The Live 'ER' Mistake Many Viewers Never Saw

In an era of on-demand programming and a barrage of streaming options, there’s something special about live TV shows.

After Fox aired a production of Grease live to try to bring back primetime viewers, it was clear that there’s something about the format that really appeals to viewers. Of course, filming live isn’t a simple task. You lose the magic of editing and the ability to film a scene again when things go awry. On top of that, there’s also the constant threat of an ill-timed wardrobe malfunction or a slipped tongue that lets a curse word fly — a major no-no for network shows.

It isn’t just modern-day audiences that find live programming compelling, however. ER decided to air a live version of the popular medical drama as its Season 4 opener. 

‘ER’ had a long — and popular — run

ER premiered in 1994 and featured an ensemble cast of doctors, nurses, and patients in the fictional Chicago County General Hospital. The series had an astounding 15-season run before finally coming to a close in 2009.

Plenty of major actors spent some time in the star-studded cast, and it helped launch the celebrated career of George Clooney. The premise of the series was based on a script from Jurassic Park creator Michael Crichton, who was himself a graduate of Harvard Medical School. 

While the show was not filmed in Chicago — most of the shooting took place at Warner Brother Studios in Burbank, California — the series worked hard to create authenticity and realism for the gritty dramas that played out in the emergency room setting.

It was immensely popular with viewers and managed to accrue an impressive 124 Emmy nominations during its time on air. The dramas of the surgeries and life-threatening emergencies played out alongside the love lives and interpersonal relationships of the hospital crew.

This particular combination of intertwining stories would help inspire future medical dramas of all stripes — from comedies like Scrubs to the incredibly dramatic Grey’s Anatomy

‘ER’ had a live episode for the Season 4 premiere

The brainchild of George Clooney and Anthony Edwards, the Season 4 premiere featured a live episode. George Clooney played Doug Ross, an ER pediatrician. Anthony Edwards portrayed Mark Greene, a physician who was close friends with Dr. Ross.

The men were interested in performing a live episode that would put their acting skills to the test. More like stage acting, a live show would put any errors on full display and require a more precise performance. 

Even though it has been more than two decades since the experimental episode aired, efforts like these helped to make ER a standout show that still has fans hoping for a reboot. 

A mistake made its way onto live ‘ER’ episode

Part of the thrill of filming live is that an error can’t be edited out. As they say in the business, “the show must go on,” and that’s exactly what happened when a mistake made its way into the live episode. The entire thing was actually filmed twice — once to air live for East coast primetime viewers and again to air live for those on the West coast.

According to Mental Floss, the first version went off without a hitch, but things didn’t go quite so smoothly the second time around. 

In the episode, which is titled “Ambush,” an HIV-positive patient threatens staff with a syringe. In the second show of the night, however, the actor portraying the patient dropped the syringe before the threat was made. Luckily, the professional crew was able to just roll with it, and most viewers didn’t even notice the error. 

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