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Prior to his death in 2008, Michael Crichton’s résumé included blockbuster novels, major feature films and blockbuster novels that inspired major feature films. But perhaps his most lasting contribution to popular culture was reinventing primetime network dramas. Twenty-five years ago, on Sept. 19, 1994, NBC premiered the medical series ER, which the author created out of a discarded feature film script he had written in 1974. Inspired by Crichton’s own history in emergency rooms as a medical student, the show looked and sounded like nothing else on television, moving at a lightning-fast pace and juggling multiple storylines and characters.
Along with Friends — which premiered a few nights later — ER became part of NBC’s Must-See TV line-up and set the tone for so many of the dramas, both medical and otherwise, that followed across all the competing networks. The show ultimately ran for 15 seasons, airing its series finale a decade ago in April 2009, one year after Crichton’s passing. And the author’s wife, Sherri Crichton, believes the time is ripe for a reboot. “I would so love to have an ER revival,” she tells Yahoo Entertainment. “That was a passion project for Michael, because of all the years he spent in medical school and in residency. I don’t know if we’d get that cast again, but anything is possible!”
Crichton correctly diagnoses that a new ER would be missing one of the key elements of the original: that terrific Season 1 ensemble, which included breakout stars like George Clooney, Julianna Margulies, Anthony Edwards, Eriq La Salle and Noah Wyle. On the other hand, few of those actors stuck around for the entirety of the show’s 15-season run. In fact, one of the reasons for ER’s longevity was its success with introducing new faces to take over from departing cast members. What never changed was the intensity of the storylines and the mixtures of triumphs and tragedies the characters confronted week-to-week, as established in foundational freshman season episodes like the Emmy-winning “Love’s Labor Lost.” “Michael had very strong opinions about the way the series needed to be shot,” remembers Sherri, who married the author in 2005. “Tip of the hat to [executive producer] John Wells, too, and that incredible writing and directing team. It was a phenomenal success for all the right reasons, and because it really mirrored true medicine. It would be really great to see a show like that again.”
And there’s a good chance we could see another ER sooner rather than later. NBCUniversal’s new Peacock streaming service — set to launch next year — would be one one obvious home for the revival, joining such already-announced reboots as Saved by the Bell and Punky Brewster, starring Soleil Moon Frye and Freddie Prinze Jr. Sherri Crichton has also been taking steps toward updating other classic Crichton yarns as the CEO of the archive/production company CrichtonSun. Earlier this month, HarperCollins published The Andromeda Evolution, a sequel to Crichton’s 1969 viral thriller The Andromeda Strain, which became his first bestseller and was adapted into a hit 1971 film directed by Robert Wise. The new book, which already charted on The New York Times bestseller list, is written by Daniel H. Wilson, and jumps ahead to the present day where the titular microbe re-emerges with deadly consequences. “We thought a lot about how we would make [the story] new and fresh, and how we would complement Michael’s work. Daniel hit it out of the park: he was really able to honor the work Michael had created and also take us on this wonderful ride.”
One of the central ideas of The Andromeda Evolution is that, in the five decades since the original Andromeda outbreak, humanity has grown complacent, unwilling to invest in the resources that might prevent against a theoretical future attack. According to Crichton, her husband made a point of keeping one eye on the future. “He was always so curious about these social issues and his fascination with science and projecting. I love the famous line [from Jurassic Park]: ‘Just because you can, doesn't mean you should.’ I think he was inspired by "What if" scenarios; it was definitely a through line with all of his books.” Asked how the author might have felt about the anti-vaccination movement that pushes back against long-established scientific and medical facts about viruses and the spread of disease, Crichton replies: “I will never be able to speak for Michael. I mean, who knows? What I will say is that I don’t think he would be surprised at what’s going on right now. I don’t think he would find it unusual.”
Besides The Andromeda Evolution, CrichtonSun has also overseen the posthumous publications of Dragon Teeth, which Crichton originally wrote in 1974, and is developing a feature film version of Micro, based on an unfinished manuscript that was completed by Richard Preston and published in 2011. “There are filing cabinets filled with ideas, unfinished manuscripts, scripts and short stories,” Sherri Crichton teases. (CrichtonSun isn’t directly involved in the ongoing Jurassic World franchise or HBO’s adaptation of WestWorld, which returns for Season 3 in 2020.) She’s also building an archive that contains all of the author’s writings and interviews. “I wanted to find every quote that Michael ever gave on a necessary subject,” she explains. “I think we have 6,000 pages of Michael Crichton quotes that are broken into different criteria [with] his position on any subject in his own words. At one point, down the line, I’ll probably put together a book that refers to Michael’s positions on everything he encountered during his lifetime.” You’ve heard about the Holocron? Meet the Crichtoncon.
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