What ever happened to the PATIENTS?

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I am SO sick of ER just being about the different relationships going on and the personal lives of the doctors. Abby/Luka, Mark/Elizabeth, Peter/Cleo, Kerry/whats-her-name, and on and on. Remember back when ER's storylines revolved around the patients and the doctors' reactions/interactions? That was when ER was great. The way things are going, they should just change the name of the show to "General Hospital".

Don't get me wrong--sometimes it's okay to see the issues of the doctors outside of work. I liked seeing Mark's interactions with Jen early on, but because their relationship problems were a result of Mark's job. Carter's addiction storyline is good because this is a medical problem that many doctors deal with. Peter's storylines with his son have been good because they're medical in nature (prematurity and deafness). I could even give them Deb's pregnancy storyline, since they HAD to write that in. But Mark's brain tumor? Kerry's "am I a lesbian"-ism? Abby's whole slew of problems? Or Luka's, for that matter? And do they ALL have to sleep with each other? Let's see some patients--remember, this is a work place! Personal issues may creep in sometimes, but they should never be the main focus of the show.

I also want to say that most of the doctors I've ever met are married. I find it somewhat hard to believe that there isn't a married doctor in the entire ER. Maybe that's part of the problem here.

-- Laura Lindstrom (llindstr@law.harvard.edu), December 17, 2000


Some of the docs WERE married, but they got divorced. Mark is getting married. I think TPTB just want to show (right now) that ER docs are people too. Everyone is having a hard time in their lives right now. They have to focus on that because it is important for character development and it makes the show. Dont get me wrong, I love the patients, but you have to remember that there is more to it than that.

-- Stephanie (ERGirl22@aol.com), December 17, 2000.

One indication of the concentration on the doctors has been the major guest stars of the past couple seasons. Alan Alda was a doctor and Sally Field was the mother of the nurse/student doctor. Could stars of their magnitude have played patients for four weeks? It would have been hard. Red Buttons was a patient's husband for multiple episodes.

ER has chosen to go with beautiful, young stars on the whole, with the exception of Edwards and Innes. The cast tension they chose was sexual, not occupational. The exception was the rebel attitude of Doug Ross and he was the most beautiful of the whole cast. We see few doctors older than their forties and they are on the whole authority figures. Only they are allowed to be married, i.e. Anspaugh. Jeanie Boulet left and got married. Doug and Carol left and presumably got married. But four major characters were previously married: Jeanie to Al, Luka in the former Yugoslavia, Abby and her ex who stiffed her on tuition and Mark and Jennifer. The other side are the love-starved, lonely characters of Kerry and Romano.

The lesson we come out of County General with is marriage and young doctors do not mix. Not a happy lesson, but out of which has spawned many

-- Zorbo (RDomino1@aol.com), December 17, 2000.

Hey, I understand that many characters are divorced, and I understand that some have gotten married when they left. I'm saying two things: one, that having so many single people running around with so much emotional trauma/sexual tension with co-workers all the time is making the show an overwrought melodrama, and 2) that back in ER's heyday, during the first and second seasons when the show was truly great, the reason why the show was great was that the patients were the main source of the storylines. Watch some old episodes, observe the difference in quality, and *then* tell me that I'm wrong.

I still think it's a good show, but I don't think it's the same creative juggernaut it once was.

-- Laura Lindstrom (llindstr@law.harvard.edu), December 17, 2000.

I brought this topic up a week or so ago, and I totally agree with what you said. There is hardly any patients anymore.

-- Cammie (rmaelhorn@home.com), December 17, 2000.

Laura, you're so right!! You said exactly how I feel. Doesn't Anthony Edwards have that "I can't believe they gave me the brain tumor storyline" look about him?? hee hee. His heart just doesn't seem to be in that storyline. Someone suggested on another thread that it was AE's idea for the brain tumor story. I don't know if that's true, but I think it's just too much! It's such a "soap opera" thing to do. And please, enough with the baby storylines!! The ER doesn't "unite" everytime someone has a baby. It's so common among the ER staff that it's not that big of a deal anymore.

-- Ellen (dbspunky61@hotmail.com), December 17, 2000.

Hey, I'm even OK with the baby storylines--so long as they don't become major plotlines. I mean, people have babies all the time at work--at the law firm I worked for last summer, I was afraid there was something in the water, so many people were pregnant--but the pregnancies don't have to be a big deal. Couldn't someone just be pregnant and have the pregnancy stay in the background?

BTW, if I worked at a hospital where *this many* of the health-care workers were stricken with HIV, brain tumors, unwanted pregnancies, suicidal impulses, vicious stabbings and attacks, childbirth complications, and other such medical problems, I'd find a new job, quick! The doctors don't have to become the patients for us to care about them! Although, that seems to be the only way we get to see patients anymore, is if the doctors become them, LOL.

-- Laura Lindstrom (llindstr@law.harvard.edu), December 17, 2000.

well, (not that i've seen any other season but a bit of 5 and most of 6) how many different patients can you show within 7 years and still have a great variety of them? (many yes) but there IS a life outside the ER. i think TPTB have decided it's the right time to show us this side.(didn't you have 6 years of patients to remember anyway? try something new for a change)

-- er_aussie (er_aussie@hotmail.com), December 17, 2000.

I agree that the main focus on the show should be on the patients. I think the problem the writers are facing right now is simple:

1- Too many new cast members which have to be developed

2- Kellie's and Julianna's exit

3- Carter's drug addiction

4- Anthony's exit

5- Further development of old cast members

6- Each actor should be incorporated equally into the show.

I think all of this things have overwhelmed them and they are trying to fix it all this season. If the cast was smaller, we would see more patients. If Carter hadn't been stabbed, we would see more patients. If we didn't have so many underdeveloped characters, we sould see more patients. The reason why you saw so many patients at the beginning of the show, it was because you had 4 doctors, a nurse, and a med student. None of the characters were dating each other, but people from outside of work, therefore, little time was spent with them goofing around with each other, which we still got, and more time with the doctors interacting with the patients. We were also introduced to the hierarchy of medicine, with Carter being the med student, there were more ideas to show the audience what med students go through, what nurses (Carol) go through. Basically the first few seasons were used to show the audience the dynamics of hospitals, how they work, how the doctors interact with the patients, the problems that doctors as doctors, not boyfriends of husbands, encounter on theid daily lives.

When they were done with that, more time was spent with patients, and the interactions between the characters grew. We had Mark falling for Susan, Carol and Doug rekindled their romance, Carter was pursuing Anna, Kerry going bonkers on Doug, the nurses were shown a lot more... basically we had a mixture of what we had at the beginning of the show with what we have now.

Now that the writers have introduced us to the hospital and have explained over and over how things work, they are spending more time to show us who the characters are. Every character gets a plot, some more than others, to let us know who they are DEEP DOWN. We have learned more about Kerry this season than we had during the 5 previous years. We learned more about Abby and her history. Carter is been overdeveloped. We're finaly seeing Peter's compasion. Mark is now going down the shoot, and taking Elizabeth down with him. Chen had a baby she gave up. Luka is going to be probed and analyzed to death... Basically the only characters that are not being used are Dave and Romano, and I assume they are going to give them something to do later on. The producers said that this season was going to be spent with the characters under the microscope, and patient storylines were not going to be used much.

Again, if the cast was smaller, we would get a hell of a lot more patient storylines. Do we really need Cleo? Do Dave and Romano need to be main cast members? Because right now Dori is even getting more screen time than they are. They seem to be there to stir things up. I'm actually looking forward to the exit of some characters, it would be a big sense of relief, to wrap somebody's storyline. I think the mistake the producers made was creating so many characters, now they have 11 people they have to please. They have to use every character in every episode and right now and that's a little bit overwhelming. They don't know how to distribute the stories either. Abby was a major part of the first 8 episodes, and now she's not going to have a storyline for months. They even have to incorporate other characters into one's storyline to give them more screen time, Abby into Carter's, Luka into Abby's, Abby into Luka's, Cleo into Peter's, Romano into Elizabeth's, Elizabeth into Mark's... and so and so. They know that if one actor gets pissed because they don't get enough screen time, they're going to walk away, and the producers don't want to lose any of the characters they have now.

Those are the reasons why you don't see any patients around anymore, and when you do, their storylines are often left in mid air (i.e. Peter's little girl in TGOG). It looks like in the future episodes we'll see more patients, we'll see how they handle that.

-- Carolina (SuperCarolina5@aol.com), December 17, 2000.

Carolina, I think you make a lot of good points; they've definitely gotten themselves in over their heads with too many characters. Time to give some the axe, or decide that some will just be peripheral (like Dr. Dave, who's just a wisecracking jerk for comic relief, or Romano, who is there just to antagonize people).

ER Aussie: Actually, you would see if you watch the entire ER body of work that they've been delving too much into the personal lives of these characters since the third season. I would say the first two seasons were when ER was truly great and the focus was on the patients; after that, it was a downhill slide into focusing on the doctors' personal lives. There are an infinite number of medical issues to be dealt with out there--they could never run out! Also, the character interactions used to involve the patients much more--see the Susan/Kerry struggle with one another in season two, in which the patients were real participants in and origins of the battles (I'm remembering the conflict over the chronic overeater who ODed on GI cocktail as just one example). The personal issues presented back then were much more tied to the hospital and the patients. Now they're just about who's sleeping with who and who had a terrible childhood (I'm being facetious, but you get what I mean).

-- Laura Lindstrom (llindstr@law.harvard.edu), December 17, 2000.

We have been dealing with some patients this year. Mr. Fletcher, the guy that Peter lost his attending position for, was the first major example. Also, for a little variety, there was that guy who somehow got himself on fire. They have had to deal with a lot of younger children too (the girl last week who was feeling used by her parents to keep her sister alive, etc.).

-- Brad (bsharlow@hotmail.com), December 17, 2000.

I think one of the greatest changes that I see is that everything has to be a huge crisis - there's just not much of the normal day-to-day, come-to-work, do-your-job episodes. One of the best things about ER was that is showed the reality of the job and real relationships between co-workers, just like what we all deal with at work. There were major problems in the personal lives of the characters, but it was in the background and they dealt with it the best way they could while still doing their job. Ordinary life can be very interesting - we don't need to be hit over the head with every story line - they need to take story lines slower and with a more subtle approach.

-- Rhonda O. (go1963@wbell.net), December 17, 2000.

First, about the number of married people in the ER...did anyone mention that we now know that Kerry Weaver was also once married? I agree though, it is unbelievable that so few of them are married, esp. as good looking as they are. I mean Carter isn't even close, I hope they move into a story on that soon. Some of the nurses are married though at least.

As for moving onto more personal storylines, I thought that's what everyone wanted during the summer? More focus on their lives. I've said this before, but it seems important here too, to mention that the writers have admitted that they ran out of good patient storylines, because there simply aren't that many over 7 years. They are starting to reuse them, and to prevent too much of that, they're focusing more on the characters. I'll admit I don't think we saw more than one or two patients in The Dance We Do, but for the Christmas one, we did get Benton's story with the little girl, and the children from the Christmas pageant. I like knowing more about the characters, and since there's only so much time, they've got to decide what they'll take the time on. I agree, though, there are way too many characters to focus on. Although I don't really want them to get rid of anyone. Cleo would be my first choice, I guess. I don't hate her, but she'd be missed the least.

-- Elaine (mrsclooney78@hotmail.com), December 17, 2000.

I posted about the show becoming a soap a few weeks ago and got tromped on so I am glad others are now seeing it. It isn't just about not really having time for patients- it's that they don't follow through with the interesting patients like they used to do. We have no emotional investment in them- I don't have the episode names, but I think about the elderly couple where the wife was dying. the heart transplant man. the guy who was inhaled deadly gases and died never getting to see his daughter. Patients who allowed the drs and nurses to stop and really see life and allowed us to really care about the people. Character devlopment is all well and good, but the name of the show is ER not Oprah. Now go ahead- blast me!

-- Minnie (tcminnie@aol.com), December 18, 2000.

Good point. I know TPTB said they had exhausted all the unusual type medical cases and are running out of things to do in that regard. But I do miss seeing them work on patients and I am so tired of everything having to be this huge crisis (ie, explosions, 10 car pile ups etc.). Lets get back to showing some good ole medicines and doctors at work. That is what made ER so great to begin with.

I read a review about ER in the paper last week. The reviewer said that he always felt good watching ER because he felt if he went into an ER he would be helped...that they were portrayed as competent doctors. Now he said he gets depressed watching it. They all have so many personal struggles that (brain tumors, drug addictions, killing people that mug you, etc.) it makes him afraid that if he went into an ER he would not be taken care. He went on to say that of course it is a show and that ER docs in real life have personal crisis but its not that "warm, fuzzy", feeling anymore. I sort of have to agree.

-- amanda (amanda.rehm@home.com), December 18, 2000.

I had no idea that TPTB had said they'd run out of medical storylines. Well, I don't know if there are any doctors lurking around here, but medicine is one of my hobbies and all I can say to that is that they're lacking imagination or knowledge. There are *plenty* of problems and disorders that haven't been explored yet; furthermore, you see the same ones over and over again, but patients react very differently to the same diagnosis. I think this is a cop-out on the part of the ER gods.

-- Laura Lindstrom (llindstr@law.harvard.edu), December 18, 2000.

I may get yelled at but I'm going to say it anyway.

In the past, medical dramas have focused on the patients and their stories. One of the things that made ER so unique was that it focused on the *doctors,* not the patients. ER has never been about the patients. It is about the doctors. Repeat after me: "ER has never been about the patients. It is about the doctors" The reason the patients are used in this drama is to investigate the characters of and show the reactions of...the doctors. ER is unique because it shows the doctors outside of the hospital sometimes. The shows focus is on how the work lives of the doctors affects them personally. Every early article I ever read about this show has said this. The producers have said this time and again.

With that said, I do lament the fact that everyone seems to be sleeping with everyone else. I guess it's because the main cast has gotten too huge.

-- S. Trelles (trelles@ix.netcom.com), December 18, 2000.

"ER is about the doctors, not about the patients..."

OK, STrellis, I said it, and you're right. Of *course* it's about the doctors--I never said it wasn't. But it was *never* a drama about people who have terrible lives who just happen to be doctors. It was a show which focused on the interactions between doctors and their patients, and their lives outside of that relationship were only peripherally important. Now these people show up at work and seem to sleepwalk through their responsibilities, their interactions with the patients are like distractions from the main storyline, and the only way the writers think we can have any drama is if they're all miserable, screwed-up people. That's my point.

It's still a good show...never said it wasn't...but it's not the groundbreaking, innovative show that it was, and pretending that it is doesn't make it so.

-- Laura Lindstrom (llindstr@law.harvard.edu), December 18, 2000.

In The Greatest Gifts, I would have loved to see more of the story with Peter and the little girl he found hiding in the closet. That story could have kept me interested for half an episode. Instead, they had barely begun it when suddenly it was over. I would have liked a bit more resolution, maybe a scene with the mom and the little girl, or the little girl and the sister. Something. Instead, we got more of Mark's tragic story, which still kept me interested, but only because I "had" to be (if I want to watch future episodes and know what's going on). Maybe the writers feel they have to write a continuing story to keep people watching from week to week? Even if they *had* run out of medical stories (which I doubt), can't we still see the interaction between doctor and patient? That's part of what makes the show great. Look at how compassionate Carter has always been with patients. The only recent doctor/patient story that I found truly compelling was the one with Carter and the boy who made paper airplanes. I'd like to see more of those stories, and not just with Carter, but with all the doctors. Something that's compelling, lasts only one episode, and doesn't rely solely on the relationship of two County staff members.

-- Maureen S. (shepcaff@ix.netcom.com), December 18, 2000.

"It was a show which focused on the interactions between doctors and their patients, and their lives outside of that relationship were only peripherally important. "

Laura, I have to respectfully disagree. One of the early strengths of ER (and I'm talking season 1/2 here) was watching the way the demands of the job affected their personal lives. And vice versa. Remember Mark and Jen? That storyline may not have gotten a lot of screen time, but it was always just under the surface, and it was vitally important as a window into Mark's psyche. Same with Susan and her sister and niece, and to a certain extent, Carol and Doug's tale of woe. (Their history was never put into the story, but you got enough to sense the damage that had been done, and they spent the first 3 years dealing with the reprecussions of that.) There were some instances where the patient stories were left hanging, including some potentially interesting ones. (Remember the guy with the arrow through his head?) They just weren't necessary to advance any character storyline.

TPTB are still trying to advance main character storylines, but I have to agree with our Fearless Leader that now they seem to be using much blunter instruments to do so. I miss the fine nuances and subtlety of the delicately crafted stories of old. Though I'm not as bothered by the lack of this as he seems to be. This is the best I've seen ER in a long time, and tomorrow is after all, another day.

-- S. Trelles, the eternal optimist (trelles@ix.netcom.com), December 20, 2000.

Laura - I totally agree with your comments as to the way ER is straying from being a medical show to becoming soapish. You are right on when you say it was "never a drama about people who have terrible lives who happen to be doctors." You also stated it focused on the doctor/patient interactions and the the outside lives were periperal. As I stated in a previous commentary, the same thing happened with another medical show I loved and thought excellent - "Chicago Hope". They, too, started to put the lives of the characters over the medical issues of the show. I loved the cast on that show as well, but I always enjoyed the medical stories even more because they dealt with a lot of moral issues, ethical issues, and cutting edge treatments and such that made it interesting to watch. ER is different in that none of the medical issues are as interesting as that but there is a lot of fast-paced medical happenings and therefore more excitement. And the doctor/patient interactions usually serve to help character development. I guess the point I'm trying to make here is that when "Chicago Hope" did go the route that ER is headed in with regards to having the characters outside lives being shoved in our faces and the medical aspects pushed aside, the show started to decline. To try and compensate, they tried to revamp the cast (I hope that doesn't happen on ER!!!) and it ended up being cancelled. ARE there any other CHICAGO HOPE FANS out there reading this that can back me up on this? Or even disagree if you want. If ER wants to develop the characters more, than that is fine but don't bestow tragedy on everyone! Sorry to talk about "CH" so much considering this is an ER site but I felt the comparison was crucial to the point I was trying to make. Thanks alot for letting me give my opinion!!

-- Robin (rkonger@hotmail.com), December 21, 2000.

Robin: sorry this response is so long in coming. I was an avid Chicago Hope fan--the first season of that show was absolutely incredible. But you're absolutely right: the writers, just like on ER, lost their focus and assumed that in order for us to care about the drama, the doctors had to be the ones with the problems. Simply not true. Early ER and Chicago Hope featured far more instances of doctors interacting with patients who had problems, and the impact that had on both doctor and patient. Yes, the doctors had *some* problems, but they weren't the primary focus of the show, and they weren't all a bunch of Jobs with MDs after their names. They had realistic problems--not the avalanches of misfortune that were written for them later.

-- Laura Lindstrom (llindstr@law.harvard.edu), January 11, 2001.

Laura - Thanks so much for commenting back. I was beginning to feel like I was alone!! I really enjoyed "Piece of Mind" because it seemed to get back to the "old" ER. The only problem is, they jumped TOO quickly from all the sadness and problems ( of the doctors) to the ER we love. I do hope that ER gets back on track starting with "Piece of Mind" but still manages to address the characters problems in a more slow, delicate, secondary manner. Also, one more thought that I recently had.....Do you or anyone else feel like another problem may be that there are *too many* main characters to deal with and that tends to consume the show? I did feel that way on Chicago Hope at one point and now feel as such on ER. I would welcome any comments!!!

-- Robin (rkonger@hotmail.com), January 11, 2001.

Actually it is harder for doctors to get & stay married than you think. The demands of medical school, residency training & any fellowship one might do is very time consuming. It is difficult for non-medical family members to understand what those demands might be. If one is not already married during school or training, it is very hard to meet people because you work so hard. It is probably easier for male physicians to meet people because women are not as intimidated by physicians as potential mates as men are. Laura, if you are connected with the law school at Harvard as your e-mail address suggests, you know that as a woman in law [as well as being from Harvard], it is damn hard to meet people who do not have preconceived ideas about female attorneys & men who do not like your potential for making more money or having more prestige than them. This is true even now in the year 2001. Mark's marriage to Jenifer fell apart mainly because of the time demands of his job. One thing ER the show does not articulate is that emergency physicians typically work long hours but not as many days as physicians in private practice, usually 3 twelve hour shifts a week unless overtime is involved. Residency & private practice is completelt different. Residents routinely work 50 - 60 hour weeks, overnight shifts, back- to-back calls, etc. Private practitioners do not have overnight shifts but may get called at home at all times. It is not an easy lifestyle & not every spouse or potential partner can deal with it. I'm a married emergency physician but most of my colleagues in the ED both where I work now & previous hospitals are not. I think the writers have gotten away from a lot of the simple ED stories that made the show more interesting in favor of having at least one disaster a week. I used to work at a Level I trauma center in New York & we never had such disasters as they encounter in that ED all the time. There really is enough drama in the stuff we do see routinely in the ED to not have stuff exploding & 25 ambulances pulling up to the door simultaneously every week.

-- (ripwoman@aol.com), February 05, 2001.

It seems to me lately that NBC is trying to promote the show in less hyperbolic terms. I noticed the big ad for ER in the latest TV Guide, just shows Dr. Carter with a young patient, with the tag line "A deadly disease is back" or something like that. Maybe NBC is starting to get the drift that the reason people liked this show in the first place was "cute/pretty doctors and nurses caring about their patients."

-- Tracy (bankybooda@aol.com), February 05, 2001.

Hi Ripwoman: I'm under no illusions about the fact that it's harder to get married when you're a professional woman (you're right, I'm a law student at Harvard), and probably even more so when you're a doctor (my sister is a medical student, so I'm pretty well acquainted with that profession too). Believe me, I've experienced this problem first-hand! That said, I still maintain what I originally stated in my post--most doctors I've known are married (even one female R-2 in New York City), and not unhappily so.

-- Laura Lindstrom (llindstr@law.harvard.edu), February 05, 2001.

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