Why ‘ER’ Cost $13 Million per Episode During the Medical Drama’s Peak

ER is one of the most legendary shows in TV history. The medical drama’s beloved characters could be found working at Chicago’s County General Hospital every week. ER premiered in 1994, and after 15 seasons, the popular series ended in 2009. Take a look back at the talented cast, unforgettable storylines, and shocking cost to produce ER during the hit series’ peak. 

The cast of ‘ER’

Noah Wyle as Dr. John Carter (left) and Mekhi Phifer as Dr. Gregory Pratt on the TV show 'ER.'
Noah Wyle as Dr. John Carter (left) and Mekhi Phifer as Dr. Gregory Pratt on the TV show ‘ER’ | NBCU Photo Bank

Over the years, a fair share of actors starred on ER. Noah Wyle, George Clooney, Sherry Stringfield, and Mekhi Phifer were just a few talented cast members. Clooney played the pediatrician Doug Ross, who Screen Rant ranked the number one doctor in ER history. Doctors Peter Benton and Luka Kovac trailed close behind.

The worst doctor on call, according to Screen Rant, was Dr. Greg Pratt. The complex and challenging character didn’t have the best reputation. Pratt, played by Phifer, died in the series’ final season. His character wasn’t the only one to be killed off. ER fans also had to say goodbye to Mark Greene, Lucy Knight, and Dennis Gant. 

The most memorable and meaningful moments

RELATED: George Clooney Says ‘ER’ Was a ‘Life Changer’

Throughout the seasons of ER, viewers witnessed plenty of drama and heartbreak. In the series premiere, one of the main characters, Carol Hathaway, was brought in to the ER after she attempted to kill herself. That moment immediately established the show’s tone and mood. Only a few seasons later, audiences learned of Jeanie Boulet’s HIV diagnosis. During Season 5, fans grappled with Clooney’s decision to leave ER. Later, in Season 13, audiences saw Dr. Ray Barnett lose his legs in a tragic accident. And Dr. Robert Romano met an untimely demise when a helicopter crushed him.

Of course, some of the storylines and episodes had much happier endings. Fans celebrated during Season 13 when Abby and Luka finally wed, MTV News reported. And viewers cheered Kerry Weaver in Season 7 as she came to terms with her sexuality and decided to come out. The characters and their storylines are why so many people loved the show, but it didn’t come cheap.  

How much did ‘ER’ cost to produce during the medical drama’s peak? 

When ER reached the height of its popularity, the series and cast found themselves in an unusual situation. In 1998, Warner Bros. produced and owned the show, but the studio’s contract with NBC to air ER expired. The series was up for grabs.

NBC desperately wanted to keep the beloved show in-house, especially because the network was taking some hits at the time. With Seinfeld set to leave the air and a failed attempt at securing Monday Night Football, NBC went to extreme measures to ensure ER and its profits remained with the company. That’s how the network ended up paying $286 million for the rights to the upcoming episodes, The Baltimore Sun reported.

When all was said and done, NBC was looking at a price tag of $13 million per episode. That was more than six times what NBC has previously paid, but desperate times called for desperate measures. Though the dollar amount was high, NBC and the cast seemed pleased with the result.