Hill St. Blues in a Hospital

On October 26, 1982 NBC premiered its hit TV hospital drama St. Elsewhere. Known by some as NBC’s attempt to take its gritty police drama Hill Street Blues and place it in the context of a bustling hospital, St. Elsewhere contained many of the same elements that helped make Hill Street Blues standout such as its complex and more than often flawed characters, large ensemble casts, and overlapping serialized plots that would leave audiences on the edge of their seats with weekly cliff hangers.

Many of the characteristics of St. Elsewhere made it a prime example of a Post-Network Era television show, especially as it followed the lead of NBC’s other hit serial drama so closely. However, in Season 3 Episode 8 of St. Elsewhere, entitled “Sweet Dreams” we can see an excellent example of the Post-Network Era concept of televisuality where what is displayed on the screen is made to look cool or appealing to the audience. In the episode many of the staff and patients at Saint Eligius Hospital are suffering from a myriad of sleeping ailments. In particular, the hospital orderly Luther Hawkins falls asleep inside of a supply closet and slips into a vivid dream where he parades around the hospital wearing a flashy white suit and hat accompanied by a trio of beautiful women while hit 70’s Texas based rock band ZZ Top magically transports around the building and plays their 1984 single Legs. While the band plays, Luther and his entourage move from room to room in the hospital, taunting surgeons and security guards with impunity, dancing with patients, drinking glasses of champagne, being showered in money, and otherwise enjoying an extravagant time.

The inclusion of a hit band’s music, showing them on screen (although technically portrayed by members of the St. Elsewhere cast wearing elaborate disguises), having Luther strut around confidently in a stylish outfit, and the appearance of the women (portrayed by the actresses originally appearing in ZZ Top’s MTV music video for Legs) all work to improve the televisuality of the scene and make it seem more visually appealing to audiences.

-Anderson Bradshaw

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