After 15 seasons and 332 episodes, the longest-running medical drama in the history of television ended its run tonight. ER was the most Emmy-nominated series in TV history with 122 nominations, 22 of which resulted in wins (including one for best drama in 1996).
During its peak, in the 1995-96 season, ER was the most popular show on television and averaged 32 million viewers a week. To put that in perspective, only one entertainment program - ABC's broadcast of the Academy Awards - has gathered more than 32 million viewers this entire season. ER was TV's No. 1 show for three seasons and, as late as 2000-01, was the top-rated scripted series after reality and game show fare like Survivor and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.
This season, ER limped along to 49th place, averaging 8.2 million viewers an episode, according to Nielsen Media Research. But the quality was not the reason for the decline. Viewers have so many more options nowadays. There were no DVRs when ER started, let alone opportunities to watch TV programs over the Internet or on DVD. The gaming industry was in its infancy. The average American home received 41 stations in 1995 and 119 in 2007, according to Nielsen Media Research. Cable stations once content to air reruns now produce award-winning original series.
Thanks to my VCR -- and later, TiVo, I never missed an episode of ER. But honestly, for the most part I was home on Thursday nights glued to my set at 10pm. And come the fall, the time slot will be Jay Leno's. If NBC was smart, I think Leno should pay homage to the show on Thursday nights for at least one year. It would be fitting for him to fill one guest spot for each Thursday night with a past star from ER. There are certainly at least 52 actors who could be considered. The original core cast was fantastic, but ER thrived for as long as it did by always working in equally-intriguing characters -- portrayed by equally-talented actors. The Emmy committee should also follow suit by honoring the show with a final nomination as best dramatic series.
What I loved about ER was its realistic portrayal of humanity. In life, sometimes you have a chance to prepare for hardships. But often enough, illness, injury and death come out of nowhere. And for me the show's main message was always clear: none of us know how much time we have left...so make the most of your life. STAT.
4/3 Update: (AP) - An estimated 16.4 million people paid one last visit to the "ER" on Thursday, as the last piece of NBC's once-mighty "must-see TV" lineup signed off after 15 years. It was the biggest audience for a drama series finale since "Murder, She Wrote" on CBS in 1996, Nielsen Media Research said on Friday.