How ER Would Handle Coronavirus, According to Neal Baer

Exclusive: Writer and executive producer Neal Baer shares his vision for an episode of ER about the coronavirus pandemic

By Lauren Piester, Chris Harnick Apr 05, 2020 4:00 PMTags
E.R., George Clooney, Julianna MarguliesNBC

Television has been an overwhelming comfort while millions have been doing their part and social distancing in the fight against the spread of coronavirus. And because so much TV is being consumed, both old and new, we couldn't help but think how some of our old favorites would handle the current situation.

How would your favorite character be social distancing? How would some dearly departed medical shows handle the very real pandemic? So, we asked those who helped bring those shows to life over the years how their series would handle life in the time of coronavirus, and we're starting with ER

Neal Baer was a writer, producer, and eventual executive producer on ER for the first seven seasons of the show's run, and is also a practicing pediatrician who brought his real-life knowledge of medicine to ER and other TV shows, including Law & Order: SVU, Under the Dome, and Designated Survivor. He was at the helm of Designated Survivor's pandemic storyline in season three, which explored nefarious uses of the CRISPR gene editing technology. 

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Baer wrote and produced multiple episodes of ER back in the early seasons of the series, when George Clooney and Julianna Margulies were still Doug Ross and Carol Hathaway. Below, he shares his vision for an episode of ER he calls "Code Dread." 


"The closest we came to a pandemic in the first seven years of ER, when I was a writer/producer, was in "Exodus," an episode featuring the late Mickey Rooney. The ER was evacuated owing to a benzene spill. If we were to do the show today, I'd pitch that everyone in the ER would undergo an antibody test to see who has already been exposed to Covid-19 and has recovered.

We'd find out that Ross (George Clooney), Carter (Noah Wyle), and their nemesis, Weaver, (Laura Innes), all had caught Covid-19 but were asymptomatic. They'd be on the front lines since it's unlikely that they'd contract it again. They'd have their typical triage arguments, the electricity would go out, and they'd all take turns bagging patients together, since the generators are being used in the ICU and OR. Of course their personal stories would come out as they're sitting together huddled over patients, bagging them. We'd see Ross and Weaver hand-in-hand saving the patient and they'd reveal something deeply personal to each other (you'll have to watch the episode to learn their secrets!).

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Meanwhile, our other docs, Green (Anthony Edwards), Lewis (Sherry Stringfield), and Nurse Hathaway (Julianna Margulies) would look like mummies in protective gear, taking care of patients in outside tents in the ER parking lot. Finally, Benton (Eriq LaSalle) and Jeannie Boulet (Gloria Reuben) would be operating on an emergency appendectomy of a little girl whose appendix has ruptured. Time is of the essence and she codes and is brought back by the duo. Jeannie has never done the OR before, but Benton guides her through it. She's expert at taking precautions, because she's HIV positive, but undetectable, so she's not an infectious threat.

Benton insists on operating with a generator, even though he's antibody negative, risking his life when the little girl coughs on him and we find out she's Covid-19 positive." 

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Stay tuned for more as we all work through this strange time together!