Into the woods with 'Northern Exposure'


REDMOND, Wash. -- Hollywood was visiting again. This time, Hollywood was 10 miles outside Redmond in an area destined to become a semirural, one-house-per-five-acre development.

Until the end of last week, though, this land was the mythical town of Cicely, Alaska, circa 1909.

If you're a regular viewer, you probably know that "Northern Exposure" takes place in Cicely but is really filmed in Roslyn, Wash. You may have heard the characters in past episodes alluding to the town's lesbian founders, Roslyn and Cicely, who carved it out of a muddy mining settlement.

The final episode of this season, set to run May 18, will be a flashback to 1909, with most of the cast members and a few guest stars telling the story of the founding of the town. To remove all vestiges of the 1990s and make Roslyn -- er, Cicely -- look like a Klondike mining town, the producers had to create a new, old Cicely out in the woods somewhere.

So they began combing the eastern Seattle suburbs for a site -- preferably one near the studio in Redmond where all indoor shots are filmed. They found this woods -- far from traffic noise, away from any power lines, distant from tall buildings, and with the perfect slope and tree cover.

Production designer Woody Crocker is the man in charge of making Cicely look authentic. And to do it, he spent a long time studying photos of Klondike mining towns.

"You never know what the audience is going to focus on," Mr. Crocker said. "Everything's got to be appropriate or you may get caught."

Most of the buildings were set partly in the trees, the practice of that era. "We didn't want it to look like Dodge City," Mr. Crocker said. There's a Chinese laundry that operates out of a tent because many Chinese lived in Alaska during that time, most of them brought in to work at the salmon canneries. And many businesses or dwellings were in tents.

To make the tents look worn, Mr. Crocker said, they were dragged through the mud. To make the windows on a building look dirty, they were streaked with soap and chocolate syrup. To make the town look authentic, racks of antlers were nailed over the doors. To make mud, 5,000 gallons of water were sprayed onto the dirt.

To assemble the blacksmith's forge, the laundry and other town buildings, the crew had to track down antiques, including a horse-drawn wooden sled to suggest that it snows in Cicely, even if recently it was only raining.

It was as real as television could make it.

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