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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Thu, Apr 02, 2009 9:35am

ER was appointment viewing for me for about the first 3 or 4 seasons (Dr. Greene/ Dr. Lewis was my ship before the term was invented!). However, as more of the original cast departed and I started spending more of my free time online, I lost interest and it gradually faded out of my life. I don’t think it was a harbinger of the “Death of Dramatic TV” so much as the simple fact that after about season 5, it wasn’t nearly as good or interesting.

Yes, I’d tune in once every season or so, but I hardly ever saw the same actors twice, the plots were too convoluted for the casual viewer, and they were still getting by on the ‘revolutionary’ schtick from the first couple of seasons that was getting more and more dated as time rolled on. I honestly think the show lasted a good 5 years longer than it should have, but was helped by the lack of competition on the networks and the simple fact it was an “Institution” (the same thing could probably be said of the last 2 seasons of M*A*S*H, with the exception of the finale).

Thu, Apr 02, 2009 9:46am

I watched the show for the first few seasons. I loved it. Then I just stopped. I’m not sure why, really, but that was that.
I don’t buy this “end of an era” business. Sounds kind of arrogant to me. There are plenty of good shows remaining that bring together an audience. At least I’m guessing there are, as I tend to avoid network television. The point is that one show ending really isn’t that big a deal, despite what “they” say.

Thu, Apr 02, 2009 10:54am

About the time Corday took up with first Benton (which was believeable) and then Greene which was not why is it the females on the show have to be sluts?-and witnessed one too many violent events right before bed, I stopped watching for the most part.

I remember the days of must see tv, and they are gone forever.

I spend most evenings online and the only shows that I know are appt viewing for friends and family are reality shows like AI or The Greatest Race.

Now the only network shows I watch are: Big Bang Theory, How I Met Your Mother, Two and a Half Men, and Rules of Engagement (would prefer Old Adventures of New Christine back on Monday-with Patrick Warburton as guest, cause I love him.)

I watch NCIS (old Mark Harmon love, St Elsewhere) and the Mentalist (long time Simon Baker fan) and then Office/Thirty Rock. But if I miss any of these shows I can watch on Demand, or online. And if I want to I can watch DVDs or stream old episodes from Netflix et al. Life isn’t over if I am not at home-thats the difference these days, along with more media.

I love BBC America Shows, Torchwood, and Dr Who but wish they would use a bit less reality also.

C. David Dent
Thu, Apr 02, 2009 2:54pm

I watched E.R. for about the first four seasons and then got tired of it running through the various permutations on the same 10 plots.

It was often more exciting to watch than most action shows becasue the characters felt very real and well-developed, but I think that shows like it will come around again and again. Think back to Hill Street Blues, St. Elsewhere, and E.R. and realize that another show which will dodge the cliches long enough to get popular and then innovate its way to the top again.

Fifteen seasons is an amazing run, and my hats off to the producers, writers and actors who kept it fresh through all those years.

Tonio Kruger
Sat, Aug 31, 2013 10:27pm

I was never that crazy about E.R. when it was first on the air but when I was in the hospital back in 2004, I did get intrigued by some of the reruns from past seasons.

SPOILERS for the Series:

Recently I had the chance to catch up with the whole series on DVD and noted that there were several times when the show had the chance to end on a good note (the departure of George Clooney’s character, the departure of Nurse Hathaway, the death of Dr. Greene, etc.), only to get to the point where it was becoming increasingly painful to see what the show’s writers did with the show’s older characters.

(Apparently Doc Greene was the last character who got a decent exit. Even his widow did not get that much of a sendoff.)

It did not help when the show kept adding more younger characters in an embarrassing effort to attract younger viewers while doing nothing especially interesting or believable with said characters. I understand they were trying to compete with Grey’s Anatomy but still…

The last season saw an improvement in the writing and it would have been interesting to see what newest cast member Angela Bassett would have done in the next season. However, the last episode seemed more like an anticlimax than a glimpse of lost opportunities so it is just as well that it ended when it did. Though I must admit that the glimpse of a certain character’s now-grown child as an intern made for a nice poetic touch.