Nowadays, many medical dramas and comedies are typical of American television, and it is important to understand how Northern Exposure (1990-1995), created by Joshua Brand and John Falsey, influenced the development of not only these genres but also ‘dramedy’ in general.
Northern Exposure became one of the first medical dramedies that are defined as TV shows with the elements of both dramas and comedies, where the development of a character is present, inner conflict is discussed, and the plot includes a lot of comedic elements (Armitage; Hilmes 112; McGregor et al. 32; Mittell 8-12).
Northern Exposure significantly contributed to the development of medical comedies and dramas, including dramedies, typical of American television while demonstrating specific ethnographic aspects or cultural and ethical issues that became actively discussed on other medical TV shows.
Ethnographic Elements in Northern Exposure and the Issue of Identity
The setting of a small town in Alaska allowed the creators of Northern Exposure to drawing the audience’s attention to aboriginal health and rural medicine problems.
The reference to Joel Fleischman, a young general practitioner, and his relationships with patients allowed for concentrating on specific problems that Native Americans and other people in Alaska face while supporting their health (Comelles and Brigidi 18-19).
Northern Exposure is important to demonstrate what problems different ethnic groups face in supporting their health because of their background.
Depicted diversity and ethnographic elements accentuated the question of identity that is important for Americans and attracted the audience to following dramatic and comedic episodes of the characters’ life because these features became viewed as familiar.
The Value and Impact of Accentuating Ethnicity in Northern Exposure and Ethnographic Aspects in Later Medical Dramas
Northern Exposure was among the first TV shows that demonstrated the life of rural general practitioners in contrast to urban professionals.
Northern Exposure focused on the ethical and medical problem of using alternative medicine that was later developed in other American medical dramas and comedies (Hansen 141).
In Northern Exposure, the ethnicity factor typical of American society is emphasized from different perspectives. Following its depiction here, the focus on ethnographic elements became typical of many other medical dramas because of the audience’s interest.
The Depiction of Cultural Issues and Traditions in Northern Exposure
In addition to ethnicity, Northern Exposure also focused on cultural visions of health. Cultural views of Native peoples are depicted almost in every episode of the show (Hirt et al. 238-239; Kendal and Diug 37).
The audience tends to view the depicted health problems, disease processes, proposed treatments, and certain habits and traditions through the perspective of their cultural construction.
The Role of Northern Exposure in Affecting the Representation of Cultural Aspects in Later Medical Dramas and Medical Comedies
Northern Exposure demonstrated how cultural stereotypes could influence the practice of medical professionals. The theme of cross-cultural obstacles and the path to mutual understanding and support is represented in many medical dramedies that follow the example of Northern Exposure.
This TV show also presented the example of how protagonists can culturally identify themselves (Hansen 141). Northern Exposure became the first medical dramedy to focus on cultural issues and emphasize differences in cultural identities.
This TV show significantly affected the representation of various cultural aspects in all other medical dramas and comedies that ran after Northern Exposure.
Ethical Issues as they are Depicted in Northern Exposure
Northern Exposure was among the first medical TV shows to discuss such ethical issues as teenagers’ pregnancy, the absence of healthcare professionals’ assistance, mortality, and personal relationships between physicians and patients.
For instance, the representation of Holling and Shelly’s provocative love story in the Alaskan context and its rules of life made the audience sympathize with the characters despite the ethical nature of the issue.
The characters of Northern Exposure also resolved such moral issues as the treatment of terminal illnesses. Viewers are interested in watching how different ethical dilemmas are resolved; therefore, medical dramas are focused on demonstrating how patients and physicians cope with serious ethical questions.
The Impact of Northern Exposure on Discussing Ethics in Medical Dramas
As a dramedy, Northern Exposure demonstrated ethical problems through both dramatic and comedic aspects.
The approach used in Northern Exposure to present ethical issues and make the audience empathize and choose morally right solutions was followed in other medical TV shows (Hirt et al. 238-239; Kendal and Diug 37).
The impact of this TV show on discussing the questions of morality and ethical issues in medical dramas and dramedies can hardly be overestimated.
Northern Exposure as an Example of a Dramedy in American Television
The main protagonists of Northern Exposure were portrayed in the show as people who needed to overcome certain problems of their past and adapt to a new reality while becoming, or remaining, part of their community.
This approach is typical of many medical dramas, and dramedies in particular, that are focused on representing protagonists’ characters, feelings, and inner conflicts (Armitage; McGregor et al. 32).
By concentrating on presenting both dramatic and comedic episodes of the lives of the main characters, Northern Exposure became one of the first popular medical dramedies.
The Development of Elements of Medical Dramas and Medical Comedies in Modern American Shows concerning Northern Exposure
Northern Exposure demonstrated the evolution of Joel Fleischman as a young physician in terms of his ability to provide patient-oriented care.
This evolution of the protagonist based on overcoming inner conflicts and external barriers was also later depicted in other similar dramas and comedies. Northern Exposure demonstrated how it is possible to combine humor, lyrical episodes, and the discussion of dramatic issues in the limited context of a medical dramedy while making the audience discuss the depicted issues and feel close to them.
Although Northern Exposure was broadcasted from 1990-1995, the elements and approaches used by the authors for the development of the dramatic plot with the culture-specific and comedic elements are actively used by other creators of medical dramedies even today.
Thus, the TV show significantly contributed to the development of medical comedies and dramas because it was the first one to demonstrate specific ethnographic aspects, as well as cultural and ethical issues, that became used as patterns in other medical TV shows, leading to the development of the genre of medical dramedy.
Armitage, Matt. “Northern Exposure: Welcome to the Alaskan Riviera.” 25 Years Later Site. 2018, Web.
Comelles, Josep M., and Serena Brigidi. “Fictional Encounters and Real Engagements: The Representation of Medical Practice and Institutions in Medical TV Shows.” Actes D’història De La Ciència I De La Tècnica, vol. 7, 2014, pp. 17-34.
Hansen, Anders Høg. “Time Is but the Stream I Go A-Fishing in: Present Pasts in 20 Years of American TV Serial Fiction from Northern Exposure to Mad Men.” Continuum, vol. 27, no. 1, 2013, pp. 141-159.
Hilmes, Michele. Only Connect: A Cultural History of Broadcasting in the United States. 4th ed., Cengage Learning, 2013.
Hirt, C., et al. “Medical Dramas on Television: A Brief Guide for Educators.” Medical Teacher, vol. 35, no. 3, 2013, pp. 237-242.
Kendal, Evie, and Basia Diug, editors. Teaching Medicine and Medical Ethics Using Popular Culture. Springer, 2017.
McGregor, Michael A., et al. Head’s Broadcasting in America: A Survey of Electronic Media. 10th ed., Routledge, 2016.
Mittell, Jason. Genre and Television: From Cop Shows to Cartoons in American Culture. 2nd ed., Routledge, 2013.