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Why One Incredibly Popular Drama Had A Hard Time Making It To The Air


When a show is really popular and airs for a long time, it's easy to believe that show was always destined to be the next big thing. However, the truth is that a lot of shows have trouble making it to television, and that's equally true for some shows that end up being big hits on network or cable TV. In fact, recently, people involved with the show ER revealed that the path to success on NBC was not remotely paved in gold. In fact, it was rocky and uncertain. One big problem that plagued ER early on was that the first screening of the pilot did terribly, as reported by Kevin Reilly.

We thought it was really good and drama amazingly at that time was out of favor on television. Everything was about comedy. When it screened, it was like someone farted in the room. It was not a successful outing.

I don't think I've ever heard someone describe a screening in quite such a crass and unexpected way. In a chat with THR, Kevin Reilly was adamant that the first look at ER did not go well, and unfortunately the screening wasn't the only major obstacle ER was facing prior to its big premiere.

In fact, if you can remember back to the early nineties, sitcoms reigned king on network TV. The TV landscape was about the opposite of now, when dramas are the big shows in the game (although comedies still play a sizable role in the network landscape, even if Must See TV is dead). Dramas weren't in vogue, and on top of that, ER had to contend with the fact that one NBC executive vociferously did not like the show's concept. That executive was none other than famous NBC President Don Ohlmeyer. The creative team had to go so far as to actually ban Ohlmeyer from notes sessions, according to Warren Littlefield.

We wouldn't allow Don to be in the notes session. We banned him from it. I should say an aside, I think all of us, we had a tough boss that we had to work for what it did in working for Don, it united us, if you really believe in something, you better stand up and fight for it. We really believed in that challenge, and we we were challenged.

That's an awful lot of adversity for one fledgling series, and it's kind-of amazing that ER ever made it to the air in the first place. Of course, it all panned out. Critically, a lot of people loved ER right from the beginning. It's first season was well-reviewed, and the show was even nominated for Outstanding Drama Series during its first season on NBC. It won the same award in 1996. Other awards and nominations also came during the show's tenure on the air. ER ended up being a hit, even if it took a lot of time and effort to get there.

Jessica Rawden
Managing Editor

Reality TV fan with a pinch of Disney fairy dust thrown in. Theme park junkie. If you’ve created a rom-com I’ve probably watched it.