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cultural vandal | by maryann johanson

question of the day: Is the end of ‘ER’ the end of an era?

NBC’s long-running doctor drama ER wraps up forever tonight, and a recent article in Los Angeles Times suggests that when the series goes, so goes with it our former ideas about what constitutes network television, or perhaps simply “television” itself:

With its technical innovations and reliance on realism, “ER” changed dramatic television. And when NBC pulls the plug on the show Thursday after 15 seasons, “ER” will leave behind a splintered prime-time landscape as the networks struggle to compete in a digital world.

Set in a frenzied Chicago emergency room where the staff had personal lives often even more hectic than their medical cases, “ER” on its 1994 premiere was a dramatic innovation, a hyper-realistic “General Hospital” complete with gallons of blood, relentless Steadicam shots and shouted healthcare jargon. The audience loved it. “ER” was TV’s No. 1 drama in the ad-friendly category of adults ages 18 to 49 for an astonishing 10 seasons and has long served as the 10 p.m. anchor of NBC’s once-invincible Thursday lineup. Despite its age, the show has still sometimes beaten competing dramas in its time slot this season.

“I can’t say never, but I doubt we will ever see the likes of a show like ‘ER’ again that rounds up such a huge amount of viewers who watch something at the same time,” said Neal Baer, a Harvard-trained physician who was one of the show’s early writers and eventually served as an executive producer. “It’s truly the end of an era of television.”

(The whole long piece is worth a read if you’ve enjoyed ER at any point in its run, or if you’re a production geek. There’s some good stuff about how the producers had to fight to do the show the way they wanted.)

Point in favor of what Baer is saying about huge audiences watching something at the same time: I got bored with the soap opera of ER a while back and gave up watching, but I’m curious to see how it ends, so I’ll check out the finale. Except… I’m not free tonight, so I’ll DVR it, but probably won’t get a chance to watch it till next week.

The other point in favor of the show’s dramatic impact on television production values: I remember watching that first episode, back in 1994, and being dizzied by it. But when I watched it again recently, it felt achingly sloooow.

Will you watch the ER finale? Do you care — or have you even noticed — that the show is over forever? Is the end of ‘ER’ the end of an era?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me.)



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