'Northern Exposure' Team Talks Possible Revival: "We Would Love to See It"

Stars Rob Morrow, Janine Turner and Cynthia Geary joined co-creator Joshua Brand and producers Mitchell Burgess, Robin Green and Cheryl Bloch to discuss the beloved former CBS series.
Courtesy of Photofest
'Northern Exposure'

The cast and creative behind cult favorite Northern Exposure reunited Friday at the ATX Television Festival in Austin, Texas, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the former CBS series' premiere.

"I think it was five years ago," star Rob Morrow joked.

Like most reunions in the Peak TV era, the question turned to potential revival of the quirky drama, which ran for five seasons and 110 episodes. Set in a sleepy town in Alaska, the series centered on New York City physician, Dr. Joel Fleischman (Morrow), who is sent to practice in the fictional town of Cicely to fulfill his obligation after Alaska paid for his medical education.

"Rob has been working trying to get them to do it," co-creator Joshua Brand said. "We would love to see it because I think it is of a time but it's also not of a time."

In addition to Morrow's efforts, Darren E. Burrows, who played Ed on the series, has been working to raise money for the project. "It sounds like we all want it to happen," said Cynthia Geary, who played Shelly.

Janine Turner, who played Maggie, encouraged those in the crowd to write to Universal Television, which produced the show. "Write Universal. At least we got to get it streamed," she said of the series, which is not currently available to stream on any platform.

The push for a potential revival harkened back to the early efforts to simply get the series on the air. Brand recalled the show's unassuming start when it quietly launched on CBS in the summer of 1990 with an eight-episode order.

"They didn’t think anyone would watch but they had to, they had to burn off an eight-episode series," Brand recalled of the deal between Universal Television and CBS. "The network didn't understand the show."

Case in point? Brand recalled one of the original names pitched for the series was Dr. Snow. "Of course, they thought it was a medical show," Brand said with a laugh. "Rob would get on his sled and carry the serum to the sick people."

Because of that, CBS initially refused to air the season one episode, "Aurora Borealis: A Fairy Tale for Grown-Ups," which has since become a fan-favorite and screened for fans Friday at the start of the panel. "When the network saw it, they thought it was too weird and odd and they didn’t want to air it," Brand said. Producers convinced them to air it as the eighth and final episode of season one and it was quickly embraced by viewers.

"Once we knew that people did like this episode we actually, my partner and I, we turned to each other and we said, 'We can do anything we want on this show,' and it was incredibly liberating," Brand said. "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."

While the series was certainly off the beaten path, Morrow said it continues to resonate because it appealed to a broad spectrum of viewers. "It was highbrow and lowbrow," he said. "You could be an intellectual and like it and be an idiot and like it, and that was really rare. It certainly on the page read like nothing I had ever read."

Because the show was hard to understand, at least by network standards, the creative team was largely left alone, according to Brand. "We were fortunate in that we were flying under the radar," he said. "At the time, we were fortunate to sort of have to fly by the seat of our pants."

However, that all changed once the show became a runaway hit. Brand recalled a particularly big fight over the season-two episode titled "War and Peace," in which Morrow's character broke the fourth wall — a creative move that "horrified" the studio, he said.

"I got into a huge fight with them because they wanted me to change it," he said. "I said, 'No, this is it.'"

Brand then recalled bring flown to New York for a tough meeting with executives. "They sort of told me I was a really bad boy and I either had to kiss the ring or the threat was obviously to get rid of me," he said. "It was an explicit threat. … I loved the show and I didn't want to leave the show, so I kissed the ring."

However, Brand went back to Los Angeles and soon found he was "miserable" and "unhappy." So he called his agent and told him he was done with the show. Two hours later, Brand recalled, the studio called him. "They said, 'Here's the deal: You can do whatever you want, but you can't ask us for any more money,'" he said with a laugh. "And I never got another note from them again."

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