Monday, March 14, 2016


A familiar look down Pennsylvania Ave.
     Sometime in the late 1980’s the executive producers  of  the TV show “Northern Exposure” scouted small towns around Seattle for a place to film what was slated as a summer replacement series.  The story was set in fictitious Cicely, Alaska.  Logistics prevented filming in Alaska, so they scouted the Seattle area for a suitable site.  After visiting a few other prospects, they got out of the car on Pennsylvania Avenue in Roslyn, Washington and declared their search over.  The replacement spot turned into six seasons of an unforgettable, timeless story.

The KBHR console.
     Around 1997, a few die-hard fans formed Moosefest, an occasional gathering of fans in Roslyn.  Sometimes the gatherings are formal, with visiting cast and production personnel, but other times it’s an informal gathering in Roslyn that meets up to visit film sites, restaurants, homes and watering holes in between.  My wife and I have wanted to attend for around a decade, but inevitable summer travel barriers and the sporadic frequency of the gatherings always stepped in.  Fortunately, the 2015 Moosefest was the 25th anniversary of the show and we were clear to attend.  We were off to Cicely for our first fan-fest of any kind.

     Roslyn seems larger than her on-screen character.  I’m always impressed with the artistry of cinema photography and the way it adjusts the illusion of size.  Maurice’s giant cabin really isn’t that large at all, and the most-used church building is only the size of a small house.  The childhood home that Maurice had shipped from Oklahoma is now a chicken coop, and the set-built church has been relocated to a residential block.  The Brick is a real bar, but is quite different on the inside.  The interior shots were all done on a sound stage.  The real Brick has a glass door, where the on-screen variant had two sets of solid doors to help with the transition between interior and exterior shots.  All of the main sets including Dr. Fleischman’s office, The Brick, Ruth-Anne’s store, and KBHR are located on the same street, just as in the story.

A relic outside the theater.
    The week of our visit was the last days for KBHR, the town’s radio station, to remain in her original location.  The building was purchased and is being developed, so the station is being preserved and moved next door.  The artistry of KBHR was where the details hit me.  The worn, tattered and dulled acoustic wall tile wasn’t worn, tattered and dulled, but carefully painted to appear so.  The microphone and boom weren’t scratched and worn from years of daily use, but it was carefully detailed by an artist to look as if it was.  Every detail was deliberate, even including cubby-holes to allow for various photography angles.  To spin the head further, there were duplicates of the KBHR and other elaborate sets in the sound stage in Redmond, WA.

     The event was a reunion for the cast and crew, and we ran into a gaggle of them at The Brick.  As a fan, it was a surreal moment to be bellied up to the bar at The Brick with Ed Chigliak and Maurice Minifield.  My bride and I both had some apprehension about visiting for fear that some of the mystique of the story would fade for us, but it was the opposite.  We put on DVD’s of the show while we unpacked at home and recalled all the spots we’d visited.
This is where Chris' bike took flight!

     We heard plenty of behind-the-scenes stories, like how a streaking incident resulted in the purchase of a new fire truck for Roslyn, an obstinate citizen who ran his chain saw in protest during filming, and all the challenges of shooting in Washington winters.  I’m more impressed with the show now that I understand all of the work that went into it.  It was certainly an unbelievable amount of work for everyone involved.

     We enjoyed four days of hanging with fans, cast, crew and locals and we made it home with some of the best photos we’ve ever taken, along with a couple of signed original scripts.  Had I paid more attention to the auction, I might have made it back with some original wardrobe.  It’s safe to say we enjoy the show now more than ever, and we look forward to a return trip to check out the many local hiking trails we discovered. 

     It wasn’t until Breaking Bad came along that I enjoyed a TV series as much as NYPD Blue or Northern Exposure.  My wife explains the appeal best; the combination of writing, acting and production actually take you to a place you want to be.  It’s an escape, and a little time among interesting friends.  We will continue to visit both Cicely and Roslyn.