"ER" marks 300 episodes with clean bill of health

Thu Dec 6, 2007 2:12am EST
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By Ray Richmond

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - A television series doesn't reach the 300-episode milestone without overcoming its share of challenges.

As if to underscore that point, on a sunny day last month, the cast and crew of "ER," NBC's 14-season wonder, found themselves slogging through the concluding scenes of "300 Patients," Thursday night's aptly named installment (airing at 10 p.m. PST) on the very first day of the Writers Guild of America strike.

Picketers formed a human wall in front of the entrance at the Warner Bros. in Burbank. Cars drove in and out only with some difficulty. Inside, however, life proceeded pretty much as before in the emergency room of Chicago's fictional County General Hospital, a.k.a. Stage 11. Peter Fonda was the guest star -- the only real evidence of anything special going down.

One wouldn't know from hanging out here that this is the show that launched George Clooney into the stratosphere; that it's the most nominated series in Emmy Awards history (it's garnered 120 so far); that it's primetime's longest-running medical drama ever.

All John Stamos knows is that he doesn't want this gig to end anytime soon.

"I just got here last year, and I'm working furiously to do everything I can to keep this show going for at least another season beyond this one," says Stamos, who portrays Dr. Tony Gates. "This is the greatest job ever. I don't care about trying to be a movie star anymore. I'm good with TV, and being on 'ER' has helped convince me of that."

Of course, back when it launched on September 19, 1994, it was one of two medical shows -- the other was CBS' "Chicago Hope" -- duking it out on Thursdays at 10 p.m. While "Hope" had a respectable run, in its first five years "ER" was consistently first or second in the ratings -- and was no lower than fourth in total viewers throughout the first nine seasons.

What made "ER" able to survive was an all-star pedigree ("Jurassic Park" author Michael Crichton was its creator, Steven Spielberg an executive producer), a revolutionary production method that popularized the shaky steady-cam cinematography style and a core cast to die for: Clooney, Anthony Edwards, Eriq La Salle, Julianna Margulies, Sherry Stringfield and Noah Wyle, all of whom were nominated for Emmys in the show's first season and are now revered around the "ER" set as the pioneers who made it all happen.   Continued...

<p>Star of the NBC show "ER" John Stamos arrives to attend the NBC Network upfronts in New York May 14, 2007. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson</p>