I remember my excitement in 1994 when two new medical shows, both based in Chicago, went head to head on Thursday nights. Our favorite Northern Exposure had just finished, and the "Bubble Man" would be starring in one and "Adam" would be starring in the other. Well, despite Mandy Patinkin, Chicago Hope lasted only a few seasons while ER has gone the distance -- all the way to their 15th and final season.
I missed a season or so when Kerry "went gay" but otherwise we've watched ER pretty much for the entire 15 seasons. We watched Carol's suicide attempt on the very first episode, a result of her relationship with Doug (George Clooney), then their romance develop, his leaving Chicago, her giving birth to twins, and their life together in Seattle. We watched Mark's divorce from Jen and struggles with daughter Rachel, his romance with Elizabeth Corday, his brain tumor, and his death. We watched Carter grow from a terrified student to a resident to a doctor in Africa to a near-father, grieving at the death of his child. We watched Peter Benton's career develop, his relationship with Jeanne Boulet and his deaf son. We watched Susan Lewis come and go over the years, with and without Chloe and "little Susie." And over the years other doctors and nurses came and went: Kerry Weaver, "Rocket" Romano, Abby Lockhart, Luka Kovac, Jerry, and so many more.
This 15th season has many of past characters returning: as I type this I'm watching a rerun of the return of Anthony Edwards as Dr. Mark Green -- along with Kerry Weaver, Romano, and Jerry -- and we saw Elizabeth Corday come back a few weeks ago interviewing Neela for a position at Duke. Jerry has returned and asked for his old job back. And the grapevine tells us that Benton, Ross, and Hathaway are to return over the course of this last season as well, plus Carter, of course. Morganstern (William H. Macy) will be returning this next Thursday, a week from tonight.
We also think of those who have already left -- and who knows if they will return or not through death or other means -- Lucy Night (Kellie Martin), Michael Gallant, Cleo Finch, Malucci, Maggie Doyle (Jorja Fox), Jing-Mei/Deb, etc. Plus all the nurses who have come and gone.
And a few really amazing guest stars, like Susan Sarandon, are popping in for this last season, plus Angela Bassett is here for this 15th season as well. And looking back over the past 15 years, the guest stars have been spectacular: Bob Newhart, Don Cheadle, Forrest Whitaker, John Cullum (another Northern Exposure alumnus who played Mark's dad -- both were on the Alaskan show), Mariska Hargitay, Sally Field (as Abby's mom), Stanley Tucci, Kristen Johnston, Kirsten Dunst, Michael Gross (as Carter's dad), Red Buttons, Alan Alda, Rebecca DeMornay, Marg Helgenberger, Mary McDonnell (Carter's mom), Armand Assante, Danny Glover, Lucy Liu, Ed Asner, Chris Sarandon, Eileen Brennan, Rosemary Clooney, Hal Holbrook, Tom Bosley, and Tom Poston (thanks to IMDB).
So this 15th season is perhaps going to be one of the most remarkable. We've said our goodbyes to Pratt (who died), and Abby and Luka (who moved to Boston) at the beginning of the season and are seeing the faces of old friends through flashbacks and new story lines. We still see our regulars -- Sam, Neela, Dubenko, Gates, Ray, Archie -- yet I can't help but to wonder how the season will close, especially since NBC has ordered three more episodes. But it's still a story of humanity (despite its liberal political statements and sleazy sleeping around of the characters) -- of life and death, love and loss. I've laughed at times and I've sobbed quite often, especially when Mark Green died.
I think the stars of ER, though, are the screenwriters who create such amazing characters and dramatic events. They are the ones who have truly kept ER going, through life, love, and many, many deaths. But they are the ones who truly deserve the credit for keeping ER on the top for *15* years. I had absolutely no idea when I first started watching this medical drama in 1994 that it would end up being one of the longest-running TV shows of all time. We'll say our final farewells to Chicago's County General in May ... not too long from now. I remember the sense of history when I watched the last episode of M*A*S*H after eleven years on TV. The final episode of ER will truly be amazing. I'm simultaneously looking forward to the last episode to see what will happen and dreading it because I don't want to see it end.