ER was conceived as a movie almost 30 years ago by prolific writer, Michael Crichton, based on his experiences training as a physician. It was passed around Hollywood for 20 years until it landed on the desk of Steven Spielberg. While developing the script further, Crichton and Spielberg took a break and discussed other projects, including Crichton's story about dinosaurs and DNA. The project was put on hold for Jurassic Park, 1993's blockbuster based on Crichton's book. The movie script was then turned into a pilot script for the TV series, and production began on the pilot episode. Problems arose when NBC thought the pilot script was a mess and they were unsure of what they were committing to. Warner Bros tested the pilot with a test audience, and it scored very high. NBC thought they had stacked the results, so they tested it themselves; the show tested higher than at Warner Bros. NBC gave it their best time slot and plugged the show during the summer, and the rest is TV history. The show won 8 Emmy awards in its first year.
A great show stirs emotion in the viewer, and ER is an emotionally driven show. Watching Dr. Greene fight to save a patient in "Love's Labor Lost"...wow. It's not a surprise this episode won 5 Emmy awards; Outstanding Individual Achievement in Directing for a Drama Series, Outstanding Individual Achievement in Writing for a Drama Series, Outstanding Individual Achievement in Editing for a Series (Single Camera Production), Outstanding Individual Achievement in Sound Editing for a Series and Outstanding Individual Achievement in Sound Mixing for a Drama Series. I think my most memorable scene is in "Day One" when an elderly patient declines a respirator and passes away while her husband holds her hand and sings. A show that can bring a tear to my eye is one I'll keep watching.
ER was originally broadcast in the standard 1.33:1 aspect ratio. These DVDs contain an anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) image. While the aspect ratio is different from how it was originally broadcast, sources tell us that the show was composed for both aspect ratios. In order to get the widescreen image, the top and bottom of the picture is cropped slightly and there is more picture to the side. Some scenes contain "dead space," empty space on either side of the main action, but quite a few scenes look wonderful in widescreen. I never really watched the show when it first aired so I can't comment on which ratio looks better, but it's nice to know the set is being release in one of the intended aspect ratios. I should also note that the openings are 1.33:1, so they contains black on the sides.
In terms of the picture quality, it's a bit of a mixed bag. The colors look great, and the picture is crisp and detailed. Unfortunately there is a lot of dust in the picture. There was one scene with Carter where I mistakingly thought it was raining, until I realized the shot was inside; it was a nasty patch of dust and scratches. While it may sound like the picture is chalk full of dust, it's not that bad, it's just more dust than in most other releases.
This is a very nice stereo track on the release. The sound design on the show was excellent, and this track makes it shine. The directional effects used to lend ambiance to the ER are so convincing that I thought someone had fallen over in my apartment, when it was actually coming from the show. The dialog is crisp and clear and is never drowned out by the music. I can only imagine what a 5.1 mix would do for this show, but the stereo track sounds very, very nice. French subtitles are included and the episodes are closed captioned.
Commentary on 4 episodes
There are two commentary tracks for the pilot episode (one featuring Michael Crichton/John Wells and the other with director Rod Holcomb, casting director John Levey, associate producer Wendy Spence Rosato, editor Randy Jon Morgan and supervising sound editor Walter Newman). There are also tracks recorded for "Sleepless in Chicago" with Christopher Chulack (producer/director) and Paul Manning (writer), and the other commentary track was recorded for "Love's Labor Lost," the multiple Emmy-winning episode with comments by Mimi Leder (director), Wendy Spence Rosato (associate producer), Randy Jon Morgan (editor), Walter Newman (supervising sound editor) and composer Martin Davich. Each track contains a wealth of information about the episode and the show in general. Some people were obviously recorded at separate times (Crichton/Wells) but the commentary tracks have a nice flow to them regardless.
Behind the Curtains - Prescription for Success: The Birth of ER (20:28)
An excellent documentary examining the birth of the show. Features interviews with Michael Crichton (Creator/EP), Steven Spielberg, John Wells (Writer/EP), Warren Littlefield (Former President, NBC Entertainment), Rod Holcomb (Director), John Levey (Casting Director), George Clooney, Noah Wyle, Sherry Stringfield, Anthony Edwards, Julianna Margulies and Don Ohlmeyer (Former President, NBC West Coast). The absence of Eriq La Salle is obvious.
Behind the Curtains - First Year Rotation: Caring for ER (21:26)
A look at the early episodes of the series, and how they pulled it off. Features interviews with many of the people from the previous documentary as well as Mimi Leder (Co-EP/Director), Richard Thorpe (Director of Photography), Leslie Moonves and others.
On the Cutting Edge: Medical Realism on ER (8:58)
A cool featurette on making the show as realistic as possible. The rubber baby really had me freaked out though. Features interviews with the cast, crew and technical advisors on the show.
Post Operative Procedures: Post Production in the ER (5:24)
A nice featurette on the editing process and south design. Features interviews with directors, editors, sound designers, composers and others.
Additional Scenes (4:23)
3 additional scenes from season 1.
Ah, the beloved outtakes. Some of these are excellent, and there's a lot of them. Outtakes from both the show and the interviews.
First Year Intern's Handbook (235 screens - 10:38)
Holy mama! This section contains a plethora of information. The work that went into this section impresses me. The back of the box lists it as "First-Year Handbook offers a crash course in day-to-day operations and live-saving situations inside Country General hospital," but this section contains so much more than you'd expect from reading that descriptions.
Staff Roster (11 screens)
Character information for the 6 main characters. The menus in this section are beautiful, and include a publicity photo used as an ID card. Dr. Mark Greene (1 screen), Dr. Doug Ross (2), Dr. Susan Lewis (2), John Carter (2), Nurse Carol Hathaway (2) and Dr. Peter Benton (2).
Admissions (128 screens)
There are 128 screens full information on the patients found in the first season episodes, and about 120 of those are unique (some are recurring patients and show up in more than one episode).
Consulting Physicians & Hospital Support Staff (37 screens)
This section is set up much like the "Staff Roster" except there are a more people in here. Nurse Haleh Adams (1 screen), Jeanie Boulet, PA (2), Deb Chen (2), Dr. Janet Coburn (2), Dr. Div Cvetic (2), Wendy Goldman (1), Dr. Mort Harris (2), Dr. Angela Hicks (2), Nurse Lily Jarvik (1), Dr. Jack Kayson (2), Dr. Sarah Langworthy (1), Jerry Markovic (1), Nurse Chuny Marquez (1), Malik McGrath (2), Dr. David Morgenstern (2), Nurse Conni Oligario (2), Doris Pickman, EMT (2), Bogdanalivesky Romansky (1), Dr. William Swift (2), Dr. John Tagliari (2), Zadro White, EMT (2), Nurse Lydia Wright (1) and Tracy Young (1).
Life Support & Home Care (14 screens)
These are characters that are part of the doctor's personal lives. Mae Benton (1 screen), Linda Farrell (1), Officer Al Grabarsky (1), Jenn Greene (2), Rachel Greene (1), Helen Hathaway (1), Diane Leeds (2), Jake Leeds (1), Chloe Lewis (1), Cookie Lewis (1), Jackie Robbins (1) and Walt Robbins (1).
MED Speak (36 screens)
Do you ever wonder what the heck they are talking about? If so, check out this section for definitions on all those medical terms they toss around on the show.
County General Directory (9 screens - 10:38)
A map of the County General Hospital. Click on the name of a room and you get a description as well as a video clip. Suture room (1 screen - 1:01), Trauma 1 (1 - 1:27), Trauma 2 (1 - 0:51), Exam Room 1 (1 - 1:22), Exam Room 2 (1 - 0:50), Nurses Station (1 - 0:43), Doctors Lounge (1 - 1:58), Chairs/Waiting Room (1 - 0:59) and Lobby (1 - 1:27).
This is the best TV set Warner Bros has ever released. They spent a great deal of time developing extras for the set, and they're wonderful. In order to keep the price down they decided to go with 4 DVD-18s instead of the usual DVD-9s. For those of you unfamiliar with DVD-18s, you can tell the A and B sides by looking for the letter after the number printed around the hole. Consider this; you get almost 26 hours worth of entertainment if you watch every episode and the featurettes, and listen to the commentary tracks (this doesn't include the time you would spend with the text features) and the set can be purchased from Amazon.com for only $45. That's less than $1.75 per hour of entertainment; an amazing deal!
My hat is off to Warner Bros for putting together an incredible set for this show. Buy this and enjoy one of televisions finest dramas.