Joe Flint
November 07, 1997 AT 05:00 AM EST

Will this be the winter of NBC’s discontent? In December, the Peacock will have to make it worth Jerry Seinfeld’s while to come back for a 10th season. Then, in February, it’ll have to pony up to renew another Must See show, ER. And if NBC has trouble striking a deal to keep its top-rated medical drama, the possibility exists for the show to — hold on to your scrubs — jump networks.

Granted, the possibility is slim. But just how could NBC even risk losing the most successful show on TV? According to an insider, Warner Bros., producers of ER, tried twice in the last two years to cut a deal with the network to ensure the series’ future. Each time, a presumably shortsighted NBC passed. Now an irritated Warner has set February as the drop-dead date to renew. After that, the studio will listen to offers from other networks.

Realistically, NBC will retain ER. Simply put, they can’t afford to lose it and will pay whatever’s necessary. (Neither NBC nor Warner will comment.) Still, that won’t stop CBS, ABC, and Fox from trying hard to snag the hit — sources say all three are interested. At the very least, it will get expensive for NBC. Currently, the network is said to pay just over $1 million per episode for ER. In an open market, observers believe the show’s price will go up to $5 million, and some optimists think it could approach a stunning $10 million per show. ”For the others, it’s worth overpaying because it can serve as a linchpin for an entire network,” says one industry source. And that, as NBC can attest, is worth quite a few surgical gowns.

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