In the making of the TV mini-series 'A Year in the Life', Warren Littlefield of NBC told the press, "This is not a soap opera. We're not doing melodrama. We're doing honest characters, and we're doing what I think are very relatable characters that the audience, as I said, will be attached to. And that's why we think it's different. And so far (in 1986) different has worked. Initially a one-hour script was developed and it was when we looked at that one-hour script, we said, 'OK, how do you launch, in today's competitive world, a series of this nature? We've got to make an event out of it.'"
The event about true-to-life characters facing believable day-to-day domestic situations over 365 days of living in Seattle was then turned into a regular weekly TV drama. Richard Kiley told 'King Features Syndicate' in 1987, "We all agreed that this family has to be exposed to real problems. Luckily, we cover 3 generations . . . We want this to be a regular American family, which is why we are shooting up in Seattle. No palm trees. No Beverly Hills or Manhattan."
On reflection, "Stage, film, TV – I really have no preferences. It's like an artist working in oil, pastel, water color. To survive you should learn to use all your tools." Like him, Richard said of his character Joe Gardner, "We were both Depression kids who grew up with a certain ethic: a day's work for a day's pay. You start at the bottom and work your way up. That was a way of life.
"If you lived through it, that stayed with you. It's just not right to get something for nothing and if you fudge on that, there's a deep-seated feeling of guilt. I am really lazy as hell. But let me give in to that laziness and I'm burdened with the most awful guilt in the world. Also, like other people our age (the over 60s), Joe is getting broad-minded whether he likes it or not. It's like a reverse of vice. You can't live in our world today (in 1987) and not be horrified by a lot of things; but you tell yourself, 'Well, I don't understand it, but it's the world.'"
"I've never wanted to do a series," Richard stated. "I wasn't interested in a run-of-the-mill series but I saw the honesty of the writing and knew it was something I could see myself doing. I was seduced by its quality. It meant uprooting myself from my home and family in New York City to live in a hotel here in Los Angeles. Economically, I'm not making as much money as I could touring in 'Man of La Mancha.'"
Co-creator and producer Joshua Brand told the press in 1992, "When you present a drama series to a network they always want to know what's the franchise. What they mean by that is what is going to generate stories over 4 or 5 years. They understand if you say a medical school or law school or a police station. For them stories aren't generated from character. They come from a profession.
"There are only a couple of franchises – cops, detectives, doctors, lawyers, and occasionally the family. European comedies are character-driven, while American comedies are joke-driven. I think what's so wonderful about 'Northern Exposure' is that it is character-driven. I wanted to do a comedy that was gentler, more humane." John Falsey added, "I think it was the sense of creating a non-judgmental universe that was appealing to me. The understated humor of the show is something I've never seen on television before. It's funny, and it's rooted in real characters who are not caricatures."