I watched the final episode of ER last night. I hadn’t necessarily planned to, but when it came on instead of the normal Thursday night line up (I was looking forward to watching The Office) I decided to watch.
What struck me the most had to do with the “suspension of disbelief.” As writers in any media, the first thing we have to do is draw our audience into our world. Yes, our stories are “just made up,” are words on a page or actors on a screen. Our audiences have to willingly suspend their disbelief and enter our world. And those writers who do this most successfully create those stories and characters that don’t leave us, that feel as real as our friends and family.
I hadn’t watched ER in probably 10 years. I remember watching it regularly from the very beginning back before I had children. In fact, I remember deliberately having to stop watching it so I wouldn’t continually get sucked back into the story lines.
So watching the first hour of ER last night was fascinating. Ten years later I still felt an emotional pull toward the characters. I wondered what they’d been up to, I fondly remembered the scenes in the retrospective, and I felt a bit of melancholy when it was all over. I only remember feeling that way about two other series finales: MASH, and Little House on the Prairie (which was more about losing a significant feature of my childhood rather than anything to do with the story line–blowing up the town, absolutely ridiculous!).
Another thing that struck me was how emotional the actors were in discussing the show, many of whom hadn’t been on the show in years. Here were the very people who knew they were acting and that it was all “made up” and yet they were tearing up over the scenes they remembered, over the loss of the set. Yes, some of it had to do with the cameraderie that developed between actors who worked together over the years. But over and over again the actors cited the quality of the writing and the story lines as what really drew them in emotionally.
As a writer, I’m always fascinated by good storytelling. I think ER (which will live on through reruns and Hulu.com) is a great case study for that.
So what do you think? Anybody else watch the final episode of ER? Any favorite episodes of shows that have stuck with you over the years? And what do you think makes a good story work?