It was the summer of 1990, and CBS viewers were about to meet Dr. Joel Fleischman, a big city physician who just got stationed in the small town of Cicely, Alaska. Fleischman (played perfectly by Rob Morrow) had applied for a state run scholarship program that paid for his tuition in exchange for his post-graduation services. The first scene of Northern Exposure opens with him on a flight out of NYC, headed to Alaska to pay his dues. While he's originally scheduled to take residency in Anchorage, a change of plans brings him to the backwoods of the Last Frontier.
Northern Exposure fell into the fish out of water genre popular in that era (Baby Boom, Doc Hollywood), but it didn't hinge on its protagonist or a culture shock angle too much, which gave it some longevity. The show featured an entire town of characters, some of the Twin Peaks Log Lady ilk, others with a more mainstream quirk to them. One of the regulars was Chris Stevens, who lived in a 1960s Airstream, broadcasted a radio show on KBHR, and liked to talk about the soul and quote Goethe and Carl Jung. This character was the highlight of John Corbett's career, and as Stevens he even predicted our current state of technology addiction:
This wasn't the most important show on television, but it was one of the best—it didn't just go in for cheap laughs and entertainment, it lightly pushed some boundaries in the restrictive world of network television at the time. And during its 4th season it featured the second same-sex marriage story arc on U.S. prime-time television, when innkeepers Ron and Erick were married.
While it was on, TV critic John Leonard called the series "the best of the best television in the past 10 years," and a professor, John Cody, heralded its imagination, saying each episode delivered "magic, myth, ritual philosophy, religious wisdom, folklore, fantasy, and living sparks from the moral dialectics of diverse characters." These past plaudits are easy to find now because there's a fairly large community of people still discussing the series online.
The show—which, by the way, counted David Chase a writer and producer—was humorous and dramatic; entertaining and beautiful (it was shot in Roslyn, Washington, located in the Cascade Mountains), and over the course of its six seasons and 110 episodes, it received 57 award nominations. It took home Emmys, Golden Globes, Directors Guild of America Awards, and a Peabody, amongst others (27 in total). Simon Pegg credited its frequent use of fantasy sequences as "one of the key influences" in creating his own series, Spaced, which he pitched as "a cross between The Simpsons, The X-Files and Northern Exposure."
So why is one of the greatest dramedies in television history being disappeared? It's been off the air since 1995 and hasn't turned up on any streaming platform since. (It even took over a decade to even get the full series out on DVD.)
When my colleague Eve Batey at SFist was researching the absence of this and other shows from streaming platforms a few years ago, she was told that "the holdup was music rights. The show's creators didn't want to compromise by replacing the music used at the time with generic music (like you'll hear in streaming versions of Alias or Beverly Hills 90210, for example), but no one wants to pay artists for rights to use their songs in the streaming version."
But other shows have managed to work around this, and now practically every show ever is hosted on either Amazon or Netflix. This one is not even on CBS's streaming service, All Access, where they host their older shows alongside their new offerings... but maybe that's because it appears NBC now owns it (YouTube take-down notices also point to them). Step into the light and show yourself, whoever is holding the rights to this show... and if it's music rights issues you're battling, then maybe just let Netflix reboot it?
We reached out to the streaming sites for some insight, and so far only Netflix has gotten back to us, saying, "no news yet on whether or not Northern Exposure will be added to the service." The "yet" is because we've reached out several times before, and have been given the same answer over the years.