Was ‘ER’ Actually Filmed in Chicago?

There’s nothing like a location shoot to bring realism to TV shows like NBC’s ER, which ran for 15 seasons, from 1994 to 2009.

Although set in the fictional Chicago County General Hospital emergency room, ER’s interior scenes were filmed at the Warner Bros. studio backlot in Burbank, Calif. and in various Los Angeles locales. However, some of the most iconic exterior shots gave Chicagoans a reason to be proud and gave ER its Chicago flavor.

An ensemble cast playing doctor on TV

Noah Wyle as Doctor John Carter
Noah Wyle as Doctor John Carter | NBCU Photo Bank

ER was created by novelist and filmmaker Michael Crichton, coincidentally a Harvard medical school graduate. ER’s premise surrounded the lives and loves of the doctors and nurses that spent most of their days — and often nights — manning the fast-paced emergency room at County General.

Many of the ER situations and surgeries were inspired by real-life circumstances.

Many ER cast members like George Clooney (Doug Ross), Alex Kingston (Elizabeth Corday), Noah Wyle (John Carter) and Julianna Margulies (Carol Hathaway) quickly became household names as their stories arcs evolved week after week.

Rounding out the original ensemble cast included Anthony Edwards (Mark Greene), Eriq La Salle (Peter Benton), and Sherry Stringfield (Susan Lewis).

Chicago’s special ‘ER’ day celebration

Although ER filmed only exterior shots in Chicago, it’s 15-year association with the city created excitement whenever the cast members came to town. Fans flocked to catch glimpses of their favorite characters.

Clooney and other cast members ate often at the Rosebud on Rush diner whenever they came to town, stopping to sign autographs, once receiving an ovation from other diners.

When ER’s partnership with Chicago came to a close in 2009, part of the cast and crew got together to express their appreciation for the Windy City’s hospitality during their time filming over the drama’s 15-year run.

According to NBC, the cast held a question-answer session about their experiences shooting on-location in the city. With gratitude, they presented the then mayor’s chief of staff with a framed photograph of the show’s current cast.

In turn, the mayor declared January 30, 2009, as ER Day in Chicago.

Chicago’s ‘ER’ location shoots

According to the Chicago Tribune, ER filmed in over 150 Chicago locations during its 15-year run keeping local actors busy while injecting $33.5 million into Chicago’s local economy. The Chicago Film Office lists 2003 as the only year ER didn’t shoot in the Windy City.

There’s a bit of discrepancy where most of the medical helicopter landings took place over the seasons. Some place them at the roof top of the Chicago Fire Academy.

But the Chicago Tribune says that the heliport at the Chicago Hilton and Towers provided the landings for over a decade. The ambulance bay shots used for two episodes were located at the University of Illinois Medical Center on Taylor Street.

Chicagoans recognize when you’re in the “L” zone

In many of the episodes, you could see the elevated train, or the “L” as it’s called. When filming would move to Chicago a couple of times each season, exterior scenes would be shot for several episodes, making the most out of the trips.

So filming familiar Chicago landmarks like the “L” rapid transit system and the Michigan Avenue Bridge would bring a sense of realism to the series.

ER earned 124 Emmy nominations during its run, winning 22, including season two’s Outstanding Drama Series award and the Best Supporting Actress award for Julianna Margulies in the first season.

The medical drama recently resurrected all 331 episodes on Hulu just in time for a whole new generation of fans to discover why their parents loved ER.