Thursday, April 2, 2009

The end of ‘ER’

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.


Andrew said...

Romano was my favorite character. I still can't believe they give him that stupid fucking Wile E. Coyote death.

Antonio said...

I don't get the sniffing tailpipe joke. Someone explain it to me please.

Undercover Black Man said...

^ Well... Alex Kingston is a woman. Does that help?

That was a line that actually came to me in real life, back when I was working for Steven Bochco. There was a real beautiful young woman there, a publicist, and one day I saw her getting out of her car. And I thought of how absurd it would be if I said to her: "If I had known that was your car, I would've sniffed the tailpipe."

The "ER" producers got a little mileage out of it as a sexual harrassment story.

Kellybelle said...

Wow--that is so cool you did that!
I'm all in awe.

lawegohard said...

@UBM that's a great F'n line! I don't know but she might have gone for it. She would fake like she's pissed but in her mind she's checking for you the next time she parks. Trust me!:)

neptune said...

"...sniffed the tail pipe"? Must be a guy thing... Wow, UBM, you should be very proud of having been a part of yet another big piece of TV history. I stopped watching ER a few seasons ago but I did drop in recently when Doug and Carol reappeared (for what I guess must have been the last time unless they're also in tonight's show). I got a little weepy.

Any chance we'll see an ending as memorable as St. Elsewhere's?

blackink said...

That sniffing tailpipe joke was beautiful. Sounds like the kind of thing Robin Harris might have said.

And, man, UBM, that's awesome. Had no idea that you also worked at "ER."

Now I have to admit that I didn't watch much of the show but I've gotta show mad respect to something that's made it that long. Salud.

Andrew said...

Ah, life's beautiful ironies. I'm watching the series finale right now, and they just showed Dr. Corday driving a Hummer.

maria said...

i loved, loved, loved that character. i thought the inspiration for him came from a smarmy alien he played on the x-files...or was that the other way around?

that is a big claim to fame, DM. working on the show and that character/episode in particular.

of course, you have worked on the best shows. and the writing has been wonderful. you should link to some of your wire stuff. can you?

can't wait for treme.

ipstenu said...

Then I must thank you deeply. Rocket Romano was, for a few seasons, my favorite character. He was a great mindfuck artist, a total bastard, and you and Paul McCrane were absolute magic in the role.

Rock on UBM, rock the fuck on.

Rusty Eagle, Hollywood, USA said...

Jeeezzuz! You created ROcket Romano... that's no small feat.. that's one of the more memorable characters on ER... people remember him before they remember Nurse Hathaway.. and she was original cast member. You came up with the Chris Rock/N-Word thing? Kudos UBM.. hope NEw Orleans treated you right.