On Location: Northern Exposure ... in another location

NKC Tribune, Thurs., November 19, 1992

By M.J. "Squeak" Giaudrone

One of the comments I have heard more than once since the filming of Northern Exposure began in Roslyn is that, if it should ever be necessary, the entire Monday night show could be shot in Redmond. It would not be necessary at all for the film crew, actors, producers, etc. to have to make the near-hundred-mile trip for the privilege of filming one or two days every couple of weeks. I had heard it from producers, technicians, and members of the general public who had visited the studio in Redmond, and at long last, I finally got to see it for myself. And, what I saw is very true.

While you would never guess it while driving down this street in Redmond, the city of Roslyn sits rather quietly in a warehouse studio. What took me to the west-side version in the first place was an interview with Katharine Bentley, the costume designer for the show. Since it is rare now when Katharine needs to work in Roslyn, it seemed only realistic to go to her. That meant I would get to get out of the office on a real-live business trip. The plan was, I wanted to go before snowfall. The problem was, coordinating that with babysitting the granddaughter, my friend's trip to Montana for her parents golden wedding anniversary, and Katharine's schedule. I had three possibilities. The first date we had picked, Katharine had to change. The second date we picked, my friend had to decline because of a sprained ankle.

The third date was successful and we were on our way, with snow predicted, of course. I learned that if someone gives you directions, take them from the first person who offers and disregard everything else. I made the mistake of taking a second set of instructions, given to me by the well-meaning wife of a construction man who's been working on the highway we would need to take to get to the studio. Charlotte, my driver, received another set of instructions from her son-in-law, plus her own limited experience in driving in that area. Believe me, if Pipeline Productions want their studio location to remain a secret, I'm their best ally. I never had a clue as to where I was going, from which way I'd come, nor how I got there. I could have been on my way to Cuba, for all I knew, except that I never smelled cigar smoke.

Once I thought I saw a familiar landmark and Charlotte told me, "You're right." But, once again, I didn't know where I was or how I got there. It was my niece's apartment. When we arrived at the studio (actually, Charlotte arrived, I just tagged along), we had to identify ourselves at the gate. This done, we were given instructions for getting to Katharine's office.

Fortunately, it was a straight line from the gate to the door, so I was now back in control of the situation. I even felt comfortable enough to let my eyes stray long enough to say hello to Peg Phillips ("Ruth-Anne") when we passed. When we got inside the building, we identified ourselves at the desk, then sat down to wait--next to series regular Darren E. Burrows ("Ed"), who was speaking to someone in the small lobby.

One of the most incredible things I found about the studio was how quiet it was for the amount of people who were quietly bustling around. I admired the German timepiece I had just seen "Maurice Minnefield" anguish over in a recent episode; and wondered about the strange prehistoric-looking skeletal figure looming above me (This fella stretched all the way to the ceiling!) clad in sunglasses and foam moose ears. I surmised I must have missed the episode in which it appeared.

Katharine came to get us about the same time that Dan Dusek location manager, walked in and after a brief exchange of pleasantries, we headed for Wardrobe and her office. Russ Powell, transportation coordinator for the show--the one responsible for making sure everyone and everything gets moved from Redmond to Roslyn, and back--stuck his head out of a door, "Hi, what are doing here?" he asked. Since we usually see each other at the same restaurant in Cle Elum, it was a real pleasure to remind him that, in addition to being a professional coffee drinker I also have a job, and I was actually working at it.

I think it's interesting to note that while talking to Katharine, I glanced out into her workroom and saw someone eating lunch at one of the work tables: Rob Morrow ("Dr Joel Fleischman"). Since I have witnessed similar situations on location, I managed to keep my composure intact. As we were about to conclude the interview, and suspecting that Katharine was getting hungry, too, she offered us a tour of the studio. I asked for permission to take pictures; permission granted providing I did not take pictures of any of the actors. One shot would have gotten nearly everyone, as most of them were taking a break for lunch. But, "Shelly" (Cynthia Geary) may not have appreciated having her shown with her hair in curlers on Page 10 of the NKC Tribune.

Slowly, but surely, we saw every set we've seen on the show--and in Roslyn--plus more. The Brick Tavern set had undergone a transformation for a futuristic show, in which "Shelly" has a dream which takes place about 10 years into the future [4.11 Survival of the Species]. Neon-and-plexiglass tables were the first thing I noticed that was different from the original place. Large tubes of corrugated something were hanging mysteriously down from rafters. But the most important difference I observed was the absence of the free-flowing spittoon trough on the front of the bar replica. 'The wheels to the camera dollies kept getting tangled up in it, so they had to get rid of it," Katharine told us.

We ventured further, to Maurice's infamous log home. The high gloss of the "wooden logs" was beautiful. Being more than a day old, myself, I knew better than to think that the logs were real. I was surprised to learn, however, they were not styrofoam or balsa. They are cardboard tubes (the size in which you might mail carpeting if you're so inclined). The art department had really done a fine job of making something grand from something bland. Next we visited the "Bubble Man's" geodesic dome home. An all white interior and lots of plexiglass and plants offer the newest character on the show some sort of environmental protection. His charts are under plexiglass- his kitchen has a food processor ("Adam", played by Adam Arkin, would love this place, but I doubt the "Bubble Man" would welcome "Adam " with the same zest).

"Maggie's house" (actually "Ms. O'Connell's" second home since the series began, her first one having been torched by her mother [3.14 Burning Down the House.]) was warm and comfortable. It was there that Katharine offered to take our picture. "Dr. Fleischman's office" was just as dismal as in real life, and I mentioned to the others that one really has to give the art department a lot of credit--to be able to put as much energy into making something look awful as to make it look beautiful has got to be rather difficult.

Possibly the most recent acquisition for the studio is "Ruth Anne's General Store." Filming inside Central Sundries in Roslyn had become somewhat cumbersome, with the increased tourist activity, so the store's interior had to be moved to Redmond. But, it doesn't lack for that familiar, local feeling.

As we left the studio, we said goodbye to Katharine, Dan Duseck and his co-manager, Vicky Berglund-Davenport, and the guard at the gate. Somehow, it felt more like we were leaving home rather than starting out to return to it. We pulled off the lot and got back into traffic. Once more, I was lost. And if that wasn't bad enough, Charlotte got turned around looking for one of her favorite places--the KayMarche department store. As so often happens in the city, her landmark (her daughter's former apartment) had been torn down, too. Nothing ever seems to stay the same on the west side of Snoqualmie Pass. You can depend on it! 'Tain't so in Roslyn. And you can depend on that, too.

Created 2/14/02
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