Long-runningMedical Drama that redefined the genre. It was the first to show graphically realistic emergency procedures and reproduce the disorganised clutter of a real metropolitan hospital. Its creator, Michael Crichton, based many of the first season's stories on real patients he'd had during his time as a doctor, though he handed the reins to John Wells starting in season two and had little involvement with the show from then on.Set in Cook County General Hospital, the show followed an ever-changing, ethnically diverse cast of doctors, nurses, administrators and medical students as they deal with the day-to-day angst of saving lives. Their personal lives took a back seat to taut scenes of trying to help patients with their various physical and emotional emergencies. The main character arc was that of John Carter (Noah Wyle), who evolved throughout the course of the show from an uncertain medical student to the wise and infinitely capable chief resident.Due to its long run (15 seasons) it had Loads and Loads of Characters. The original cast consisted of Anthony Edwards, George Clooney, Sherry Stringfield, Noah Wyle, Julianna Margulies, and Eriq La Salle, with Gloria Reuben and Laura Innes joining them as regulars in the second and third seasons.Not to be confused with the 1984 sitcom E/R, which also took place in a Chicago hospital and also featured George Clooney.
This show provides examples of:
Abusive Parents: Many of the doctors working in the ER have screwed up parents. Some of the patients also turn out to be victims of parental abuse.
Adult Fear: many scenarios feature patients facing job loss due to illness, injury, or simply having to take time off work to come to the ER in the first place. Elderly husbands or wives watch their spouses of many years succumb to stroke, heart attack, or any of the many other ravages of old age. Parents agonize as their sick or injured children are treated; some parents have kids with chronic or terminal illnesses that can never be cured. The main cast themselves experience all of these and more; specific examples include (but are certainly not limited to):
Mark receiving word that his wife and daughter have been involved in a car accident;
Leading to yet another Adult Fear—this is how he discovers that she's been having an affair and intends to leave him for the other man.
Mark later suffering from a brain tumour (this happens twice), the consequences of which lead to Corday losing her husband.
Susan losing her niece, whom she'd been raising as her own, in a custody battle - the episode in which this is finalized features several flashbacks which are (perhaps deliberately) framed in such a way that it looks as though the baby is lost and crying for Susan while Susan, also in tears, demolishes her apartment trying to locate her;
Jeannie contracting HIV from her husband;
the premature birth of Benton's son, who remains in fragile condition for several weeks;
the stabbings of John Carter and Lucy Knight, and Lucy's death
Weaver watching her mentor Dr. Lawrence start to decay in the first stages of Alzheimer's, and both of them coming to realize that Lawrence will eventually succumb to full dementia;
Mark getting word that his daughter overdosed on amphetamines... then walking into the trauma room to find that it was Ella, not Rachel;
Weaver facing the possibility of ostracization and loss of her position at County when she is outed as a lesbian, and later fighting with her deceased partner's homophobic parents to retain custody of their son.
African Terrorists: The doctors of County General have faced both the Mai Mai in the Congo and the Janjaweed in Sudan while treating their victims.
Ambiguously Jewish: Mark Greene. He claims that one of his parents was an agnostic Jew, although which one is not made clear (probably his mother), and he knows a bit of Yiddish and some Jewish prayer. However, Mark seems to have no expressed faith.
Angry Black Man: Benton has shown shades of this. He's initially reluctant to go out with Corday because she's white (the relationship later ended because Eriq La Salle had a problem with it being shown as 'less problematic' than his relationships with black characters) and he's reluctant to continue a relationship with Cleo because, as a bi-racial woman, she doesn't understand the 'needs' of the African-American community, which rings fairly hypocritical considering that Jeanie Boulet (or at least, Gloria Reuben) was also half-white and Benton never considered it an issue, hiring her especially to take care of his mother. It's a wonder he was ever happy.
Anyone Can Die: Used in conjunction with Tonight Someone Dies. Memorable examples include Dr. Greene from brain cancer, Lucy Knight being stabbed to death, and Gallant in Iraq...in the teaser.
As well as series regulars/semi-regulars Greg Pratt from an explosion, Robert Romano from a helicopter, Carla Reese, Dennis Gant, Sandy Lopez.... And that's not even mentioning the various actors who guested more than once as the parents/grandparents of various characters - did any of them (other than Elizabeth's and Abby's mothers) survive the 16-year run?
Ascended Extra : Carol Hathaway, Jeanie Boulet, Kerry Weaver, Robert Romano, Jing-Mei Chen, Abby Lockhart, Michael Gallant, Greg Pratt, Archie Morris, Tony Gates, etc.
This evolved into pretty much being their official means of auditioning new cast members in the last several years: Bring a bunch of new people on as recurring characters each season and keep the best ones.
Nurse Chuny (Laura Cerón) is a unique case: strictly speaking she never really "ascended", but only Noah Wyle and Laura Innes appeared in more episodes.
Averted with Maggie Doyle. Doyle got a lot of air-time, consistent with the guest stars that become main cast members, and she was an ER resident. But before she could ascend Jorja Fox was offered more substantial roles in other shows, beginning with The West Wing and culminating in CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, so instead Doyle just disappeared. Tellingly, Doyle's the only character on the wall of locker tags seen in the final season not to have been a main cast member.
Notably, Carol was actually meant to succeed in her suicide attempt in the pilot, but Crichton and Wells were impressed with Juliana Margulies (as were test audiences, who were also intrigued at the hints of a past with Doug Ross) and kept her on. Unfortunately this makes her suicide attempt something of an Out-of-Character Moment.
Author Tract: Any of the "Doctors Without Borders" episodes.
Not even the cast liked those episodes very much, and in interviews have said they would have preferred it had the show just stuck to Chicago.
Prior to this the show, like many American medical series, expressed its views on the hopelessly corrupt American medical system as well as several hot button topics, like HIV/AIDS. Unlike the MSF episodes, however, these were rarely so heavy handed.
Back for the Finale: For the final season, every living main cast member popped up once or twice. Most appear in the finale itself. Mark Greene and Dr. Romano were seen on a video Mark made to try and teach new doctors about ER situations.
Back to Front: There was a backwards-running episode which "began" with a defenestration from a hospital window. Subsequent scenes showing earlier and earlier events revealed the reason for the suicidal character's desperation.
Another one "starts" with two staff members being brought into the hospital following a car accident. The flashbacks reveal that this was the culmination of a horrible day for one of them and that the reason he was driving recklessly was because of his mishandling of a patient's care.
Bait-and-Switch Tyrant : Kerry Weaver and Donand Anspaugh. In later seasons, we got Kevin Moretti and Catherine Bansfield.
Mark, after his mother was hospitalised (he grew one before, in the second season, but that was to impress women). Ironically, when his mother actually died he was completely clean shaven.
Carter had one after his stint in rehab. He shaved it off on the plane back to Chicago.
Belligerent Sexual Tension: Carter and Lucy fight. A lot. They end up making out in one episode, but it never goes any further—Noah Wyle was adamantly opposed to the relationship, feeling that it was improper (as Lucy was still a medical student and therefore Carter's subordinate) and out-of-character for Carter. Years, later, Brenner and Neela are constantly at each others throats before they end up having sex.
Bilingual Bonus: In one episode, Luka recited part of Hamlet's "To be or not to be" soliloquy, and lapsed into Croatian after a few lines. Crosses over to Shout-Out also, as Goran Visnjic's biggest role up to that point had been a Croatian production of the play.
In one season three episode, after their brief affair, Chuny, speaking Spanish, more-or-less confirmed to another nurse that what they say about bald men is true and that all Mark Greene ever seemed to want was sex.
In a season six episode, when Carol is nearing the end of her pregnancy Kovac comes in and says she looks great. Carol responds that she looks like an overgrown pumpkin. Luka then responds 'I'd say more of a lubenica' and then (in fear of offending her) claims he forgot how to say it in English. Lubenica is Croatian for watermelon.
Black Dude Dies First: Not first considering this is ER, but two regular black male cast members (out of three) eventually die on the show, both blown up. One in The Teaser with a voice over. Long before that Dennis Gant threw himself in front of a train.
Later in the pilot, Dr. Greene offers some words of encouragement to rookie med student Carter. Carter uses more-or-less these exact same words with rookie med student Gallant.
The pilot was the first day for rookie medical student Carter, the finale was the first day for rookie physician Dr. Wise
Bottle Episode: The vast majority of episodes took place over the course of one day and within the hospital. Some took this even further and focused on only one story, while one took place in real time over only 45 minutes.
Bratty Teenage Daughter: Rachel Greene was a sweet little girl, and any parent's worst nightmare as a teenager. (Rumor had it that was the reason the part was recast.)
Breather Episode: Many of the hard-hitting, wrenching episodes ("Love's Labor Lost", "The Storm 2", "All In The Family", "It's All In Your Head"), were followed by episodes that were more upbeat or mundane, making the fallout from the previous episode the B-plot rather than the main focus or ignoring it altogether—"Middle Of Nowhere", which followed "The Storm 2", even left the ER completely, following Benton to Mississippi.
Brick Joke: Annoyed with Weaver's confidentiality-serving abbreviation system, Carol wonders if "BE" stands for "Barium Enema." In the last scene of the episode, she suggests giving one to a patient with food poisoning who dumped an elderly man on the ER staff to free up his weekend.
Bumbling Sidekick: The Med Students. With very few exceptions all the students seen on the show that get assigned to ER rotation are incompetent and incapable of doing anything useful. Apparently this is not an uncommon occurrence, as in the pilot Susan Lewis hopes they get some good students because 'the last ones were really useless'.
Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Doug Ross. His first appearance has him coming into work drunk and talking about his sexual conquests, setting the viewer up for further instances of Doug breaking the rules and ignoring hospital procedure. During the second season, the Chief Attending of the pediatric ward gets into arguments with both Morgenstern and Greene about renewing his fellowship, with Greene arguing in Doug's favour by saying that he's a good doctor. Doug, from then on, manages to keep his job through pure, unquestionable excellence, despite Greene and Weaver's frustration with him.
Romano just wouldn't be able to keep his job if he wasn't very good at it. He pulls some outrageous stunts, says and does things that would be considered completely inappropriate, almost no one likes him and he tries his very best to alienate the one person (Elizabeth) that does.
This is deconstructed with Dave Malucci, who is initially presented as a Suspiciously Similar Substitute to Doug—brash, impulsive, problems with authority, womanizing, etc. Eventually, however, Reality Ensues—he makes numerous mistakes, is warned that no one in the hospital thinks much of his medical skills (unlike Doug, Malucci is considerably dumber than the other doctors and also considerably lazier), and finally fired both when his misdiagnosis kills a patient and when he's caught having sex with a paramedic while on duty.
Jeanie tells Peter to get an HIV test, reasoning that while they were careful they weren't that careful. (Peter tests negative for HIV).
Peter finds Carla in the ER waiting room, waiting to see the OB Attending. He is baffled by her pregnancy as they used protection. As it turns out, after Peter has invested years in the resulting child, Reese turns out not to be his biological son.
Butch Lesbian: Maggie Doyle is a pistol-packing lesbian doctor,even though she's long-haired and pretty, unlike most examples of this trope.
The Casanova: Doug Ross and Carter were both very popular with women. Mark Greene, amazingly, managed to take after Doug following his divorce and Susan's leaving, scheduling three dates on the same day (they all find out about it). Following that incident, Mark has several abortive relationships with many attractive women.
Luka Kovac, being a taller, more European version of Doug Ross, with a similar (if not worse) degree of emotional scarring.
Celebrity Paradox: ER and Third Watch take place in the same universe, but Michael Beach appeared on both, on ER as Al Boulet (Jeanie's ex-husband) and on Third Watch as Monte 'Doc' Parker. Lisa Vidal also appeared on both—as Dr. Morales on Third Watch (Doc's love interest) and firefighter Sandy, and Kerry's eventual wife on ER. ER was also referenced as a being a TV show on Third Watch.
Chekhov's Sternal Saw: Weaver uses the sternal saw she so vigorously lobbied to purchase for the ER one season earlier to crack Lucy's chest open after Lucy is stabbed by a mentally ill patient.
Chicago: Although filmed in California, the show shot exterior scenes in Chicago (the show's setting) pretty often. One can often see the Chicago Tribune building.
Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Doug and Carol are noticeably absent from Mark Greene's funeral. This is especially jarring because, during the entirety of Doug's tenure, they were depicted as best friends. Clooney explained that he didn't want to come back because he didn't want his appearance to overshadow Mark's death (which is understandable given NBC's outrage at not being told about Clooney's season 6 cameo). Still doesn't explain Hathaway's absence.
Some characters just flat out disappeared. Notably Dr. Angela Hicks, 'Bob' and several others. Maggie Doyle originally disappeared without explanation but then it was implied by Kerry Weaver that she was forced out when her sexual harassment case against Romano fell apart because Elizabeth refused to testify.
Closest Thing We Got: Downplayed in "Family Practice". Mark Greene is in San Diego visiting his dad in a military hospital when the doctors there get swamped due to a helicopter crash. While Greene is certainly that kind of doctor, he's not on the staff, nor is he licensed to practice in the state of California, but the military docs aren't feeling picky about it given the circumstances. They compromise by having him talk an intern through a procedure rather than doing it himself.
In reality, military and government hospitals allow any licensed physicians to practice regardless of what state carries the doctor's license. Greene's Illinois medical license would've been perfectly valid at a military hospital in California.
Code Silver: There had been a few hostage situations and shootouts in the hospital.
Comic Book Time: Averted. Most episodes take place over the course of a day (although episodes are, for the most part, non-consecutive) and each season takes place over the course of a year, with characters ,who don't get killed off, aging, getting married and having children, and leaving the hospital as would be appropriate.
Played straight at least once. Rachel suddenly ages two extra years to match the age of her replacement actress, Hallee Hirsh. This was probably done because Rachel's three main storylines following the switch, that of her taking drugs, asking Elizabeth for birth control and following in her father's footsteps by applying to med school, probably wouldn't have been appropriate for the slightly younger Yvonne Zima. Nevertheless, there is an incongruity, as Rachel celebrates her sixth birthday in 1995.
Continuity Nod: The series finale has plenty of references to the pilot episode, starting with a nurse waking up Dr. Mark Greene/Dr. Archie Morris for their shift and it continues from there.
There are numerous references to some of the shows classic episodes as well—"Love's Labor Lost", etc.
Throughout the final season, departing cast members, starting with Abby, are taken to the basement to have their name plates placed on the wall. A Freeze-Frame Bonus reveals that the name plates of all doctors who have left the staff/cast over the years are present.
Cool Old Guy: Greene thinks that Anspaugh will turn out to be a prick only for him to be this instead. Anspaugh, as it transpires, has his cantankerous moments but is generally a kind and understanding person (see Carter's transfer to Emergency Medicine)
CPR (Clean, Pretty, Reliable) As far as "clean" and "pretty" are concerned, typically played straight. In terms of "reliable", usually somewhat averted, as virtually all patients who are in cardiac arrest require defibrillation, and most require ACLS drugs. And of course, many patients don't make it.
Averted in one episode where John Carter is vomited on when he tries to give CPR to an overdosing medical student.
Dr. Carter breaks an elderly man's rib once during CPR while awaiting a defibrillation.
Averted in second season episode "Hell and High Water" when Doug Ross spends about half an hour doing CPR unsuccessfully on a young, hypothermic drowning victim. It ultimately takes a bypass machine to revive him.
Deconstructed in the sixth season episode "All In The Family" when Dr. Romano cracks Lucy Knight's chest open to attempt internal heart massage while she is dying of a pulmonary embolism. He is unsuccessful.
Creepy Cockroach: One episode has a woman who gets a small cockroach removed from her ear. She immediately freaks out and stomps on it.
Carter visits Anna Del Amico's studio apartment and sees a cockroach climbing along one of her cupboards. She crushes it. She's later embarrassed by the incident and Carter having to see how poorly she lives when she finds out that Carter is absolutely loaded.
Carter: What a couple of SHPOS. Lewis:What? Carter: It means sub-human piece of— Lewis: I know what it means!
Dawson Casting: In 1995 Rachel Greene celebrates her sixth birthday. Assuming a birth year of 1989, by 2002 Rachel would have been exactly thirteen. Yvonne Zima, who had played Rachel up to this point and who was exactly thirteen, was replaced by the then-fifteen year old Hallee Hirsh.
Death by Childbirth: One of the most famous, most well-regarded episodes of the show's entire run was first-season episode "Love's Labor Lost", in which Dr. Greene spends most of the episode trying to save a pregnant woman with eclampsia. He fails.
Defrosting the Ice Queen: Doug Ross and Kerry Weaver initially don't get on very well (they have past history) and Doug does a rather insensitive impression of her that she happens to walk in on. However, Doug sees her good side when they treat a deaf girl and Doug sees that Kerry is also very good with children.
Deleted Scene: The DVDs featured numerous deleted scenes from various episodes, all of them unedited (certain sound effects or special effects needed to be added in post-production). Interestingly some of the scenes were subplots that were scrapped so they could be re-used or re-worked for later episodes. On The Beach had a wealth of deleted scenes, showing (amongst other things) Mark watching Ella take her first steps, Mark and Elizabeth writing his letter to the ER (as seen in The Letter) and Elizabeth talking to Peter Benton at Mark's funeral.
Development Hell: The Pilot was written in 1974 and filmed 20 years later. Despite the huge time gap, few changes were necessary, aside from making at least one of the doctors (Lewis) a woman instead of a man, and another a black man (Benton) instead of a white one.
Did Not Get the Girl: After years of unexplored romantic feelings towards Susan, Mark finally sums up the courage to tell her that he loves her just as she was leaving the hospital to move to Arizona. Unfortunately she basically rejects him (although she does say 'I love you', in what sense is debatable) and leaves anyway. By the time she comes back, Mark is married to Elizabeth with a newborn baby.
Similarly, despite pining away for Anna throughout all of Season 4, Carter loses her first when she gently rebuffs his advances because things aren't resolved with her ex-boyfriend, then when she ultimately leaves Chicago to go back to Philadelphia and reconcile with said ex.
Disappeared Dad: Doug Ross' father abused alcohol, him and his mother, and then eventually up and left. Ironically Doug is one himself, he has a son with an unnamed woman who he has never met or seen before, the circumstances of the boy's birth and Doug's lack of involvement are never explained.
Downer Ending: MANY episodes, but "Love's Labor Lost" really stands out.
At the end of a two episode arc, a young woman who had woken up from a coma slipped back into it as Luka frantically tried to keep her conscious.
Driven to Suicide: Dennis Gant throws himself in front of a train because of Peter Benton's treatment of him. Officially it's ruled an accident, but Benton and Carter know the truth.
Dropped a Bridge on Him: Few of the main character's deaths were dignified and done with respect. Romano had a helicopter call on him. Gallant in Iraq. Pratt in an explosion. And many more.
The Documentary: The Season four premiere Ambush (which was performed live).
Ross' father was abusive and ultimately abandoned him and his mother.
Carter's relationship with his parents was never that great (they're never around) and his grandfather refused to accept his career choice, insisting that it was just a phase and instead wanting him to run the family business.
Subverted with Mark Greene. He and his father have a difficult relationship and he resents him for being a tough military type, unwilling or unable to show any affection for Mark. Doug, who really did have an abusive father, pointed out that his dad was always there for him and told him to "get your head out of your ass!" As it transpires, Mark's father sacrificed his chances at making admiral to come home and help him with a bully (taking a desk job instead). His mother, however, didn't want him at first. She had only been on a couple of dates with his father and wasn't ready to settle down. Greene eventually admitted to his daughter that he didn't even remember why their relationship was so bad, only saying that it was "probably my fault."
Kerry's mother gave her up for adoption, and for years Kerry grappled with the fact that it might've been due to her congenital hip dysplasia (as it turns out her birth mother knew nothing about it).
Abby's father left her when she was very young and her mother and brother have bipolar disorder. She herself is a recovering alcoholic.
Same thing with Pratt's father, though he tried to get back with Pratt's mother, but she never answered his letters.
Sam had come from a family of alcoholics.
Empathic Environment: The Pilot episode. Also in "Blizzard", bordering on Exactly What It Says on the Tin, as an actual blizzard outside coincides with—and causes—a massive influx of patients (this was the first, and arguably the best of the shows "mass casualty" episode).
Everybody is Single: Originally averted, Mark Greene was married (the only doctor in the ER who was) but the pilot made it clear that his marriage was rocky. Played straight (more-or-less) after he got divorced (although he eventually married Elizabeth, only to die and leave Elizabeth widowed and therefore single.) Keep in mind that the original cast was made up of actors chiefly in their early thirties (Noah Wyle was in his early twenties) and of them only Anthony Edwards was recently married (George Clooney was fairly recently divorced), making this a less egregious use of the trope.
Expy: Dr. Julia Wise isn't Rory Gilmore, she just acts exactly like her and happens to be played by the same actress.
Fake Guest Star: Laura Ceron (Chuny) and Deezer D (Malik) appeared in more episodes than anyone other than Noah Wyle and Laura Innes...all with guest star billing.
Leland Orser as Dr. Dubenko.
Fanservice: Abby's nurse costume in one of the Halloween episodes was definitely not a regulation nurse's outfit. There have been other examples, too.
ER desk clerk Randi Fronczak's outfits in general (she designs her own clothes). See also Cynthia Hooper (Mariska Hargitay) turning up in the doctor's lounge in nothing but lingerie and a trench coat to seduce Mark Greene.
Naked Finnish air hostess, fresh from the shower, to greet Greene and Ross upon arriving at Ross' apartment in "Do One, Teach One, Kill One."
"You know, the Finns are remarkably un-self conscious." Dr. Doug Ross
Friend to All Children: Doug Ross is remarkably good with children. Kerry Weaver, despite being unable to deal with adults, is also very good with children.
Kovac has a rapport with children and, like Doug, dates a woman with a kid for a while, getting close to her through the kid.
Flanderization: Romano's prickish tendencies became more exaggerated with each passing year. Originally, the only indication the viewer had that Romano was a racist was him asking Benton if he liked Chris Rock.
Flashback: When Mark is having surgery to remove his brain tumour he has a seizure and sees a bunch of things from his past (possibly a case of his life flashing before his eyes). Among them are visions of his mother, his father (blowing smoke) and Jen holding a crying baby Rachel and complaining that Mark didn't come home when he said he would.
Funny Background Event: Wendy skidding around the hospital on rollerblades during the season 1 episode "Blizzard." And during season 4's "Hole in the Heart" there's a really funny moment when Weaver is ranting angrily at Mark; Anna slips by in the background and the "man, glad I'm not on the receiving end of that" grimace on her face as she exits the scene is priceless.
Fun with Acronyms: When Pratt gets accused of inappropriately touching a female patient, Morris makes a crack about how he "TUBEd her." He realizes too late that Weaver is nearby and that she will not be amused by what "TUBE" means: Totally Unnecessary Breast Exam.
Headbutting Heroes: Peter Benton is a very talented surgeon, but his abrasive personality and arrogance make him hard to work with. Notably, the entire surgical service and the ER staff practically refuse to work with him after he unnecessarily back-stabbed Doug Ross (himself revered at this point for saving a drowning child) over a missed diagnosis.
Kerry Weaver is a good doctor, but practically every one in the ER has a contentious relationship with her because of her focus on unpopular administrative policies as well as a talent for patronizing and otherwise annoying the staff.
Hellish Copter: A helicopter crashes down in the Hospital's courtyard and kills Dr. Romano, who was in said courtyard specificallybecause he wanted to avoid it after having his arm chopped off by one earlier in the season.
Heroic BSOD: Basically everyone at one point or another.
Mark had a massive one after losing a mother during a delivery.
Benton had a few. One after losing his mother. Another after almost killing a baby when Dr Keaton expressly told him just to close up. A third after Dennis Gant's (suspected) suicide. A fourth after his son is born prematurely.
Doug had one after a woman he had been with OD'ed and died in the ER.
Hollywood Atheist: Doug Ross, who instead jokingly claims to be 'Pagan'—though he crosses himself several times during the episode "Fathers & Sons", implying that he was raised Catholic even if he's now lapsed. Also possibly Lucy Knight.
In a deleted scene from On The Beach, Mark says outright that he doesn't believe in God.
Averted with Benton. Not only does Benton pursue work in such a place, he takes it. This was because he needed to be around to take care of Reese and Romano wouldn't/couldn't offer him the hours he needed at County.
I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: The reason Kovac breaks up with Abby the first time. Kovac bends over backwards to try and make Abby happy but she's always miserable and content with being so. It gets to the point where they have a fight, Kovac says a lot of things he didn't mean and they break up.
In a deleted scene from On The Beach, Mark says that he has no problem with Elizabeth marrying again, reasoning that he'll be gone and that he wants Elizabeth to be happy and Ella to have a father. Despite this, most of Elizabeth's relationships after Mark's death fail for one reason or another.
I Want You to Meet an Old Friend of Mine: Often times special guest stars will be actors that share a relationship with at least one member of the main cast, although unlike most examples of the trope, the guest stars rarely,if ever,interact with the actor they have a previous relationship with. Notable examples include:
Miguel Ferrer (George Clooney's cousin) as a lung cancer patient in the pilot, treated by Susan Lewis
Rosemary Clooney (George Clooney's aunt) as a broadway singer & Alzheimer's patient, treated by Carter
Diane Baker (Kellie Martin) as the daughter of a Parkinson's patient, treated by Chen and Carter
James Cromwell (Anthony Edwards) as a bishop, treated by Kovac
In addition Goran Visjnic had worked with George Clooney on The Peacemaker two years before he joined the cast as Luka Kovac following Clooney's departure.
Immediate Sequel: A handful of episodes pick up within minutes of the previous one's ending.
Inferiority Superiority Complex: Kerry Weaver. Her constant strive to be promoted at work as well as her general tendency to overachieve and over-do things is probably a reaction to her congenital hip dysplasia and her mistaken belief that her birth mother gave her up because of it. As a result, Kerry constantly tries to prove that she's not inferior by trying to be better at her job than everyone else.
Inspirationally Disadvantaged: Kerry. Despite her disability, she is consistently depicted as an uber-competent doctor. In fact, her abrasive personality (rather than warm and fuzzy) might even make this a subversion.
Internal Affairs: The hospital has M&M, wherein the treating doctors present cases in which a preventable accident/injury/death occurred, in front of the hospital board and several other doctors. Frequently a place for doctors to assign blame to either the patients (i.e. their difficult medical conditions) or other doctors.
Irony: Mark raises the possibility of pre-eclampsia in one patient one week, only to completely mis-diagnose a patient actually suffering from it a few weeks later.
Because Carla put Peter's name on Reese's birth certificate she would have no legal right to challenge his paternity, which is why she doesn't when Peter sues the McGraths for trying to take Reese with them to Germany. Ironically, after she dies, Roger is perfectly welcome to challenge Peter's paternity, which he does.
Including Romano. There are numerous episodes which show him as being a Jerk with a Heart of Gold - All in the Family springs to mind. He ultimately reverted to full Jerkass status.
Benton is often arrogant, narcissistic and completely self-serving, to the point that he never seems to care about anyone other than himself. Like Romano, however, he has his moments, and the birth of his son changes him a bit.
Carter started out as an idealistic young med student, then went through a period of jerkassery in the second season, mainly in imitation of the cutthroat surgeons (*cough* Benton! *cough*) he was working alongside then. By the third season he had mostly gotten it out of his system, thank goodness, although in the last few seasons he reverted a bit.
And then came back in the last season as almost saintly.
After Mark got beat up he became cynical and rather unpleasant to both his co-workers and his patients. Fortunately a trip to California with Doug is enough to snap him out of it.
Doug himself during the first 2-3 seasons. His promiscuity is heavily implied to be the result of some deep-seated issues (abuse, abandonment) rather than him just being an unfeeling jerk, and even if not, he's consistently shown to be an excellent and compassionate pediatrician.
Surgical intern/resident Dale Edson (Season 2 and 3). Unlike previous examples, Edson didn't have the heart of gold.
Whoever was killing Elizabeth's patients—it's implied that it's Alexander Babcock, but this is never followed up.
Dr. Romano caught Archie Morris smoking a joint on the job in the bathroom and dragged him out to tell him to wait in a seat and touch nothing. He would be dealt with later. Archie does, but Romano is killed by the helicopter, so no one is there to report Morris' crime.
Jen Greene, she makes Mark feel guilty about trying to advance his career at County and tries to get him to follow her career and move to Milwaukee. She constantly rags on him for being friends with another woman (Susan)—but she's the one who cheats on him and leaves him for the other man, but instead of incurring Mark's wrath in the form of divorce court proceedings and custody battles, they both eventually relent and decide to split amicably. When she decides to move her and Rachel to St Louis, Mark puts up absolutely no resistance.
Kerry Weaver. From Season 6 onward, she began to pull numerous duplicitous stunts in order to advance her career and never once incurred punishment for any of them, eventually becoming Chief of Staff.
Kick the Dog: Benton just wouldn't give Dennis Gant a break (A fair amount was frustration at his fellowship in pediatric surgery going down the toilet). Gant eventually killed himself.
In the Pilot Carter starts to feel sick after seeing a patient with a severe knife wound. To add insult to injury, Benton says he didn't need Carter's help anyway. fortunately Mark overhears this and goes to comfort Carter, telling him that Benton used to get sick all the time in med school.
Last Episode Theme Reprise: After dropping it for the past several seasons, the original theme song was played over the beginning and end of the final episode.
Live Episode: The season 4 premiere "Ambush". The cast did it twice. Once for the East Coast USA and once for the West Coast USA. The set up was a documentary crew put up cameras around the hospital to watch the staff.
Loads and Loads of Characters: Not just limited to the revolving door main cast. Because the show is set in a hospital there are also a lot of supporting characters and recurring guest stars.
Lonely Funeral: Dr. Corday is the only one to attend Dr. Romano's memorial service.
Long-Runner Cast Turnover: The series transplanted most of its original cast over the fifteen seasons; while some (Susan Lewis) came back and then went away again, and some of the characters came back in the final season, the final cast was composed of none of the members of the original cast. Lampshaded more than once:
Once in the eighth season. Susan Lewis returns only to find that she recognizes practically no one, except Weaver, working at the ER. Jeanie Boulet has a similar reaction in Season 14.
Once in the final season. One of the new characters (Neela Rasgotra) meets one of the original characters (Doug Ross) and they realize that the staff of the hospital has changed so much over the years that they have only one common acquaintance (Donald Anspaugh). Most of the people who worked in the hospital when the original character left had already stopped working there by the time the new character arrived (however, Doug mentions Kerry Weaver and Susan Lewis, two people Neela does know, they just don't work there any more).
Lovable Traitor: Kerry will knife anyone in the back in the name of "hospital policy" and yet we still feel sorry for her when she doesn't get what she wants. Occasionally used seriously with Doug, whose loyalty to children above everything and everyone else is both his greatest strength and greatest weakness. It almost gets him fired, until his rescue of a drowning child forces the hospital to reconsider.
Magical Defibrillator: Defibrillators are actually generally portrayed accurately on this show. There was maybe one exception, and it was mentioned that they were desperate and trying everything they could at that time.
Mama Bear: Don't mess with Alex or else Sam will come after you.
Married to the Job: Almost everyone. Part of character development for both Greene and Benton is the discovery that other things are more important. In the first season both cannot break away from their jobs to be with their families, ultimately leading to divorce for Mark Greene and the death of Peter Benton's mother. By the eighth season Benton decides to leave County to get a job with better hours so that he can be with his son, and Greene eventually leaves the hospital to spend time with his daughter in Hawaii.
It was first told to Dr. Greene by Dr. Morgenstern in the pilot.
When Dr. Greene is leaving County to die from his tumor these were his last words to John Carter.
And when Carter was leaving he told this to Morris. Though it did take Morris a few years to be ready to set it, he would become one of the best doctors in the hospital.
There's also the line "It's okay to miss him/her. Missing him/her keeps him/here." Doug said this to Mark after Susan's departure, Mark said this to Carol after Doug left, and Susan said it to Carter after Mark's death.
The pep talk Carter gives new student Gallant after the latter freaks out during a gruesome trauma is identical to the one Greene gave Carter in the pilot. This was done intentionally.
McLeaned: Carla Reese, see Role Ending Misdemeanour below.
Naïve Newcomer: The med students that weren't outright incompetent were often this, Carter and Lucy are good examples.
Never My Fault: Played with. While the doctors internally feel a lot of guilt when routine procedures go haywire and the patients are left dead or irreparably damaged, often times they deflect the blame onto someone or something (i.e. the patient's pre-existing medical conditions) else. Most notably seen in the aftermath of "Love's Labour Lost".
Kerry played this perfectly straight, never once acknowledging that the reason everyone disliked her was because of the way she treated people, as well as dumping the blame for a patient's death onto the two doctors who treated him, conveniently ignoring the fact that as their supervisor, she should have been there to correct their errors instead of off-site handling personal business. When one of the doctors confronts her about this, she has the nerve to take it even further, implying that she was completely justified in what she did because of the other woman's mistakes.
Nipple and Dimed: During one scene a woman's bare breasts were visible as a realistic representation of what doctors have to do (e.g. cut someone's shirt off) during emergency medical treatment. The woman was elderly to minimize the risk that it would be perceived as titillating. There were plans to do this again, but then that Janet Jackson thing happened and they were shelved.
No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: The type of tumour Mark is diagnosed with, Glioblastoma Multiforme, can be caused by ionizing radiation, such found in x-rays. It is quite possible that Mark's illness and eventual death was purely a by-product of being a good and caring doctor, by going with his patients to x-ray.
Not Good with People: Benton is a very talented surgeon and a very competent and studious doctor but he often butts heads with his co-workers and he can't help but see the patients as anything other than people who need to be sliced and diced. This is more-or-less what flushes his chances at a fellowship in paediatric surgery down the toilet.
Kerry as well. While no one would deny she's an excellent physician, no one likes her much either. It's very telling that despite probably being the most qualified applicant, she's consistently passed over for the ER Chief position and ultimately has to resort to underhanded methods (backstabbing Mark by reneging on her promise to fight Romano's appointment as Chief of Staff) to get the job.
Official Couple: One for each era of the series. For the first 5-6 seasons, it was Doug and Carol, then later Luka and Abby, and in the final years, Ray and Neela.
The first and best example of this is Carol's suicide attempt in the pilot. The entire staff practically come to a standstill after seeing Carol come in. Some want to know why she did it, something they don't usually care about. Greene says to Morgenstern that they have to try everything, for morale if nothing else.
Lampshaded in "All in the Family" when Benton operates on Carter after his stabbing. Benton is so distraught at Carter's condition that he nearly removes a salvageable kidney and has to be talked down by a senior surgeon. Meanwhile, Romano insists on trying to revive Lucy, whereas with a patient he had no connection to, he would have been objective enough to acknowledge that she was gone.
When treating his infant daughter for a drug overdose, Greene hesitates to do everything that he knows deep down is medically necessary, to the point where Kerry gently, but firmly takes over the case, pointing out that had this been anyone else's child, he would have intubated her immediately, but is reluctant to cause such discomfort to his own.
Catherine Banfield experiences a form of this with her son (he had acute leukaemia but she failed to see the symptoms, when Greene was treating him she, meaning well, inadvertently tried to obstruct him.), and the incident forms part of her backstory. Incidentally her son was treated by Greene not long after his aforementioned incident.
The Other Darrin: Several supporting characters were played by different actors. Al Boulet was played by a different actor before being played by Michael Beach starting Season Two. Hathaway's mother was played by different actresses. Perhaps most notably Rachel Greene was originally played by Yvonne Zima, and then replaced by Hallee Hirsh for the rest of the series. Rather egregiously, Roger McGrath (Carla Reese's husband) was played by Victor Williams in all of his appearances until the eighth season, where he was suddenly played by Chicago Hope's Vondie Curtis-Hall.
Papa Wolf: Quite a few doctors are this to their patients; Kovac is one of the most prominent ones.
Benton becomes one when Reese is born. To see Benton go from being an arrogant and egotistical doctor to a loving, doting father is rather startling.
Benton also displays inclinations of this toward Carter, training him, working much closer with him and treating him much better than he does his other students (Gant especially). Benton is genuinely hurt when Carter switches from surgery to Emergency Medicine, complaining that Carter went to Anspaugh ,and not him, first (although Carter once tried to go to Benton for advice on the Dale Edson situation and he brushed him off).
Carter in turn shows signs of it toward Lucy (though in his case, whether he's feeling protective or just wants to get into her pants is sometimes unclear).
Pet the Dog: Benton, who had been 'kind of a jerk' to Carter throughout his first year at County, can be heard advocating him to Dr Hicks for the surgical position (saying 'But I've been training him all year'). Not only that, but Benton gave Carter a glowing evaluation (which made Carter feel guilty as he gave Peter a 16 out of a possible 40 on his evaluation) and, before Carter left for the summer, took the time to tell him he's going to be a great doctor. He did something similar the next year, only to lapse into being his usual self at beginning of the year following.
Dr. Romano signing to Reese Benton.
Also quite literally, with Romano's dog coming to the OR for a procedure.
"Perhaps if you showed the same compassion towards people as you do towards animals..." (death glare)
A dog randomly hit in the hospital parking lot gets mouth-to-mouth from Carter in the first season.
Also happens pretty much every time Romano and Corday are on screen together. Corday may have been his only friend, but by damn, she was a good one.
Jeanie's relationship with Kerry Weaver. The firing incident aside, Jeanie's the only person who doesn't have a contentious relationship with Weaver. Weaver, without hesitation, offered to take care of Jeanie and make sure her condition doesn't worsen. Weaver also kept her secret until Mark found out.
Doug's attempt at doing an ultra-fast detox on an eight month old baby who was born addicted to methadone. Doug tries to do the procedure in secret and Carol insists on helping him. The baby then goes into respiratory arrest and Mark hears the monitor alarms going off, stumbling upon the procedure. Mark and Kerry are very pissed at Doug for once again violating the rules but the anesthesiologist at the Pedes ICU and the senior members of the hospital staff are actually very supportive of what Doug did and allow him to continue the procedure agreeing that while he stepped over the line what he did was morally right. Perhaps as a result Doug gets offered the position of Pedes Attending.
Portmanteau: Benton and Carla come up with Reese's full name by combining their last names.
Precision F-Strike: In Mark Greene's final episode his body was really failing and he collapsed to the floor. Frustrated and not wanting his family to see, he screamed "Shit!" (on network TV).
Word of God says they got clearance from the FCC to do this, citing situational necessity.
Several physical versions as well. A just-shy-of 18 teenage boy gives Doug the finger after the latter revives him (The kid had end-stage Cystic Fibrosis, he didn't want resuscitation but, being under-age, his mother, who didn't want to let him go, reneged on the DNR order.)
Prom Baby: Sam explains this to be the case with her son.
Pronoun Trouble: After Mark undergoes surgery to remove his brain tumor he starts mixing up "he" and "she" in mid-tirade. It gets to the point where Kerry orders competency testing.
Put on a Bus: Several characters. The most upsetting, perhaps, is Ray Barnett (played by Shane West), who is first hit with a bus and then put on one for a couple seasons. For all its cruelty, at least he gets the girl in the end.
All the original cast members eventually left, but until the show got rid of its opening theme after Season 12, you could still see 'incidental' shots of them from the pilot episode.
Doug rushes to Carol's engagement party to tell her he loves her...she screams at him to leave her alone, and her fiancé punches him. ( It works out in the end)
Mark runs to the train station to catch the departing Susan, only to have her gently rebuff him and leave anyway. ( He eventually found someone else)
Carter buying a $9,000 plane ticket to Japan so that he can get past security and get to the gate to give one last kiss to his departing girlfriend Kem.
Carter again racing through the streets of Paris to get to Kem's place and declare his love for her.
The best example is of Carol rushing to catch a plane to Seattle in the hopes that it's not too late to reconcile with Doug.
Real-Life Relative: Courtney B Vance (probably best known nowadays as Ron Carver) is married to Angela Bassett, who played Catherine Banfield. He plays her husband Russell.
Miguel Ferrer (George Clooney's cousin) and Rosemary Clooney (George Clooney's aunt) both had roles in the first season, although neither interacted with Clooney.
David Brisbin, who played Alexander Babcock, is married to Laura Innes. They got to interact at least once, when Kerry is in the ICU screaming at Doug for doing a procedure in secret and without parental consent.
Kerry Weaver had her hip dysplasia surgically corrected in season 12 because ten years of walking with a crutch had begun to cause hip problems for her actress, Laura Innes.
The Real Life pregnancies of several of the show's actresses—Ming-Na, Alex Kingston, Sherry Stringfield—resulted in their characters being pregnant as well.
Many characters were written out because the actors playing them wanted to do other things. Most notably, George Clooney left both because his film career was starting to take off and because he felt that all of Doug Ross' potential storylines had been exhausted. Anthony Edwards left to spend more time with his family.
Pairing with Reality Subtext—Benton's brief, troubled relationship with Elizabeth is partly because Benton can't get over his discomfort with dating a white woman, thus echoing his portrayer's sentiments.
Refuge in Audacity: The crew helps a homeless girl who turns out to be on the run from a Cure Your Gays-institution. A person from the facility shows up to take her back, but Carter refuses to release her... by claiming that she is pregnant. What are they going to do, say that that is impossible?
Replacement Scrappy: Invoked. Reilly, for Raul Melendez, Shep's best friend and partner who got burned and died after trying to save some children. Not only is Reilly incompetent and a wet-behind-the-ears rookie, he reports Shep for use of excessive force when Shep shoves a teenager into a coffee table. However, Strawman Has a Point—Shep is clearly out of control and Reilly correctly states that Hathaway's covering for him isn't going to help his PTSD at all.
Invoked by Carter for Lucy Knight. Carter originally isn't thrilled about Lucy's joining the hospital, partly because she's fairly useless and partly because Anna Del Amico had just left to live with her recovering drug addict boyfriend in Philadelphia, which hurt Carter who had unresolved romantic feelings for her.
In "Night Shift," a patient who is badly mangled after jumping (or falling) onto the tracks in front of an elevated train is rolled into a trauma room. Dr. Benton tells a nurse to page Benton's then-favorite medical student Dennis Gant, and everyone is horrified when the patient's beeper goes off—it's Gant on the table!
When Greene discovers his wife is having an affair. Although, much like Carter's wealth, there were subtle hints beforehand that Greene just didn't pick up on.
When Kerry discovers Carter and Lucy Knight bleeding to death on the floor of a patient's room.
Revolving Door Casting: By the end of the series, absolutely none of the original cast (or the extended cast members from seasons 2&3) remained (although they did all return for guest appearances during the last two seasons)
Role Ending Misdemeanor: Lisa Nicole Carson, who played Carla Reese (the mother of Benton's child) had concurrent roles on both ER and Ally McBeal. She was fired from both for drug use, erratic behavior as well as being in and out of mental hospitals. The ER producers in particular were tired of her 'unpleasant attitude'.
Say Your Prayers: Dr. Kovac did this in one episode while in the Congo, but winds up living through it.
It's actually a bit of a subversion since the praying saves him. The rebels holding him think he's is a priest and shooting priests is the one thing they won't do.
Self Harm: In one episode, a self-injurer is treated at the clinic.
Scary Surprise Party: a Running Gag where the staff would trick a co-worker into thinking they were needed for a medical emergency, only to happen upon their surprise birthday party/welcome back party/going away party/bridal shower/baby shower.
Averted, with Susan Lewis. The staff plan one of these but then they get caught up in an actual medical emergency and can't give her a proper send-off.
Secretly Wealthy: Everyone was stunned when Carter was revealed to be from a wealthy family, although there were subtle hints beforehand, such as Carter's tailored lab coat in the pilot and Benton's mother claiming that Carter's family might have once owned Benton's family when Carter admits to having relatives in Tennessee.
Sexy Shirt Switch: Played straight plenty of times and subverted with Ray and Neela. Neela wears Ray's shirt to bed because it's comfortable, not because they're sleeping together. This is later important because the two develop feelings for each other and she offers it back when she moves out.
Smoking Is Cool: Jerry smokes a cigar occasionally. In the first three seasons Susan also smokes occasionally, which is odd considering the vast amount of lung cancer patients she has treated. Mark Greene starts smoking after his beating, but eventually quits after seeing a dying Lung Cancer patient. Carter smokes after his stabbing and quits after deciding that he'll get serious about rehab. Abby smokes, and drinks.
Something Completely Different: Much like Homicide: Life on the Street, every season of ER featured an episode that was completely unlike the others. Notable highlights include "Love's Labor Lost" (one story as opposed to multiple), "Hell and High Water" (similar), "The Long Way Around" (took place mostly outside the hospital), "Ambush" (live, "documentary style) "Fathers and Sons" (took place completely outside of the hospital and over several days rather than the 24-hour format of most episodes and focused on only 2 of the main characters) "Secrets and Lies" (A Breakfast Club type episode in which four of the doctors and Abby attend a sexual harassment seminar), "Time of Death" (took place in real time).
This was true for most of the original main cast (though none of them reached the heights Clooney has). Anthony Edwards was the exception; he was fairly well-known before the show even though he became the major star for several years.
Sympathetic Adulterer: Jeanie's husband cheats on her with many women ( contracting HIV in the process, which he passed to Jeanie). Her affair with Peter Benton is therefore very understandable.
Except for Carter, one of the only characters to be in every season (even if he's only mentioned in passing.) The others being minor characters that never receive main cast billing.
Team Dad: Greene, to many but especially to Carter.
Team Mom: Angela Hicks, to Benton and Carter. The two are literally on her team, and she takes care of and councils both Benton and Carter before Carter switches to Emergency Medicine and Benton joins Romano's team.
There Are No Therapists: Averted. Susan Lewis sees a therapist after losing baby Suzie (who she raised as her own after Chloe abandoned her) to her sister.
Hathaway tries to get Shep to see a psychiatrist to deal with his PTSD, but he outright refuses to go, or even admit he has a problem. Hathaway, as a result, breaks up with him. She sees him months later with another, blonder, woman.
Doug Ross sees a shrink (offscreen) after one of his one night stands ODs and dies in the ER.
Played straight with some patients. Often times the ER doctors will try to get patients who obviously need psychiatric help admitted to the psychiatric department (or psych, as they call it) only for these patients to be turned away for various reasons. These patients inevitably either come back, having harmed themselves or others, or turn up dead. Most notably, in the episode Be Still My Heart, Lucy and Carter call for a psych consult on a schizophrenic patient but are kept waiting long enough for the patient to have a psychotic break and stab both Lucy and Carter, ultimately killing the former and permanently damaging the latter both physically and psychologically.
Subverted in one episode in which Luka appears to be talking to a therapist before it's revealed that she's a prostitute.
There Is a God!: The episode "Whose Appy Now?". Carter's upset because he's being denied the chance to perform an exciting surgery and reassigned to an appendectomy instead.
Dr. Angela Hicks: You haven't seen the patient yet. [Carter looks out the window and sees Dr. Benton being wheeled down the hall on a gurney] Dr. John Carter: Ohhhhhhhh there is a God!
This Is a Work of Fiction: The hospital is called Cook County General Hospital. It wasn't intended to be a fictionalised version of the actual Cook County Hospital, now named the John H Stroger JR Hospital of Cook County. However, the head of Emergency Medicine at the actual hospital was so infuriated at the depiction of the hospital in the show, partly because some of the stuff depicted actually happens in the real, non-fictional, hospital, that he tried to lean on the ER producers to rename it. They eventually relented somewhat and the hospital is usually referred to as County General. However, as this article points out, by doing so the ER producers missed a veritable gold mine of story ideas based on the strange stuff that actually goes on in the real County Hospital.
Unfortunate Implications: Invoked After returning from Doctors Without Borders, Kovac becomes obsessed with doing the bare minimum for his patients, as that is what doctors in countries like the Congo have to work with (really he was just trying to keep from doing unnecessary tests and procedures to save them money). Pratt calls him out on this, telling him "Maybe you should just go back to Africa." Kovac's response? "Maybe ''you'' should go to Africa!" Pratt is black. This pisses him off quite a bit. However, ironically he eventually did go to Africa.
In "Blizzard", Caucasian Doug mistakes African-American Angela Hicks for a nurse—to the point where he's giving her orders, etc—before she coldly informs him that she's a doctor. He winces at the mistake, realizing how badly he's come across. It's a pretty cringeworthy moment for someone who's heretofore shown no signs of being a racist nor sexist, despite his womanizing.
Ungrateful Bastard: The patient whose life Dr. Weaver saves by performing an exceedingly-controversial late-term abortion, polarizing the opinions of the cast in the process. Weaver meets up with her later in recovery, and she reveals that she's been pregnant several times before and had an abortion every time because her husband doesn't want kids. When Weaver tries to tell her to use birth control, the patient brushes it off with "More likely you just never get any yourself."
The Unseen: Starting from about season 3, Peter Benton's brother-in-law Walter (played by Ving Rhames) stopped appearing and was only ever mentioned.
Doug Ross is mentioned in Season 6 as having come to visit his baby daughters and to ask Carol again to move to Seattle with him. None of the exchange is seen first-hand.
Averted in the season 6 episode "All In the Family"; when Weaver steps into the ambulance bay to puke into a trashcan after seeing the results of a schizophrenic patient's attack on Lucy and Carter, her head is obscured by the lightbar of a police vehicle in the foreground.
Walk and Talk: John Wells, producer of ER, went on to take the helm of The West Wing.
Wham Episode: One of the most notable was also one of the first, "Love's Labour Lost," featuring Dr. Greene trying to save a pregnant woman and her child. He succeeds with the latter, but not the former.
"Be Still My Heart" and "All in the Family" in season 6 are just as tear jerking.
Wham Line: Carla plans to move with Roger to Germany and they plan to take Reese with them. Carla and Peter are arguing and Carla suddenly yells out 'He might not even be your son!'. Benton is stunned and staggers for a bit, before he asserts himself and says 'He is my son'.
What the Hell, Hero?: In Season Two, Peter Benton tells a grandfather that Doug Ross completely missed his grandson's bone cancer when he came in for treatment four months ago. He did this even though Mark Greene specifically told him not to (it wouldn't have helped the patient and would have put the hospital at considerable risk of lawsuit) and even though it wasn't really Benton's case. Understandably Doug Ross was really pissed off, as were the rest of the hospital staff (some of who outright refused to work with him) and Greene, who called him on it and claimed Benton was just angry that he couldn't do anything about Carl Vucelich's manipulation of research data. Only Jeanie Boulet thought he did the right thing.
Carter gets this in Season 4 when he's in charge of treating a serial rapist who had sent several elderly women to County earlier in the season. Rather than use the ER's last unit of blood on the rapist, Carter uses a riskier method of treatment (auto-transfusion) that could have resulted in the patient's death. When the rapist survives, Carter not only gets the cold shoulder from some of the other staff for saving the guy, Anna lays into him for taking chances and endangering his patient.
As fate would have it, the psychopathic abusive father that went on a killing spree targeting Dr. Greene's family landed in County General, having been shot by the cops. Dr. Greene personally puts takes him up to surgery. When he codes in the elevator, Greene uses the defibrillator and shocks the air in the killer's plain view. You can see the panic in his eyes as he slowly dies. Whether or not what Mark did was right is debatable, but in any case Mark doesn't come off heroically.
In the Season 6 finale, when Luka refuses to take his less critically injured patient off a helicopter in favor of Benton's more severely injured one. Why? As he says to Benton, "Your patient killed people!" Benton tells him that that's not their call to make, to no avail. Sure enough, the man dies because he's unable to reach the hospital in time. In fact, Luka has many moments like this throughout his tenure on the show, tending to treat his Asshole Victim patients with utter contempt rather than remaining objective.
Benton again gets a moment like this in the Season 7 finale, where he ignores a patient's repeated assertions that he doesn't want any treatment and is ready to die, to the point where he prepares him for a blood transfusion and surgery once the man passes out. It's pretty bad for a doctor who's been objective almost to a fault to so blatantly ignore and override his patient's wishes like that.
Write Who You Know: Someone writes a torrid soap-opera romance novella set in an emergency room and featuring characters that are all romanticized (or in Weaver's case, vilified) versions of the ER staff. (Word of God says the author was Weaver.)