THE MARKETING 100: 'E.R.': JOHN WELLS

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It was actually the stars of NBC-TV's hit series "E.R.," George Clooney and Anthony Edwards, who first suggested doing "Ambush" during a brainstorming session with producers.

The person who got everyone excited about the idea, a live episode of the medical drama last fall, was John Wells, "E.R.'s" executive producer at Warner Bros. Television. He had to convince everyone from the cast to the press to those who had to pay for the episode's significantly high production costs.

"It was a huge team effort involving everyone from Warner Bros. to NBC, but in the end it was the unique talent and originality of `E.R.'s' writers and cast members who made it possible," says Mr. Wells, 42, who has overseen the series since its debut in 1994.

Publicity surrounding the Sept. 25 effort was immense, and its timing during the series' mid-life was a coup in keeping it atop the ratings pile.

So many people tuned in that "E.R." scored its highest ratings ever to that point, exceeded only by this year's season-closing episode, which aired after the Super Bowl-like ratings blowout of "Seinfeld's" final episode May 14 on NBC.

"Doing the live episode proved you can do more than stick to a conventional format on TV. It expanded the boundaries of the small screen," says Mr. Wells.

The effort took two months to plan. Five days before the broadcast a decision was made to film it twice, so viewers on both coasts would get to see a genuinely live program.

NBC played a big role in publicizing the effort, from making the announcement about the live show as early as July to providing extensive print, electronic and online promotion leading up to the show's airing.

"It was a lot of work and very rewarding. I'm not sure we'd do it again, but you never know," says Mr. Wells.

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