The Peacock plucked again?
Maybe, maybe not. Here's the situation: George Clooney, who went from journeyman TV actor to magazine-cover superstar while playing Dr. Doug Ross on the top-rated medical drama, is not contractually obligated to the series past the end of next season. He signed a five-year deal back in 1994. A little math shows that the contract expires at the end of the 1998-99 season. And, ominously (for fans), Clooney has yet to say he wants to re-sign--only that he intends to "honor the terms of his [current] contract," in the words of a spokesperson.
ER executive producer John Wells, speaking to TV reporters at a weekend press conference in Pasadena, California, sounded as if Clooney's exit was all but a done deal.
"I'll be sorry to see him go because we're close friends," Wells said, according to the Washington Post.
Clooney is the only ER lifer who didn't renegotiate his deal when he--and the series--got hot, following its 1994 debut. To Wells, this only signals the actor's further commitment to move on to movies once his TV commitment is fulfilled.
Clooney will next appear on the big screen in The Thin Red Line, a star-studded war drama, and Out of Sight, an Elmore Leonard adaptation, costarring Jennifer Lopez. Both are scheduled for release later this year.
Box-office success has mostly eluded the 36-year-old Clooney, to date. The Peacemaker, One Fine Day, From Dusk 'Til Dawn and even the $100 million-plus grossing Batman & Robin have all been perceived--dollar-wise--as disappointments.
If ER has any hope of landing Clooney again, it's the actor's tough luck in the movies, according to Wells. "George loves the show. It's where he finally gained success," Wells said. "I think he's frightened to leave the show because it's his home."
The producer said he'd be open to Clooney's doing ER on a part-time or occasional basis. Something can be worked out, Wells said--he just wants to know Clooney's plans by spring, so the series can plot ahead.
It's far too soon to tell what a Clooney departure would mean to ER's ratings. Ensemble dramas bear up well under occasional cast changes. NYPD Blue survived David Caruso; ER survived Sherry Stringfield; L.A. Law survived Harry Hamlin. (Then again, L.A. Law did not survive Jimmy Smits, Susan Dey and the umpteenth other revolving-door actors in its final seasons.)
ER, set to air on NBC through the 2000-2001 season, isn't facing any such drastic fate. Yet. Costars, such as Anthony Edwards, are locked up in deals through the 1999-2000 season. Come contract time, though, Wells said he expects his actors to come a-knockin' for some of that $13 million-an-episode money that ER just finagled from NBC.