puns and wordplay (“Donald, Duck!” “Jumping Jack, what was that flash!” [Dr. Craig at a psychiartrist] “You were telling me about the dream you had about the silver spaceships flying in the yellow haze of the sun?” Craig: “I was kneeling. I was young.”]. This extended to episodes with such sequences as a shot-for-shot recreation of ZZ Top’s “Legs” video and Howie Mandel’s Dr. Fiscus meeting God…who looked an awful lot like Fiscus.
None of this was enough to prepare viewers for the final episode.
The ep included a number of elaborate puns, including a one-armed fugitive in the hospital (a parody of THE FUGITIVE) and a patient-killing doctor named “Brandon Falsey” (a pun on series creators Joshua Brand and John Falsey, whose first-season episodes were filled with gloom and doom). But they saved the best for last, as seen below.
First, there’s a hilarious pun on the famous “it ain’t over until…” line. And then…the hospital gets turned upside-down. Literally.
Yes, they implied THE ENTIRE SERIES was the product of Tommy Westphall staring into a snow globe!
Horrifying viewers even further, the closing credits “killed off” the little kitten used in the tag of ST. ELSEWHERE and other shows from MTM Productions, including THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, HILL STREET BLUES, THE WHITE SHADOW and REMINGTON STEELE:
Viewers were, put bluntly, aghast.
In his excellent book TELEVISION’S SECOND GOLDEN AGE (which I’ll admit using for reference for this piece), author Robert J. Thompson quotes Tom Fontana as saying they almost went FURTHER, and showed more snow globes on top of the TV, including Hill Street Station, WJM from THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, and so on — implying that every MTM Productions’ show was part of Tommy’s dream.
That kid’s mind was a network executive’s gold mine.
Years later, the late great comic book and TV writer Dwayne McDuffie made a mind-blowing point: During its run, ST. ELSEWHERE had done a crossover episode with CHEERS, which had in turn produced FRASIER, who had crossed over onto WINGS. By the series’ logic, ALL those shows existed in Tommy’s head.
It got weirder: During the run of HOMICIDE, Alfre Woodard reprised her ST. ELSEWHERE character. That show featured Richard Belzer as Detective Munch…a role he reprised on LAW & ORDER: SVU, THE X-FILES, THE WIRE and even THE SIMPSONS!
Therefore, ALL those shows, and every show they crossed over into, could be said to take place in Tommy Westphall’s mind.
You can read the full essay here.
The ending was also parodied in a number of places. Here’s one of the best ones, from the end of the NEWSRADIO episode “Daydream” (I’ve got the clip timed to start at the end, though the whole ep is hilarious):
Sadly, only the first season of ST. ELSWHERE is on DVD — though it’s been rerun in various places since the ending.
But before THE SOPRANOS, NEWHEART, Etc., this was the first final episode of a series to really, truly mess with viewers’ heads. Well, maybe BLAKE’S 7, which killed off the cast, came pretty close.
It was still a great show that produced some truly innovative and tear-jerking moments, and I hope the whole thing is available again someday. For now, I’ll always think of it when I see a snow globe.
Recently, I was lucky enough to sell a couple of pitches to KaBOOM!’s new comic based on Cartoon Network’s Emmy-winning series REGULAR SHOW.
Of the pitches I sent in, two were approved. One, “Sombrero World,” was approved and will run in an upcoming issue with art by Brad McGinty, with whom I’m also doing a story for KaBOOM!’s ADVENTURE TIME comic. Zack is living large!
The other approved pitch wound up being rejected in script form. I’d already talked with artist Michael Dialynas (AMALA’S BLADE at Dark Horse Comics) about illustrating it, and he did a design of the main characters Mordecai and Rigby that you can see below. I don’t know the reason for the rejection, but I don’t own the property and that’s Cartoon Network’s prerogative. That said, I hate to let work go to waste, so here’s the script below along with Michael’s designs. He’s doing a cover for an upcoming ADVENTURE TIME comic, and we hope to work together on another story in the future.
Anyway, here’s…BAD GRAMMAR.
Regular Show “Bad Grammar” (6 pages)
Written by Zack Smith
PANEL ONE: MORDECAI AND RIGBY are in the living room of the park house playing video games. In the background, POPS comes down the stairs.
RIGBY: Up, up, down, down..
MORDECAI: .. left, right, left, right…
RIGBY: B,A,B,A, start…
PANEL TWO: Mordecai and Rigby high-five as Pops looks on aghast.
MORDECAI AND RIGBY: …KNOW WE DOIN’ RIGHT!
MORDECAI AND RIGBY: OOOOOHHHHHH!
PANEL THREE: A horrified Pops rushes up to Mordecai and Rigby, who have turned to look at him.
POPS: STOP! STOP! YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU’RE DOING!
RIGBY: …getting 30 extra lives?
PANEL FOUR: Closer on the three as Pops explains.
POPS: It’s “we’re,” not “we,” and “doing it right,” not “doin’ right!”
MORDECAI: But we wuz just –
RIGBY: But we ain’t –
PANEL FIVE: Close as Pops explains:
POPS: You can’t go around talking like this! It’s THE ANNUAL GRAMMAR SOLSTICE!
PANEL SIX: Mordecai and Rigby exchange a skeptical look.
PANEL ONE: Mordecai tries to reason with Pops. BENSON AND SKIPS have entered the room; Rigby’s leaned back over the couch to speak to them.
MORDECAI: Pops, we love you, but…”Annual Grammar Solstice?”
RIGBY: Yeah, Benson, Skips – you know anything about this?
PANEL TWO: Benson looks irate and Skips has his usual grave expression.
SKIPS: Never heard of it. Ever.
BENSON: That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of!
PANEL THREE: A horrified Pops points at an apologetic Benson.
BENSON: Pops, I didn’t mean anything by –
POPS: You…you just ended that sentence with a PREPOSITION!
PANEL FOUR: Benson’s eyes are closed as he rubs his head with his hand, trying to restrain his frustration. The others are turned away listening to Pops.
POPS: My father told me all about this when I was a young boy! You must always use proper grammar on the advent of the grammar solstice, or an evil monster will eat your SOUL!
PANEL FIVE: Mordecai and Rigby are on their feet arguing with Pops, who looks traumatized as he recalls…
POPS: It’s just like the goblin in your nose that will bite off your finger if you stick it in there –
POPS: Or the evil dwarf that lives in your –
PANEL ONE: Mordecai, Rigby and the others walk away from a startled Pops in disgust.
MORDECAI: Pops, your dad was just messing with you!
RIGBY: Yeah, there’s NO SUCH THING as a Grammar Solstice!
PANEL TWO: Pops stands there alone, devastated.
PANEL THREE: LATER – Mordecai and Rigby are talking by the lawn mower as an eager Pops “pops” in on the right side of the panel.
RIGBY: So let me ax you –
POPS: “Ask,” not “ax!”
PANEL FOUR: LATER STILL – As before, Skips is interrupted while on the phone by Pops (who “pops” in from the left side this time, or at least a different angle from the previous page).
SKIPS: I told him it’d warsh right out –
POPS: “Wash,” not “Warsh!”
PANEL FIVE: EVEN LATER: Benson, with clipboard, is giving directions to the off-panel park workers, when Pops “pops” in, this time from some impossible angle (like upside-down from the top of the panel).
BENSON: …and remember, make sure you hang you’re keys on the –
POPS: “Your,” not “You’re!”
BENSON: …how did you even know that?
PANEL ONE: LATER – everyone’s gathered by the front steps staring irately at a frantic Pops. MUSCLE MAN AND HI FIVE GHOST have joined them, also irate.
MORDECAI: Pops, you’re driving everybody crazy!
HI FIVE GHOST: Yeah! I don’t care if “Cthulhu” is pronounced “Khlûl’-hloo,” not “Cut-ool-hoo!”
PANEL TWO: On a horrified Pops as he is overwhelmed by BAD GRAMMAR from the off-panel park workers.
MUSCLE MAN: (from off) I can’t not get any work done!
SKIPS: (from off) It’s a mute point!
POPS: …moot point…
BENSON: (from off) I’m literally about to explode!
PANEL THREE: Everyone looks up as AN UNDERWORLD PORTAL OPENS IN THE SKY.
BENSON: What the –?
PANEL FOUR: The red-skinned head of THE PEDANTICORE emerges from the portal. It is a slightly intellectual head and face with glasses, etc., possibly some sort of hat. I keep thinking of the teacher in the “Another Brick in the Wall” video. It has three rows of sharp teeth and is smiling. It speaks in a sort of dignified, Old English-looking font.
PEDANTICORE: Salutations, compatriots…
PANEL FIVE: BIGGEST PANEL OF THE PAGE: The Pedanticore’s full form now hovers over the terrified park workers. It is sort of based on the classic mythological monster the Manticore (here is the fiercest image I could find), with a red lion-like body, giant bat wings and a scorpion tail.
PEDANTICORE: …I am…The Pedanticore!
PEDANTICORE: Lamentably, you have transgressed the accords of the Annual Grammar Solstice, forcing me to seek satiety from the mastication of your essences!
PANEL ONE: The Pedanticore’s paw points at a startled Pops as the other park workers look at him. Rigby is still confused by the Pedanticore’s announcement in the previous panel.
RIGBY (small) …wha..?
PEDANTICORE: …Except you.
PEDANTICORE: Your grasp of the fundamentals of linguistics is utterly nonpareil!
PANEL TWO: GREEN RAYS from the Pedanticore’s mouth hit all the park workers except Pops, who stares in horror. The park workers react in agony to the Pedanticore’s rays.
PEDANTICORE: But now…I must sup!
RIGBY: Ahhgh! I’m going to die…and I don’t even know what he’s saying!
PANEL THREE: Mordecai, in the throes of the Pedanticore’s attack, is near Pops, who hears him go…
MORDECAI: We should have listened to Pops!
MORDECAI: Pops, we’re sorry!
PANEL FOUR: An angry Pops points up at a startled Pedanticore.
POPS: You may not feast upon my friends’ souls, you ostentatious ninnyhammer!
PANEL FIVE: The Pedanticore reacts with anger toward Pops, who stands his ground.
PEDANTICORE: You dare contest my assertion upon these inarticulate ignoramuses?
POPS: Indeed! I postulate that none may lay claim to being without moments of maundering dissertation!
PANEL ONE: The Pedanticore reacts in disbelief at a smug Pops.
PEDANTICORE: Poppycock! My elocution is irrefutably authoritative!
POPS: Ha! Only a cretin would proclaim to be invariably infallible!
PANEL TWO: Flames roar around the Pedanticore as it gears up for its assault on Pops.
PEDANTICORE: This aspersion will not stand!
PEDANTICORE: Momentarily, you will know the asperity of my –
PANEL THREE: Pops is in the same pose as when he “popped” in on the others on Page 3 as the Pedanticore reacts in disbelief
POPS: Ahh-ahh-ah! You just used “momentarily” to mean “in a moment,” when it really means “for a moment!”
PANEL FOUR: The Pedanticore IMPLODES into the portal!
PEDANTIORE: NOOOOO – THIS ISN’T CRICKET — !
PANEL FIVE: The park workers have collapsed in a big pile. Pops is most cheerful.
RIGBY: Sorry we…doubted you.
POPS: Quite all right! And you all taught me that one cannot simply force proper grammar on others!
POPS: It must be learned.
PANEL SIX: The other park workers just lie there in a heap as Pops walks off.
MORDECAI: Dude, is anyone else afraid to ever say anything again?
EVERYONE ELSE: Yeah/Yup/Mm-hmm.