By the time of the first commercial breakaway, anyone watching the pilot/preview of “ER”– NBC’s new entry into the big-money Thursday 10 p.m. spot it has ruled, via “Hill St. Blues” and “L.A. Law,” lo these many years — should feel understandably frazzled and perhaps even blood-spattered. Series gets off to a spectacular start, a 15-minute uninterrupted sequence, a triumph of editing and intercuts, as the staff of Cook County General’s emergency room deals with an influx of bashed and battered victims of a building collapse in midtown Chicago.
Comparisons with CBS’ simultaneously running “Chicago Hope” are inevitable; this is the time, if ever, to consider either purchasing or mastering a VCR — with results possibly describable as overdose. Aside from similarities in venue and timeslot, however, the series vary markedly. From “Hope’s” idealistic and lovelorn high-level surgeons you get more science; from “ER,” more blood.
Writer Michael Crichton (“Jurassic Park”) denies his hard-pressed medicos the wisecracks that get the better-paid surgeons of “Hope” through their day.
Veteran plot-spotters should find this first script up to expectations. Told at the start that “you’re only a resident, years away from your first operation, ” there’s no problem guessing that Eriq LaSalle will, by program’s end, choke off a tricky aneurysm practically single-handed (and even earn a reluctant plaudit from crusty staff boss William H. Macy).
Brand-new intern Noah Wyle blanches upon arrival at the blood ‘n’ guts and trembles somewhat at his first IV implant; by a single day’s end both he and his hand have steadied immeasurably.
Sheer energy carries the show. Foreground action unrolls against a background of constant busyness — cops, firemen, nurses, hand-wringing relatives in motion , marshalled by director Rod Holcomb into a teeming, contrapuntal texture underlined in Randy Jon Morgan’s breathless, jagged-edge editing.
Character development among the principals also proceeds at frenetic pace. Pediatrician George Clooney arrives hung over after a hard night’s night; within hours he has acquired the rhetoric to tell off the mother of a battered child. Questioned on whether he remains faithful to his wife, surgeon Anthony Edwards admits to being “too tired to do anything else.”
As proof, he is allotted a total of 2 1/2 hours’ sleep in the pilot’s 25 1/2 -hour slice of life, yet he functions heroically in pulling chief nurse Julianna Margulies back from an attempted sleeping-pill suicide (for reasons to be revealed, no doubt, as the series chugs along).
Rumors persist that CBS will vacate the battlefield and move “Chicago Hope” to a Monday spot. Hurrah; both shows are riveting, superior TV fare. That’s good news for viewers: Choosing between them is no easier than the choice facing the parents of Siamese twins on the first episode of “Hope.” There, however, Mandy Patinkin’s scalpel saves them both; the realities of Thursdays at 10 might not be that benevolent.
Show previews Monday and debuts Sept. 22 in its regular Thursday night slot.