ER Draws Last Breathe; Era of TV Ending?
NBC’s long time hit show ER is grinding to a finish this week, the end of it’s 15th a final season. It’s been a struggle the last couple of years for this “use to be really big” show, but they still pull a large and loyal audience, and still produce at least somewhat compelling TV.
For anyone under 30 years old, ER will have effectively been on almost as long as you can remember. Thursday night at 10PM is ER time on NBC, and has been for a long time. It gives way as the 10PM slot at NBC becomes home for the new “not the tonight show” with Jay Leno, which will take out much of NBC “adult hours” prime time shows next season.
For those of us old enough to remember (or to have seen it on rerun), I think that very first episode was so overwhelming, so intense, and so deeply humorous, that many of us were hooked for ages on that show. Watching Noah Wylie as the dazed intern John Carter stumbling around the ER like a lost puppy was scary, funny, and intense, all in one package. Over time, the original cast pretty much all fled, and the show shifted from a medical drama with soap opera overtones to a soap opera that happened in a hospital. The humor of the show sort of slipped away, and by season 8, all of the original cast was gone and the show turned much more into an ensemble drama with a rotating cast of characters. Some fans of CSI (on CBS Thursdays) have pointed out that CSI has gone through the same process, losing some focus on the crime and centering more on the personal drama of the main characters, and now as season 8 comes to a close, a significant number of original cast members are gone.
The passing of ER may also be a mark in the sand when it comes to the passing of big budget TV dramas, at least on network TV. Each season for a hit show gets more and more expensive to produce (as salaries for performers goes up, amongst other things), yet revenues rarely keep pace. The results are often networks choosing not to renew all the contracts for characters, and instead bringing in lower cost new talent to flesh out the shows. With NBC dumping all of their 10PM hour shows next season in favor of Leno’s new talker, leaving shows like Law and Order on the ropes for the 2009-2010 season.
This may be a start of a big move for Network TV. For NBC, it means that they trade 5 hours of weekly primetime (out of 21) from externally produced drama to talk format. If the talk format catches on at all at 10PM, don’t be surprised to see the other 2 networks give it a try. Fox runs local news at 10PM, so this will leave only ABC and CBS running with dramas at 10PM. The economics of this are truly huge, as an evening talker is much cheaper to produce, and depending on how it goes, could potentially bring reliable Monday to Friday ratings to NBC in this block, without anywhere near the headaches or expenses.