Last week’s chilling episode of ”ER,” which ended with the bloody, stabbed bodies of Dr. Carter (Noah Wyle) and med student Lucy Knight (Kellie Martin) lying together on a hospital room floor, was a powerful attempt to breathe creative life back into a show that many critics say is in danger of flat-lining. With its ratings superiority in jeopardy — two weeks ago, ABC’s unstoppable ”Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” bumped the drama from its customary No. 1 spot to No. 5 — and one of its few remaining core characters, Julianna Margulies’ Carol Hathaway, set to exit at the end of this season, ”ER”’s producers need a new strategy for surviving the series’ battle with deaths, departures, and disappointing story developments. Here’s our prescription.
· Shrink the Cast [Spoiler Alert!] Now that Martin is leaving the show (Lucy Knight dies from her wounds on Thursday’s episode), it’s time to reduce the ensemble even further, bringing it down to a core group of five or six. ”There’s an overcrowding. Every week, somebody new comes on and poof! they’re a regular,” EW TV critic Bruce Fretts says, referring to recent additions like intern Abby Lockhart (Maura Tierney) and Dr. Luca Kovac (Goran Visnjic). ”Killing off Kellie Martin is a good start, and now they should kill off a few more characters, starting with the annoying Dr. Dave (Erik Palladino).”
· Give Michael Michele and Ming-Na Wen something to do Not all of ”ER”s new staffers are dead weight: Michele proved her acting chops in another ensemble show, ”Homicide,” and Wen’s return provides a perfect foil to Dr. Carter, but the gals need more than a few anemic lines. So far, the talented actresses have received little that showcases their characters, especially considering that Michele’s Dr. Cleo Finch has been relegated to Dr. Benton’s potential love interest. Get some dialogue ready, stat!
· Keep Drs. Green, Carter, and Benton Of the six original players, only Anthony Edwards (Dr. Green), Noah Wyle (Dr. Carter), and Eriq LaSalle (Dr. Benton) will still be in scrubs next season. With Margulies’ departure this May, NBC needs to lock in these three key players for as many more seasons as possible. The Peacock has already signed LaSalle to a three-year, $27 million contract, but Edwards and Wyle are even more indispensable (they’re both in the middle of four-year contracts that pay them $375,000 and $285,000 per episode, respectively). Any more goodbyes and the show could be called ”Private Practice.”
· Stick to Medicine Too much sex means too few emergencies in the ”ER.” The endless couplings (keep track: Benton/Boulet, Benton/Corday, Benton/Finch) take time away from fresh medical stories. ”At this point the only person Dr. Green hasn’t slept with is Dr. Carter,” says Fretts. The perfect remedy: ”Stay away from the love-interest plots. It’s not ‘Melrose Place.”’