Yeppers, we’re talking about the series finale of ST. ELSEWHERE and its snow globe. Was that just one tiny corner of the Real Truth about the universe of TV?
by Todd Van Luling
Although you may have never noticed the connection, there’s a compelling case that “Friends,” “Breaking Bad,” “Seinfeld,” “I Love Lucy” and just about every other popular American television show exist within the same universe.
Walter White and Rachel Green are no longer just characters in your pop culture-themed fantasy game of Clue, they’re characters that could have bumped into each other on the street.
But this television-changing theory doesn’t stop there. Beyond the theoretical connections, it’s possible that the 419 affected shows all exist within the dream of an autistic boy from the show, “St. Elsewhere” — the notion of which is a hated cliche, yes, but could it be the reality of almost every story arc you’ve ever loved on American television?
The theory is called the “The Tommy Westphall Universe” and hinges on a reveal at the finale of “St. Elsewhere” that the whole show had been in the character Westphall’s dream.
Official crossovers between the “St. Elsewhere” universe with other shows, then those shows with other shows, has created an elaborate web of American television.
You can and should thank Keith Gow and Ash Crowe for being the keepers of this theory for over a decade, managing what has become the official website.
Partnering with The Huffington Post, Gow and Crowe published an extensive update of the “Tommyverse” to their television web of compromised shows, which HuffPost illustrator, Alissa Scheller, put into visual form.
Gow and Crowe have an elaborate system of rules for what shows can and can’t be included in the list, which they shared with HuffPost and can now be seen on their site’s latest update. The most far-reaching regulation is that they “do not include any show that is not a narrative live-action program with a shared continuity from episode to episode.”
This means cartoons and late-night shows are notably excluded, but it gets far more specific than that. One example: “Episodes where reality shows exist within a fictional sphere are not included (such as the ‘X-Files’/’COPS’ crossover and the ‘Chicago Hope’/’Entertainment Tonight’ crossover).”
But despite the elaborate system, the two still doubt their methods from time to time. Crowe told HuffPost that if they were to start over today, they’d exclude fictional products as being the basis for counting a crossover, explaining, “since we started this, there’s apparently been a real consolidation in fake-prop companies.”
This has led to dozens of shows using the same fake product, so in terms of the chart, “that’s become an increasingly complex can of worms,” said Crowe.
The original decision to include fictional product crossovers actually comes from the origins of the chart itself. As Gow told HuffPost, “St. Elsewhere” writer Tom Fontana began writing connections between his shows using fictional products and companies.
Fontana wrote a fictional “Weigert Corporation” as an intergral part of both “St. Elsewhere” and “Oz,” and, as Gow tells it, “It was that little connection that spawned a thousand other connections — references to fictional airlines, companies, nods from one series to another.”
Over the years, the two have gotten countless emails from fans who found their own connections between shows, invested in the prospect of destroying all television storylines with one theory.
Contemporary television writers have even bought in to Gow and Crowe’s theory. Gow said, “I’ve heard from TV writers who deliberately put in references to draw their shows into Tommy’s mind. One TV writer wants to put a copy of the grid on her office wall and put ‘YOU ARE HERE’ on the show she writes for.”