Missing star actors
'ER,' 'NYPD Blue' fight ratings blues
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From Paul Vercammen
HOLLYWOOD (CNN) -- Disaster sells, and no two TV series may have demonstrated that more thoroughly this year than NBC's hospital drama "ER," and ABC's "NYPD Blue." Both were among the year's top-rated dramas. Now, as they deal with the recent departure of lead actors, these shows' casts and executives are hoping a change of players won't spell disaster for the shows.
George Clooney exited the "ER" earlier this year to pursue a film career. He's slated to make some future appearances on the show.
Meanwhile, Jimmy Smits' Bobby Simone died on "NYPD Blue" last fall, and was replaced by Rick Schroder. This season, "NYPD Blue" is still a Top 15 show, averaging more than 14 million viewers a week -- down slightly from last year.
"A lot of the critics have said ("NYPD Blue" has) reinvented itself with the departure of Simone and, you know, bringing Schroder on," says Kim Delaney, who plays detective Diane Russell, Simone's widow. "And the ratings are still good. They may not be as good, but they're still really good."
"ER" may need to look to "Blue" for guidance. With "Seinfeld" gone, the hospital drama is now rated TV's No. 1 show. But the average audience is off five million viewers from last year. Some critics think "ER" needs a transfusion.
"They need to bring in a heartthrob, or bring up one," says TV Guide's Mary Murphy. "I mean, they either need to change the Noah Wyle character (Wyle plays Dr. John Carter) so he becomes more of a heartthrob and less of a kid and more of a man, or they need to bring somebody in -- transplant a heartthrob to 'ER.' I think they need it."
By any standards, 'ER' still a powerhouse
Perhaps, some industry insiders say, "ER" shouldn't be singled out for its ratings woes. Overall, the major broadcast networks are losing viewers to cable television. Even with slumping viewership for the networks, the numbers for "ER" prove it's a powerhouse show.
And David Milcher, co-creator and executive producer of "NYPD Blue," says fretting over "the vagaries of ratings" can get shows in trouble.
"If you start to pay too much attention to (ratings) -- or, frankly, in my case any attention to it -- I think that will get a show off its game faster than anything else," Milcher says.
Overall, he and others involved with the shows suggest strong writing and a good cast will keep things fresh and interesting for viewers. "NYPD Blue" new-kid Schroder is garnering acclaim and respect on the set and off. He even won over skeptics who, recalling his clean-scrubbed character on the '80s sitcom "Silver Spoons," wondered aloud how convincing he could be as a Marine-turned-big-city-cop.
"It's exceeded my expectations, in every way, really," Schroder says of the show. "The people are nicer than I imagined they could have been. They were more supportive of me than I hoped they would be."
And, Delaney points out, there's that all-important writing, that helps the shows from showing their age. "You read scripts and so many of them are not up to par, even though they could be with rewrites.
"You really get spoiled with the level of talent on this show."
Clooney bids 'ER' farewell
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