Thursday, April 2, 2009

Goodbye, ER

I would be remiss if I did not mention ER's passing into the ether of TV history tonight. A Thursday staple, it lambasted the competition for years, despite going through multiple cast changes and enough plotlines to make a TV addict cry.

Far from being the only medical show on television, it ushered in a new way of looking at hospital shows--as an exciting, fast-paced whirl of activity--instead of the folksy, laid-back look of earlier eras. Michael Crichton labored for years on a pilot that confounded executives with its medicalese and rotating storylines, but its hyper-realism not only connected with viewers--ER, always at Thursdays at 10, is the longest-running drama to ever air in the same timeslot--but ushered in a whole new type of programming. Dramas today are gritty and hard-hitting, and even when lighthearted deal less with overall soapy elements than they did in the past.

ER was the first show to bring actual medical students and doctors on as writers and consultants, something that is de riguer now from House to SVU. Michael Crichton himself was a doctor before creating the show, and even his choice of camera styles was revolutionary. The steady cam caught all of the action, from the nursing assistants to the spouses, a technique that was later identified with the walks-and-talks of The West Wing.

For those of us who didn't watch ER, the show was also known by its incredible promos--turning plot twist into an art form, with helicopters, death, near-death, car accidents, and all manner of spoilerific fun.

ER started in 1994, the same year as Friends. It is one of the last, if not the last, true dramatic blockblusters on television, and one without a spinoff or attached steries. That alone makes it unique.

Television is not dying, but the conception of big hits is. ER was big and bombastic, and it will go out with a well-deserved bang.

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