NBC sews up ‘ER’ through 2004

Drama to operate with $8 mil to $9 mil per episode fee

Locking in a key component of its still-mighty Thursday lineup, NBC has wrapped up the rights to Warner Bros. Television’s medical megahit “ER” through 2004.

Peacock, which in January 1998 agreed to shell out an unprecedented license fee of some $13 million per seg to keep the hit skein through May 2001, will now pay between $8 million to $9 million per episode to hold on to “ER” for three more seasons. That still makes “ER” the most expensive hourlong drama on network television by a mile.

Now in its sixth season, the new deal will keep “ER” on the air through its tenth season.

As with the previous “ER” renewal, NBC is expected to guarantee that the show will remain in its current 10 p.m. Thursday timeslot. Deal is not cast-contingent, which means NBC is locked in to “ER” even if stars such as Anthony Edwards or Eriq La Salle decide to ankle.

La Salle and Edwards are locked into “ER” through 2002.

NBC on renewal roll

Unlike the previous “ER” negotiation, industry insiders said talks about keeping the show at NBC went smoothly, with both the web and the studio able to quickly resolve the issues at hand.

Deal for “ER” comes one day after NBC pacted with Studios USA and Wolf Films on a deal renewing “Law & Order” through 2005 and “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” until spring 2002 (Daily Variety, April 27).

In addition, NBC last summer agreed to pay WBTV at least $5 million per episode for two more seasons of “Friends” (Daily Variety, July 19, 1999). That pact was contingent on the studio reaching an agreement with the cast of “Friends” to return next fall — a deal that has yet to be struck.

Peacock exex thrilled

Peacock execs were upbeat about the renewal.

“To no one’s surprise, everyone at NBC is thrilled at the prospect of having ‘ER’ locked in to remain on our schedule well into this decade,” said NBC Entertainment prexy Garth Ancier. “What’s more, our viewers can also rest assured that television’s favorite doctors of all time will be making house calls at NBC for at least the next four years.”

WBTV topper Peter Roth was equally overjoyed.

“This is a deal made between two companies that honors the value of the number one series on television,” he told Daily Variety, adding that “ER” exec producer John Wells and the rest of the show’s creative team “have done an absolutely incredible job of crafting” the skein.

“‘ER’ represents the pinnacle of success,” Roth said.

Wells said he was “delighted to have a home with NBC on Thursdays at 10 p.m. for another four years.

“Our partnership with NBC has been an extraordinary experience, and their support and belief in ‘ER’ has been central to our success,” he said.

Ratings stalwart

Coming to the end of its sixth season, “ER” remains a ratings dynamo. Skein averages 24.2 million viewers per week, making it the most-watched scripted series on network television (ABC’s three weekly segs of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” are the top-rated shows in primetime.)

Show is also the most-watched drama of the season with adults 18-49, averaging an 11.6/31 in the key demo. “ER” has been TV’s number one drama in that category every season since it debuted in 1994.

“ER” was created by author Michael Crichton, who still serves as exec producer of the show with Wells and Lydia Woodward.

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