Tonight is the night fans of "ER" (10 p.m., Channel 2) have been waiting for to discover how their heroes behave when cameras follow them around.
Will Dr. Ross (George Clooney) show off in an attempt to line up dates from TV fans or will he hate the cameras as much as Clooney hates the paparazzi? Will Dr. Green (Anthony Edwards) prove to be camera shy? Will Dr. Carter (Noah Wyle) attract a TV producer's attention and get a spot as a medical consultant on the evening news in Chicago? Will Dr. Benton (Eriq LaSalle) get annoyed by being followed around?
Titled "Ambush," the premiere is a show within a show as a documentary film crew spends a day in the emergency room recording the daily lives of the doctors, nurses and patients.
In a conference call with TV critics on Monday, director Thomas Schlamme and the episode's writer, Carol Flint, wanted to make it clear that viewers shouldn't expect to see the usual "ER" episode.
"We're sort of not trying to say this is an 'ER' episode that is live," said Schlamme. "This is a documentary of this night in a hospital. So it will have a different feel. The technical and performance elements are different. No. 1, you're obviously shooting on videotape as opposed to film. You're having sound that is immediate and not two or three weeks of post-production. It will take a couple of minutes for the audience to go, 'Oh, this isn't exactly like "ER." That's the whole point.' "
Besides the audience, the characters will be experiencing something new, too.
"These now are people who are sometimes intimidated by these cameras as opposed to an episode where you are never aware of cameras," said Schlamme. "They are doctors in an environment being aware of cameras shooting them, a reality the audience has never seen before by these performers that consequently alters the whole episode."
Flint adds that she had to consider how the personalities of the doctors could change when cameras are around.
"I know what the characters are like when they are unobserved," said Flint. "What are they like when they are being observed? Who shows off? Who recedes? Who tries to get out of the way? Who gets nervous? Who takes control?"
After failing to win a single significant Emmy award less than two weeks ago, the decision to make the season premiere of "ER" live seems an ideal way to give the series new life in its fourth season.
Edwards, who plays Dr. Green, also added to tonight's suspense by flubbing his lines as a presenter on Emmy night. And Flint isn't making the dialogue any easier for the performers.
"There are just as many traumas and the actors say as many polysyllabic words," said Flint.
Edwards and the rest of the cast should be fully prepared before the cameras go live. Even if they flub their lines, it actually would enhance the reality of the scenes since ordinary people don't talk as perfectly as they do on television.
The cast has been been rehearsing for a week on Stage 11. The plan was to have a dress rehearsal Wednesday night in case an earthquake or some other problem in Los Angeles prevented the episode from being carried live.
I've seen "ER" filmed live on film in Los Angeles and really don't expect that experience to be much different than it will be tonight. As one afternoon on the set demonstrated a few years ago, advances in technology make the filming of "ER" pretty close to live as it is.
A director can see what a shot looks like instantly on a television monitor as the scene is being filmed. A few different scenes were shot as a director told an actress how to handle a particular emotion. Presumably, that will be taken care of in the dress rehearsal.
The real heroes tonight will be the behind-the-scenes crew members who make life easy for the performers.
A couple of things of note: While this is the season premiere, the cast has actually shot six episodes of the season already so the new cast members, Maria Bello and Alex Kingston, should be comfortable, and the returning cast members should be in mid-season form.
Also noteworthy: The director, Schlamme, is the husband of "Chicago Hope" star Christine Lahti. He directed the "Quarantine" episode of that series in which several doctors were quarantined together. It had the feel of a live episode and also required extensive rehearsals.
It hasn't gotten much attention, but the season premiere of "Seinfeld" (9 tonight, Channel 2) almost landed on TBS this year. The cable network aggressively pursued "Seinfeld" before NBC agreed to an expensive deal with the cast that even series co-star Jason Alexander (George) believes was bad for television.
A Turner Broadcasting executive in Los Angeles told me in July that TBS wanted Jerry Seinfeld to know that it was willing to pick up the series if NBC passed. Turner, of course, is now owned by Time Warner, which also owns the production company that produces "Seinfeld."
The tentative plan was for TBS to carry "Seinfeld" in its regular 9 p.m. Thursday time slot and at least one other evening during the week. TBS didn't expect the series to get the same rating as the show receives on NBC because it expected NBC to move a quality show like "Frasier" opposite "Seinfeld."
Even though series star Jerry Seinfeld eventually stayed loyal to NBC, the idea that a Turner network could steal a quality first-run program from a network has to be awfully frightening to the big boys.
Cable networks have an advantage over the networks because they can carry expensive series and movies like "Dumb and Dumber" and "The Shawshank Redemption" several times a month to maximize revenue. The cable networks have two revenue streams -- selling advertising time and getting subscription fees from cable operators -- that give them an advantage over the networks.
Channel 7 "Eye"-team reporter Steve Brown resigned Wednesday. The announcement came two days after the station ran a clarification about an earlier Brown story. The station said the Brown story incorrectly stated that Deputy Assembly Speaker Arthur Eve endorsed Mayor Masiello in the Democratic primary and that candidate James Pitts was referring to Eve in his primary night comments about "Uncle Toms" who didn't help his campaign. The station added that Pitts later told Channel 7 he wasn't referring to Eve.
Brown, 36, who joined Channel 7 from Channel 2 more than three years ago, said the decision to leave was a mutual one and that he has been thinking increasingly about his career goals.
"Sometimes an employe and employer don't fit," said Brown. "This is one of the cases."
Inquiring minds want to know? Who is Lisa Scott, who this week became Sue Serio's permanent replacement as the co-host of "Wake Up!" with Ray Collins. News Director Chris Musial said Scott is a graduate of Iroquois High School and Canisius College who was hired from Rochester's Channel 8.