The television series ER was created by Michael Crichton. The origins of this groundbreaking medical drama are related in a 2009 Hollywood Reporter article called “Saying Goodbye to ER: After 15 Seasons of Blood, Sweat and Tears, NBC’s Medical Drama is Sewing it Up”. Here is an excerpt:
The ER phenomenon started as a dusty, 20-year-old, 150-page screenplay that Jurassic Park author Michael Crichton had written based on his own experiences as a medical resident in a busy ER, and only wound up at NBC somewhat by default, as Warren Littlefield remembers it.
Littlefield, now an independent producer, was running NBC Entertainment in tandem with NBC West Coast president Don Ohlmeyer back in 1993. Crichton was riding high on the mania wave surrounding the first “Jurassic” film, and this script, intended to be a feature, was suddenly pitched at NBC through CAA as an ensemble medical drama.
“We were intrigued,” Littlefield recalled, “but we were admittedly a bit spooked in attempting to go back into that territory a few years after St. Elsewhere, one of the great dramas in the history of the medium, had left our air. Here we had this screenplay from a very hot author that was very long and dusty and all over the place. And yet at its core there was something quite remarkable about it. There were all of these heroic characters who were very flawed. There was a density to it that was dizzying, But it was memorable.”
By that time, Steven Spielberg also was onboard as a producer, and NBC greenlit ER as a two-hour movie. That wasn’t good enough for CAA, which insisted on a six-episode order. “We told them, ‘Good luck finding that,’ ” Littlefield says. “We finally came to an agreement after lots of twists and turns.”
ER premiered opposite a Monday Night Football game on ABC and did surprisingly well, Littlefield remembers. “Then we moved it to Thursday night and it just took off.”
This was the mid-1990s heyday of “Seinfeld” at NBC, and so Thursday night at 10 was seen as the choicest spot on television. “We were in the right place at the right time with the right cast,” is how Executive Producer John Wells sums it up. “A lot of things have to go just right for this kind of success to happen. There’s an alchemy to these things when they work. You wind up looking like a genius, but the truth is you can never replicate it.”
ER brought to television an arresting visual style that felt fresh and invigorating, its trademark overlapping story lines feeling somehow compelling rather than overcrowded. It connected with audiences in a way no medical series previously had. Scheduled opposite CBS’ Chicago Hope, the David E. Kelley-produced medical show that was artsier and more character-based, ER blew it out of the water.
“Our idea from the start was to be an emotional action show,” recalls Christopher Chulack, who was an ER producer at the start and is riding the series’ last wave as an executive producer. “The whole idea was to convey the pace of working in an actual ER. That, and studying the lives of the people who work in that emergency room and how this job impacted them.”
Actors Sherry Stringfield and Anthony Edwards “We were careful never to sugarcoat the material or cast doctors as larger than life,” Wells adds. “They made mistakes, and patients acted like idiots — just like in real life.”