Wednesday, April 01, 2009

'ER': A retrospective - Sepinwall on TV

In today's column, I look back on the creative and popular impact of "ER" before tomorrow night's series finale:
On one level, there had never been a show quite like "ER" on television. On another, there likely never will be again.

It changed the visual language of TV drama, raising the bar of what was possible to show to viewers -- and what they expected to see. And it goes into tomorrow night's two-hour farewell episode as the last relic of an era when scripted network television was a true mass medium.
You can read my full "ER" appreciation here. I'll have another "ER"-related piece up tomorrow morning, a list of memorable moments, inspired in part by your suggestions, in part by the terrific Throwing Things coverage of the end of the series, in part by my own memories of having watched most (but not all; I bailed on some of the Sam/Neela/Abby years before coming back for the last two or three seasons) of the run.


Anonymous said...

Great piece. In particular, it was illuminating to have the differences between network TV then and network TV now spelled out in terms of numbers. I know things are different now, but the difference still surprised me.

Looking forward to your memorable moments piece. Inspired by your call for suggestions last week, I ended up listing ten of my favourite memorable moments on my blog. I haven't thought this much about this show in years. It's been nice.

Adam said...

New thesis #12: ER and The West Wing were the last hit dramas launched in an era before the networks saw themselves in competition with cable for eyeballs, and an ER launched today would inevitably be bloodier and feature doctors with more active and complicated sex lives.

Yet another anonymous said...

Alan, that was a great piece. Tomorrow will be a sad night, but I do believe the time has come.

A question: of course, every stage actor and many motion picture actors have gone through the Law & Order triumvirate, but I'm trying to remember any other modern show that has had as many fine actors - of every era - as part of the show. Sure, I make fun of the 'very special episodes,' too, sometimes, but Ernest Borgnine, Ewan McGregor, Red Buttons, Don Cheadle? Not to mention the two people related to George Clooney.

Thanks again for the fine send-off. Like andythesaint, I still get shocked by the viewership numbers. By the way, what WAS the most watched episode? I should know that.

Alan Sepinwall said...

The most-watched episode was the season four finale, which aired right after the Seinfeld finale.

Yet another anonymous said...

Thanks. Ah, the Seinfeld lead-in. That makes sense (because the episode itself didn't seem to be that dramatic per se).

Speaking of series-end finales that were lacking...I still don't remember that Seinfeld episode fondly. Maybe 10 years later will have changed my perception.

Pamela Jaye said...

goosebumps of course on the end of your review.

and I suppose I now have a few moments for Throwing Things (a site name best suited for *bad* series finales)

Number Five said...

I was too young to see the very earliest ER (another measure of how long the show has been on the air!), but I've watched on and off over the years and it's always made a memorable impression. And although it was relatively serialized, even after missing a couple episodes it was easy to step into the daily rhythm of the show.

I think one of the keys to its success is what you said, Alan, about the low-key acting. With all the crazy stuff that happened in an average episode (to say nothing of the disaster episodes), that was what kept the show grounded and made it feel authentic. Of course it's still television, but that effort at some realism in how the characters acted would be welcome in more shows today.