It’s the early 1970s. Two young filmmakers are discussing over the phone. One has just signed a TV directing contract with Universal. The other is a former med student-turned-writer. The writer has just written a 150-page script titled “Code Blue” and is asking his TV director friend for his opinion.
The TV director would go on to be one of the greatest directors in cinema history, while the writer would go on to be the most successful author of his time. The director is Steven Spielberg, the writer is Michael Crichton, and the script would become the pilot for one of the best dramas in television: ER.
Based in Chicago, ER focuses on the dedicated surgeons, residents, nurses, and medical students of County General Hospital. Everything from the local drunks and drug addicts to emergency labor to assault victims come crashing through the doors, seeking the medical expertise of Dr. Greene, Dr. Ross, Nurse Hathaway, Dr. Benton, and Dr. Carter. The intensity of each medical case is intertwined with the complex personal stories of each character, putting a human face on the lab coat and stethoscope.
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Premiering in September of 1994 on NBC, ER quickly became one of television’s most popular dramas, hitting the number one spot two years in a row (1994-1996). This feat was achieved with excellent writers like Crichton, John Wells (The West Wing), Neal Baer (Law & Order: SVU), and numerous others. This team of writing talent created engaging, suspenseful angles featuring unique medical circumstances; elements one would expect in a production developed by the master of science-based thrillers.
Attached to the writing is an eclectic and evolving cast that featured names like George Clooney, Anthony Edwards, Julianna Margulies, Eriq La Salle, Noah Wyle, Laura Innes, Sherry Stringfield, Maura Tierney, Gloria Reuben, Alex Kingston, Mekhi Phifer, Parminder Nagra, Linda Cardellini, Ming-Na Wen, Scott Grimes, Shane West, William H. Macy, Maria Bello, CCH Pounder, Omar Epps, and the list goes on. And that doesn’t include the special guest stars who spent a little time checking in with the docs at County General.
In its fifteen-year run, ER earned a record 123 Emmy nominations, which includes Emmy wins for Best Writing & Directing (the heart-wrenching “Love’s Labor Lost” in season one) and Best Drama Series for season two. As popular as its predecessors St. Elsewhere and M.A.S.H., ER became the bar in which future medical dramas like House, Grey’s Anatomy, and Chicago Med would be measured by. It’s intense, “machine gun style” delivery in its episodes kept the viewer on its toes. While many attribute the “walk and talk” dialogue scenes to The West Wing, it was ER that first introduced it—as well as placing the camera on a gurney as it crashes through doors while focusing on a doctor keeping their hand pressed down on a punctured artery.
This September marks the 25th anniversary of the premiere of ER. For this writer, ER was the first drama series to grab my attention—at the age of 12. As a Jurassic Park fanatic, anything that had both Crichton and Spielberg attached was going to catch my eye, but I had no idea what I was in for. ER made me appreciate dramatic television at a young age. It made me even more of a Michael Crichton fan, which lead to my large collection of his masterful literary works. Most of all, it made me appreciate the human aspect of the medical industry, and how realistic situations carefully crafted into a complex narrative can create captivating television.
Whether it is your 100th viewing or your very first ride, ER sits in Hulu’s library awaiting your attention. As a fan, I will gleefully state that this series is worthy of your time.