St. Elsewhere and its sister shows, Hill Street Blues and L.A. Law were three of the most important shows on TV. They lead to the type of shows we see on cable and now stream.

After four decades of having a Broadcast License that allowed Networks to “print money” they were getting completion, real competition for the first time and it came from three sources, the last being, at the time, the biggest:

  1. Home Video: The VCR really took off and rental stores were everywhere. For the first time home viewers could see ADULT (not porno) movies with ADULT themes, uncensored and uninterrupted by commercials.
  2. Cable was small but growing, growing, also showing movies on HBO and Showtime as well as TCM, TBS showing sports, old TV shows and now news on CNN.
  3. Believe or not the biggest competitor in the beginning of the 1980s for the Networks was the growth of local INDEPENDENT TV stations. They required no cable boxes and no VCRs. They showed movies, local sports teams and local news. And they began to put on original programing such as Star Trek TNG; Baywatch, Hercules, Zena and so on.

Also, at this time, total ratings, total viewers for TV shows began to matter less. The advertisers, and therefore the Networks, wanted viewers ages 20-50 and didn’t care much about the rest.

So, for the first time the Networks began to produce shows that simple were not for kids. Not that kids were interested in Marcus Welby MD, but they could watch it without their parents explaining what was happening. If Welby had an adult theme, people were punished for not following, “Middle Class Morality.” That is, when a girl had an abortion on the show she was punished by being told “she could never have children.” There were several abortions on St. Elsewhere with no moral repercussions.

St Elsewhere, Hill Street Blues and L.A. Law didn’t have the highest overall ratings, but the 20-50s watched in great numbers.

And those shows created the format that many adult shows followed. For example, Hill Street learned, and the other followed, that views liked continuity but also wanted “complete” episodes with a beginning middle and an end. So the shows had LONG story arcs, but were also episodic.

Adult dramas proved popular and now they all seem to be moving to basic cable, HBO type stations and now streaming. Adult themes, language and nudity have been added and these shows are not for children.

St. Elsewhere bothered me with two concepts, neither one would be “allowed” or shown today. In their first 4 years, the male doctors constantly made sexist comments about and to woman. It was CONSTANT. That actually stops, cold, in the fifth season and there are actual stories about how badly professional women are treated. So they get a pass on that one.

The lack of security, leading to horses, monkeys, guns and kidnappers going into the building did bother me. About eight people were shot on the show. The show took a very casual view on rapists. The rapists, of men and women, were actually rewarded and set free quickly. And women who were raped were actually put, unguarded, in secluded offices where they were raped again. Give me a break.

Finally, everyone on the show who was not raped or shot has a parent, spouse or child die.