Northern Exposed!

The on-screen romance may be heating up between Maggie and Joel, but off-camera, a delicate balance has settled in among the stars of the Great Northwest

From TV Guide 1/23/93 (Vol. 41, No. 4 Issue #2078)

By Deborah Starr Seibel

A view of Roslyn, Wash., which doubles as Cicely, Alaska.

The sound stage might as well be Alaska The heat has been shut off; too noisy for the mikes. The crew is decked out in a variety layers. Parkas, shearling-lined sweatshirts, fingerless gloves. Janine Turner (bush pilot Maggie O'Connell), gorgeous even in lumberjack-like woolens, begs for - then insists upon - a space heater. A stage hand runs over with a parka and drapes it over her shoulders. "She's demanding," he says, "but she appreciates it."

Turner shrugs off the jacket, freeing her arm to punch Rob Morrow (Northern's unhappy New York fish out of water, Dr. Joel Fleischman) in the nose. A stuntwonnan jabs her fist out first. Turner follows, hesitantly. "Like this?" she says Morrow flinches, ducking his head as the knuckles fly by his face. "Some people," says an extra, "have been wanting to do that for a very long time."

It's Monday morning on the set of Northem Exposure: faked Alaska in a warehouse in Redmond, Wash, 45 minutes east of Seattle. For nearly three years now, this has been manufactunng headquarters for a series that continues to burn up the Nielsens and attract massive bouquets from the critics.

Given CBS's unusual move last March to renew the show for two seasons - along with a 10-month shooting schedule; rigorous. hard-to-reach locations; and 12-hour days - we wondered how the stars had acclimated to the area. And by all accounts, it hasn't been easy.

Today, the acting action takes place in the local tavern, The Brick, where an un-friendly game of Risk will soon escalate out of control. But this is the episode legions of Northern fans have been waiting for: when it airs on Feb. 15, that punch in the nose will lead to a roll in the hay - literally -and the consummation of Maggie and Joel's seemingly endless will-they-won't-they mating dance.

In the moments leading up to the punch, Morrow stands off-camera, running lines for Turner. His delivery is much too lackluster for Turner's taste. "Can we cut, please?" Turner asks the director. She turns to Morrow, skillfully cajoling him. "Could you give me a little more on that line? Could you try to make me madder? Could you feed me? Will you, please?" Morrow nods, more than willing to play along. When the cameras roll, his new delivery would send anyone into a fury. Now she's ready to break his nose.

For the next 10 hours, this quiet spirit of cooperation will be in evidence everywhere. Despite the fact that extras, makeup artists, crew members, and visitors jam the set, there is a doctor's office hush of intense concentration.

Arriving on the set, John Corbett (Chris Stevens) walks by with a hangdog expression. He is greeted by a crew member with words of concern "How ya hangin' in there, John?" There will be no Seattle club-hopping tonight with his fellow music buff Darren Burrows (Native American Ed Chigliak). The set's potent flu has found yet another victim.

Girl in the hood: Janine Turner now prefers clean air to Times Square; Barry Corbin, a real life rodeo competitor horses around.

Morrow walks by, on a quick break. He smiles, then apologizes for refusing to be interviewed. "I'm just feeling...." He struggles for the right word. Overexposed? "Yeah. I just can't keep doing all this publicity." This publicity - much of it negative began last summer, when Morrow refused to come back to work unless his salary demands were met. But his strategy backfired, a lawsuit was threatened, and Morrow returned to the set amid stories of his temperamentai tendencies.

Peg Phillps' greatest passion - after acting- is her garden.

Over lunch at Redmond's Family Pancake House, Northwest native Peg Phillips (shopkeeper Ruth-Anne) shakes her head. She will not criticize other actors, but speaks in pointed generalities. "I think it's a bunch of bull for any actor to say they don't want to be bothered with the public. What are we actors for? We're hams, showoffs. We should be grateful people are interested in us at all."

After lunch, we head back to the sound stage, windshield wipers swishing furiously. Catching up with these actors - given the area's notorious weather and the cast's lack of free time - is going to be tough. John Cullum (Holling Vincoeur) invites us to see his nearby, rented home, the furniture hand-picked from the Salvation Army. "You just take a left, then a left, then another left," he directs. But as we follow, his van disappears into the blinding rain - and we are left behind. "We'll do it again Wednesday," he promises later. " It was my fault. It was a right."

Tuesday morning and the rain has changed to snow. It doesn't look dangerous, but a local weatherman is issuing almost nonstop travel advisories. The cast and crew have already left for location shooting in the mountains.

The trip, usually an hour, turns into two-and-a-half. Eighteen-wheelers line up like frozen sausages along the roadside, their shivering drivers struggling to put on chains. We have to go on. The actors, who normally shoot exteriors at least once a week, will be up in the mountains for the next two days. Our destination, Roslyn, population 875, is off the main drag. The charming coal-mining-turned-lumber-town is instantly recognizable as the real-life substitute for the show's fictional setting of Cicely, Alaska.

Texas native Barry Corbin (Maurice Minnifield) joins us on Pennsylvania Avenue, strolling comfortably in his custom Mercer cowboy boots. A serious rodeo contender, he has a shelf full of ribbons and trophies to prove his prowess. "l had one horse up here," he drawls, spinning out the finer points of cutting and rounding up cattle with Maurice-like expansiveness. "Now l've got four."

Turner has a horse up here, too. But fourlegged animals haven't been the only investments. Turner, Corbett, Burrows, and Cynthia Geary (Holling's barroom babe, Shelly Tambo) have all sunk roots into local real estate. "In the beginning, we all lived right by each other," says Geary. "A lot of us were in the same apartment complex and we would hang out." And now? "Now, everyone is finding their own way."

John Cullum's office sits in the middle of his shabby-chic living room.

It's Tuesday night, well past sundown, and the crew has lit up a weathered Roslyn barn. Bales of hay are stacked floor-to-ceiling to accommodate the love scene. Halfway to the rafters, the stars stand quietly, mindful of the danger, watching the stunt people choreograph the particulars of another argument that turns physical. Like longtime friends, Turner and Morrow pass little conversation. In fact, nobody's talking; the snow, falling steadily all day, is heavier now, thick, wet, a real blizzard. No problem, we'll stay in Roslyn. Except that there are no hotel rooms in Roslyn. Or in the next town. "No Vacancy" signs there flash at five different places. Forty-five miles later, a sign for a Super 8 motel flashes weakly through the storm.

All is clear on Wednesday morning. Turner sits down to breakfast. The accessible half of TV's hottest couple has been captivated by her new life and the challenges of keeping relationships with the other actors - especially Morrow - on an even keeL "I think the reason there is such a strong bond between us is that we came over on the same plane together when the show started We were strangers together, we arrived together, and we knew we had to make it or break it together."

Later, Cullum echoes that sentiment, comparing the cast's experience to being in the Foreign Legion. "In the beginning we were pretty much at sea. And we're all eccentrics. But what happens in a small community is that the eccentrics and weirdos learn to conform enough to five together - that's what we've got here."

Created 4/20/02
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