Monday, March 30, 2009

The "ER," About to Be Shut Down For Good

Has it already been 15 years since "Friends" and "ER" both hit the airwaves? Yep, fall 1994. I was still in college, and too busy to watch the first seasons of either show.

But come fall 1995, I was working at the TV trade pub Electronic Media in Chicago -- and the entire office was obsessed with "ER." Some were infatuated with George Clooney. Others loved the Chicago setting (even if it didn't actually shoot in Chicago, "ER" crews came to town several times a year to shoot exteriors). And the fast-paced storytelling hooked pretty much everyone.

Our art director, Susan, even began putting together a weekly "ER" quiz on Friday mornings. The winner got their name added to a paper trophy that went around the office; Clooney even signed it during one of his Chicago "ER" visits (Susan and a few others pulled some strings to visit the set).

As time wore on, Susan made the "ER" tests tougher and tougher. I began to take notes during each episode. Whenever any action took place on screen, I'd feverishly write down anything I saw on screen: What time was it on the wall clock? How many characters were in the room? What were a few pieces of key dialogue?

It was everything the networks hoped to have in a hit TV show. Loyal fans invested in a weekly event. "ER" regularly posted 40 shares, helping NBC dominate Thursdays (and before we knew it, the entire week).

Eventually, though, I got out of the "ER" habit. I continued to watch for a few years after I left Electronic Media for Variety... but as the original, core "ER" cast left, I began to tune out as well. I do remember paying special attention to the departure of Anthony Edwards' character, Dr. Mark Greene.

As he was dying of cancer, Dr. Greene took his daughter and headed to Hawaii, where he grew up as a military brat. For obvious reasons, that story resonated with me. (Here's a fictional TV character, after all, who would have attended the same high school as me. Trippy.)

I recently tuned in for the first time in years, in order to catch the return of Clooney, Juliana Margulies, Eriq LaSalle and Noah Wyle. It was like old times -- well, sorta. The 40 shares are long gone, and we're all 15 years older.

This weekend, Maria and I attended the "ER" finale party, held at Social Hollywood. It was a big affair -- cast members past (LaSalle, Wyle) and present (Angela Bassett, John Stamos) celebrated, along with showrunner John Wells and studio and network execs. It felt like the end of an era -- 10 p.m. shows are dropping like flies -- and the party itself, while not lavish, was a throwback to pre-recession times. But considering how important "ER" has been though the years for the network and studio, it was the least they could do.

R.I.P., "ER"!

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