POSTED BY STUART LEVINE
After talking with him on the phone about a half-dozen times over the years to discuss everything from “The West Wing” to the trials and tribulations of being a TV writer, it was nice to finally sit down next to John Wells at last night’s “ER at 300 episodes” panel at the Paley Center for Media.
It was a great group of folks from the show — Wells, showrunner David Zabel, in-house director and EP Chris Chulack, actors Linda Cardellini, Mekhi Phifer, Scott Grimes, Maura Tierney, Parminder Nagra and John Stamos — and it gave one a chance to pause and reflect on “ER’s” incredible 14-season run.
Back when “ER” launched in September 1994, it broke out like gangbusters in its 10 p.m. Thursday spot on NBC (and where it still remains) up against David E. Kelley’s “Chicago Hope.” Wells reflected on the hysteria the show brought out in fans in those early years, including when they were shooting on location in Chicago and 4,000 people came out to get a glimpse of George Clooney.
Cardellini, who I will always cherish for her turn in the beloved teen drama “Freaks and Geeks,” which was offed way too soon and I still miss to this day, kidded she wasn’t a fan back then and everyone gave her a hard time. Tierney, whose character, Abby Lockhart, is mired in a serious case of angst this season, said she occasionally checked it out. She also added that she can’t watch herself on the small-screen today — she was visibly squirming as the 300th episode screened — as she’s way too critical of her performance.
Stamos provided plenty of laughs, recognizing his good fortunes in now having a chance to trade dialogue with these seasoned pros rather with the Olsen twins in “Full House.” Nothing against the girls, of course, but they were tykes while he was trying to become a better actor, and it’s tough to run lines when your colleagues are still learning how to read.
Wells, who was once the president of the Writers Guild and still sees himself as a scribe first and foremost, spoke on how it’s tough to say how or when “ER” will end, with the state of the TV biz in such flux right now. But he acknowledged, certainly, the show is closer in time to its finale than to when it began. And as he and Warner Bros. know, “ER” is an expensive show to produce and with ratings nowhere where they used to be — and that’s not a knock against just this show but for most longrunning series — there comes a point where the profit margins become too small for another season.
That being said, the quality of “ER” remains solid — a nice mix of medical traumas, personal stories and just the right amount of humor to make it all go down easy.
— Stuart Levine
Photos: Kevin Parry/The Paley Center for Media