ER is arguably the quintessential hospital drama of all time. It exceeded other similar hospital shows in success and popularity and paved the way for the later hospital hit Grey’s Anatomy. Without ER it’s almost certain that there would be no Grey’s. The show ran for an astounding 15 seasons and is still beloved by fans around the world today. Check out this article to find out how the show got started, learn more about people behind the series, and hear stories about some of the most well-loved characters and storylines. There's even a possible haunting involved with the show's history!
Michael Crichton Ruled The 1990s
The concept of ER originated from a very interesting place. Like the unexpected Quentin Tarantino connection that we'll learn about next, the show also has a tie to the classic film Jurassic Park. Famed writer Michael Crichton was previously a doctor and a medical student. While studying at Harvard Medical School in the 1960s, he began pursuing his love of fiction writing, much of which came to be inspired by science and medicine.
The show's pilot episode was called “24 Hours” and was written by Crichton, based on his own experiences. The character John Carter, played by Noah Wyle, was inspired by Crichton. Mega-producer Steven Spielberg began collaborating with Crichton in the 1980s.The two negotiated a deal with NBC for a two-hour movie, but they quickly expanded it into the ER series after Crichton produced a script featuring over 100 characters.
Quentin Does TV
Unbeknownst to many, director Quentin Tarantino of Kill Bill fame once directed an episode of ER. You might remember that one of Quentin’s films, From Dusk Till Dawn has one particular thing in common with ER. The star of both was George Clooney. Apparently, after Tarantino cast George in his vampire flick, the two got together and Clooney suggested that Tarantino direct an episode of ER. Obviously, Tarantino was taken with the idea because he agreed to do it.
The result was the episode entitled “Motherhood” which aired in the first season of the show, in May of 1995. Lydia Woodward, not Tarantino, penned the episode and she said that she attempted to make the medical procedures particularly gross for him.
Clooney Finally Gets His Big Break
George Clooney was involved in show business from a young age. He is the nephew of the iconic singer Rosemary Clooney. He had early roles on The Facts of Life, The Golden Girls, and Roseanne. However, despite his many different bit parts, Clooney still hadn’t landed his breakout role and was relatively unknown in the world of Hollywood. According to the executive producer John Wells, "George Clooney begged me for a part."
This apparently consisted of Clooney showing up to Wells' office and refusing to leave until an audition was granted. His begging obviously paid off because he ended up landing the role and it catapulted him to become a household name. Clooney is now a Hollywood heavy-hitter who has also gotten more hands-on with humanitarian efforts alongside his amazing wife Amal Clooney.
Clooney’s On-Screen Tricks
After literally begging his way into a life-changing role on ER, George Clooney still had a few more tricks up his sleeve. He played the role of Dr. Doug Ross and the role demanded knowing quite a bit of medical jargon. ER, in general, was widely lauded for being quite medically accurate.
Dr. Ross was often seen entering into a room to speak to a patient and he would glance down at the ever-present clipboard that he was carrying. It turns out that he wasn’t just hanging his head for dramatic effect, but rather he had some of his more complicated lines written down.
The Scrub Question
Eriq LaSalle first came to fame after his role as the pompous boyfriend the main love interest in the Eddie Murphy film Coming to America. Who could forget Soul Glo? In 1994, LaSalle landed the role of Dr. Peter Benton in ER and stayed on for eight seasons.
LaSalle might have had a little help in the form of his wardrobe when he landed the audition. He showed up wearing scrubs, which he had worn as a costume previously on the show The Human Factor. Scrubs were a big factor for the show. Producers estimated that they went through around 130,000 pairs of hospital scrubs which is probably comparable to a real-life hospital!
The Nurse Hathaway And Dr. Jones Romance Almost Didn’t Exist
Julianna Margulies is one of the most memorable actors from ER, although if the script had stuck to the original plot, audiences probably wouldn’t remember her. Margulies played the character Carol Hathaway, who is shown after a suicide attempt in the pilot episode. As the script was originally written, the character was not meant to survive.
When the pilot episode was aired, Carol tested well with audiences, leading the creators of the show to keep the character alive. Audiences reacted particularly well to the relationship between Carol and George Clooney’s character, Dr. Doug Ross, which later became a focal point of the show.
The Haunted Hospital
Michael Crichton wrote the pilot episode, called “24 Hours”. Crichton is known for his writing that usually centers around the creepy side of things, so It’s a sort of funny coincidence that the episode was shot at a possibly haunted hospital. The show was filmed in Los Angeles’ Boyle Heights neighborhood at the abandoned Linda Vista Hospital. The hospital was constructed in the 1900s for railroad workers. Undoubtedly there were a lot of injuries with such difficult work.
The show From Beyond, which is a ghost-hunter type show, claimed to experience voices and were even assaulted by ghosts while at the location. While the ER cast hasn’t mentioned any experiences with the paranormal, it can’t be a coincidence that all of the other episodes of ER were filmed on a set.
Noah Wyle Is Tough And Maybe Could Have Been A Doctor
Noah Wyle played the character John Carter, which was based on writer and one-time doctor Michael Crichton. Wyle really went the distance for the role and at one point he even contracted mono and ended up still working despite the fact that he was literally hallucinating. He was suffering from a super high fever during the filming of the episode called “Love’s Labor Lost”. Wyle was given an IV and he put it in his pocket and continued acting.
The IV experience certainly paid off. Sometime later the show was filming in Africa. The temperatures soared and the on-set medic (the only real doctor around) passed out. Luckily, Wyle had been studying the craft for all those years and was able to successfully administer an IV and a bag of saline, reviving the poor medic. Paging Doctor Wyle!
George Clooney: Prank Master
George Clooney has a long and storied background with pranking. While on the ER set, he got fellow actor Anthony Edwards in on the fun. For some reason, the two were fixated on freaking out the rest of the cast with baby props. Edwards was fond of an alien baby while Clooney was known to play baby football. Clooney also pranked other cast members like Noah Wyle, Steven Spielberg, and Julianna Margulies.
Spielberg was the executive producer of the show, who always sent out Christmas gifts to his delighted cast. After rumors spread that he had gifted the cast of his film Always with Mazda Miatas, Clooney concocted yet another scheme. He convinced Noah Wyle that they should write sarcastic thank you notes to Spielberg that read, "Dear Steven, Thank you for the Miata cell phone." Wyle went through with it, but George did not. Needless to say, Noah Wyle never got another gift from Steven Spielberg.
The Show Was Big On Parallels
ER ran for 15 years, which is extraordinarily long for a show of its kind. It paved the way for the likes of Grey’s Anatomy and other similar medical shows. Over the years the cast members came and went, which is pretty typical. However, all of the original cast including Anthony Edwards, George Clooney, Eriq La Salle, Julianna Marguiles, and Noah Wyle appeared in the final season in their own touching ways, particularly because some of them had moved on and one of the characters had even been killed off.
For a time on the show, we saw Dr. Greene’s daughter Rachel and her struggles including drug abuse. Rachel was able to overcome the battle of addiction and ultimately became a doctor herself. The poignant moment is really driven home when she is seen in the last episode of Season 15, wither her name "Dr. Greene" being called in the same way her father's was called in the pilot episode.
Because ER ran for so many years, many actors including those who played main characters asked to depart the show. Several of them also asked to be sent off in a truly dramatic fashion. Actress Maura Tierney stayed on the show from 1999 to 2009, but at one point she did ask to leave. However, she changed her mind after getting a great storyline for the character. Actress Kellie Martin also asked to leave the show and asked if the writers would make it “big”.
She played the character of Lucy, who had one of the most memorable deaths on the show. And of course, perhaps the most beloved of all ER characters to get killed off on the show was the main character of Dr. Greene, played by Anthony Edwards. He stayed on for eight seasons before he left and showrunner John Wells asked Anthony, "'Do you mind if we kill him (Dr. Greene)?' Anthony quickly responded, “'Nope!' You’ve gotta do what’s best for the show, so that’s okay.” It definitely made for one memorable exit.
The Realistic Quality Shocked Fans
Speaking of the departure of Kellie Martin… Kellie played the character of Lucy who was brutally stabbed by the character Paul played by David Krumholtz. The terrifying moment came in February of 2000 in the episode “Be Still My Heart.” Krumholtz said that the day after the show aired he went on some errands only to find that a lot of people had apparently tuned in and were absolutely petrified of him.
He said, "I got recognized at least five or six times from that episode, and people were actually frightened! I couldn't have been more unassuming to those people that probably were surprised to see that I was short and sweet and smiley." Krumholtz says that he is still regularly questioned about the episode even today.
The Show Was Known For Its Shocks
Many ER fans remain convinced that the show was amazing because not only did it do it’s best to be medically accurate, but it also constantly brought many surprises and twists that were never expected. However, the show was apparently not always so well-received. When the creators first screened the pilot for the NBC executives it was not immediately loved. Kevin Reilly, former NBC VP of Drama Development told EW, “When the lights came up, it was not a very positive reaction.”
Kevin even spilled more about the dramatic episode, saying that former NBC West Coast President, Don Ohlmeyer, hated it so much that he, “stormed out of the room”. Some of their complaints included the sophisticated jargon and that there were too many characters. Luckily, the executives ended up being wrong and some of their complaints ended up being the most-loved aspects of the show.
ER Taught People About Medicine
Although it has been mentioned time and time again that the show attempted to be as medically accurate as possible, keeping close to reality actually paid off big time. From Noah Wyle learning how to administer IVs, the show also aided fans in learning more about medicine. After the Anthony Edwards character, Dr. Greene, was diagnosed with a brain tumor, the show portrayed one of his symptoms to be that his tongue drooped out of the side of his mouth.
For one viewer, the moment absolutely changed and even saved her life. A 28-year-old woman from Texas began exhibiting the same symptoms as Dr. Greene and having seen the show immediately went to the doctor. It turns out she did have a brain tumor and survived because of early detection.
Academics Love ER
The show has even proven to be full of valuable scholarly work. Numerous studies at various universities have been conducted about the effects of watching episodes of ER. For instance, the University of Southern California studied the 2004 three-episode arc which depicted a teen named Elgin seeking treatment for a burn injury and learning that he also suffers from hypertension. Obesity was at the forefront of the episode.
USC researchers found that people who watched the episodes were 65% more likely to make a positive change in their eating habits. Similarly, another study by the Kaiser Family Foundation was conducted in 2002. It found that after viewing the episode “Be Patient,” which aired in 2000 viewers learned about both HPV (human papillomavirus) and contraception by simply watching the show.
Guest Stars Galore
Another fourth season veteran was none other than Ron Swanson actor Nick Offerman who played a rocker. Dakota Fanning, Lucy Liu, Aaron Paul, Octavia Spencer and tons of other amazing actors and actresses had some of their earliest roles on the series. The ER cast guest-starred on other shows, too, like in this scene from Friends.
Adam Scott’s ER Encounter
In addition to Nick Offerman, another Parks and Rec alum also appeared in the show. Adam Scott landed a role in the very first season of the show as a guy who got hit by a car. Adam hilariously recalls remembering what a big deal the show was and how nonchalant George Clooney was about his fame.
Adam told TV Line, “George Clooney was on the cover of TV Guide as this new star. I was sitting outside waiting to work and he was playing basketball with a bunch of dudes. I remember just thinking, 'God, this dude is on the cover of TV Guide! He just looks like he doesn't care.’ If I was on the cover of a magazine, I’d be celebrating.”
Speaking Of Basketball
Apparently, George Clooney is a huge fan of using basketball to release some stress. He came up with the idea to have a basketball hoop on set so that he and other cast and crew could shoot some hoops in between takes. This is quite common for Clooney and he has also been spotted on the sets of various movies playing basketball in between scenes.
On ER, the hoop was located on the Warner Brothers lot in Burbank and when they filmed exterior shots, it was picked up by the camera. On the show, it looked as though it was located in the ambulance bay of the ER. For this reason, writers actually worked the basketball hoop into the show and characters were sometimes seen shooting some hoops to blow off steam.
Tackling The Race Issue
Having gotten its start in the 1990s, ER was also known to be progressive and tackle numerous socio-economic and race issues throughout its tenure on air. Dr. Benton, played by Eriq LaSalle, was shown being extremely tough on the character Dr. Gant, who was played by Omar Epps. Dr. Benton believed that in order for African American doctors to be successful they had to push harder than their white counterparts. However, the set up ends up with a tragic ending after Dr. Gant seemingly cannot handle the pressure. He disappears only to be later discovered as a horribly mangled patient who got hit by a train, with people questioning whether he fell or jumped.
LaSalle was also known to confront race issues off-camera and asked the creators to end his relationship with the white character Dr. Corday. He said that all of the character’s previous relationships with black women had failed and yet his relationship with a white woman worked well, which he felt uncomfortable with.
The Windy City Drama
ER was set in the city of Chicago, yet the majority of the show was shot on set in Los Angeles. The creators of the show did want to try to portray the city accurately though, so actors would visit Chicago from time to time to film exterior shots. Unfortunately for the actors, sometimes these scenes would be shot without a script.
For instance, in the episode “Love’s Labor Lost”, Dr. Greene is shown having a complete emotional breakdown on the train. In real life, Anthony Edwards had no script to work from yet and was only told to act as though he had killed a mother. The scene was filmed two months before the rest of the episode.