Tonight, NBC broadcasts the series finale of “ER,” a show that made its bosses incredibly rich... not to mention its original stars.
(“ER” generated so much money in its heyday, executive producer John Wells once gave Rolex watches to everyone in the crew.)
I worked on the writing staff of “ER” for six months in 1997. I wrote (or co-wrote) four episodes (in Season 4 and Season 5). It was a difficult show to write, for me, and I wish I could’ve flourished there. But I have very fond memories of my days at “ER”... especially the writers’ meetings.
Three days a week, the “ER” writing staff would gather to talk through every story beat of every episode for every character. It was a marvelously collaborative way to tell stories.
I contributed very little to the amazing 15-year run of “ER”... but I did create the character of “Rocket” Romano (played by Paul McCrane). Let me explain what I mean by “create.” John Wells, at the beginning of Season 4, wanted to introduce a new recurring character... a surgeon who specialized in high-tech gadgets.
I happened to write the episode which introduced this character, so I got to name him (borrowing from two TV-writer acquaintances of mine: Rocket Rabinowitz and John Romano).
I also wrote Dr. Romano as an obnoxious mindfuck artist. In his first scene with Dr. Benton (Eriq LaSalle), Romano asks him, apropos of nothing, “Do you think Chris Rock is funny?” Romano then inquires as to Benton’s opinion of Chris Rock’s use of the N-word.
The best line I ever wrote for “ER” also came from the mouth of Dr. Romano. In the hospital parking lot, he tells Dr. Corday (Alex Kingston) – again, apropos of nothing – “If I knew that was your car, I would’ve sniffed the tailpipe.”
Anyway... “ER” deserves to be honored not for the wealth it created, but for harnessing the dramatic power of emergency medicine. Therefore, let me share part of a recent Al Jazeera documentary on the trauma unit at South Africa’s John Kani Baragwanath Hospital.