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'ER' finishes after 15-year run

NBC's "ER" ended its 15-year run on Thursday much like it began, with a pulse-quickening symphony of life and death.

The medical drama earned a record 122 Emmy Award nominations since 1994, and its final episode mixed current cast members with old favorites from when it was television's most mighty hit.

"So? This is it?" an elderly man played by Ernest Borgnine said to John Stamos' Dr Gates as the woman he'd loved since the sixth grade died in front of him.

The two-hour finale, written by old "ER" hand John Wells, had moments of dark humor - projectile vomiting and an old man's penis fracture - and a tragedy of a mother of five dying shortly after she gave birth to twin girls.

The show left unanswered whether a teenage girl put into a coma from a drinking binge would be brain-damaged.

It ended with a glimmer of hope. Dr Mark Greene's daughter Rachel, 22, visits her late father's work and decides to follow in his footsteps.

Former cast members Noah Wyle, Eriq La Salle, Laura Innes, Sherry Stringfield and Alex Kingston returned for the finale. The series' biggest star, George Clooney, paid a final visit back to the show three weeks ago.

"ER" began its run with a two-hour pilot aired on September 19, 1994, and became an instant hit. At its peak, it averaged 32 million viewers every episode, a level unimaginable today.

NBC earned more than US$500,000 for 30 seconds of ad time on "ER" in the late 1990s; this season it charged less than US$150,000, according to Horizon Media.

Before the finale began, Wells paid tribute to Michael Crichton, the late series creator. He said the last show "is a bit of an homage to what we did in the pilot. I felt as if he wrote it with me."

In its later years, "ER" was eclipsed by medical dramas "House" and "Grey's Anatomy," and none of the leading cast members remained. The show's audience was less than a third of what "ER" drew in its mid-1990s peak.

The close of "ER" represents the end of an era for NBC. Through "Hill Street Blues," "L.A. Law" and "ER," NBC had a critically acclaimed drama on its schedule at 10pm on Thursday nights since 1981. Thursday's "must-see TV" schedule earned billions for NBC until it faded away with the death of shows such as "Seinfeld" and "Friends."


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