It was a celebration of a mighty impressive achievement — “ER’s” 300th seg — but the talk of the party thrown by Warner Bros. Television Saturday night at the Cabana Club in Hollywood was all about what may transpire on Sunday and Monday.
Any gathering of TV industry insiders would have been abuzz with talk of the writers strike called for 12: 01 a.m. Monday and the Hail Mary meeting set for Sunday between the scribes and producers. But with “ER” in particular, it had to be the dominant theme given “ER” exec producer John Wells’ background as a former WGA West prexy, one who skillfully helped avert a Defcon 4 scenario in 2001 when contract talks got heated (though not nearly as scalding as they are this time around).
In his brief remarks saluting the show and the people who make it, Warner Bros. TV prexy Peter Roth called Wells “the Eisenhower of all showrunners,” and his use of a militaristic comparison was not lost on the crowd, unconscious as it may have been on Roth’s part. NBC U Entertainment co-chairman Ben Silverman was more pointed, saying that Wells was going “fix all of it” in relation to the strike.
During his turn at the mike, Wells didn’t use the S-word (except to sheepishly scoff at Ben’s remark), but he did note that he’d done the math, and in the 14 seasons since “ER” dawned, skein has produced some 24,682 pages of scripts.
Neal Baer, a WGA negotiating committee member and an “ER” alum (who now shepherds NBC’s “Law & Order: SVU” and does the work of angels as a licensed physician in his spare time), was on hand and inundated by “what’s gonna happen?” queries. It was intriguing to see Baer and Wells and former “ER” showrunner Lydia Woodward huddled in a heavy-duty discussion toward the end of the evening.
As befitting the spirit of “ER,” there was a define touch of optimism to all the strike talk among partygoers. The fact that a meeting was called for Sunday on Friday afternoon, hours after the WGA formally announced its plan to walk out on Monday, was widely dissected and discussed as a flicker of hope. There was also a feeling among the card-carrying types in the room that after Friday’s strike announcement, some of the CEOs were starting to get more personally engaged and realize the serious-as-a-heart-attack-ness of the threat at hand.
Maybe, just maybe, there’ll be enough of a give-and-take on Sunday for the scribes to hold their fire, even if it’s 12- or 24 hour increments. Or in “ER” parlance, let’s hope Sunday’s meet turns out to be the final act of a two-parter, packed with guest stars and exotic location shoots, with a cliffhanger in the middle…and an uplifting ending by 11:59 p.m. Sunday.