Going into the 47th Primetime Emmy Awards — held twenty years ago this month on Sept. 10, 1995 — there were two letters on everyone’s lips: ER. The medical drama had premiered the previous year on NBC to instant acclaim and monster ratings. (Along with Friends, it created the network’s once-mighty, now-retired “Must See TV” Thursday night brand.) Creatively, the show also left a seismic imprint on the television landscape, shaking up the conventional visual language of the primetime medical drama through lengthy, Steadicam-assisted takes and high-intensity pacing.
So when the Emmy nominations were announced in mid-1995, few were surprised to see the first season of ER dominating the field with 23 nominations, including Best Drama Series. On the big night, though, the show failed to rack up the awards the same way it had racked up viewer eyeballs all season long. ER came away with just eight Emmys and watched the Drama Series trophy be handed to NYPD Blue. To be fair, Steven Bochco’s controversial cop drama, which premiered in 1993, had experienced the same disappointment the year before, missing out on a freshman season Emmy and winning for its sophomore outing instead. (Voters repeated that pattern the following year at the 48th Primetime Emmy Awards, where Season 2 of ER nabbed the series’ first — and only — Drama Series statue.)
Still, ER’s cast and crew found solace in the eight statues they did win, including Outstanding Supporting Actress (for Julianna Margulies), Graphic Design and Title Sequences and Casting. The remaining five Emmys were all awarded to the same episode, “Love’s Labor Lost,” the season’s 19th installment and one of the finest hours the series produced in its 15-year history. Written by ER’s medical consultant Lance A. Gentile and directed by Mimi Leder, “Love’s Labor Lost” was a tour-de-force showcase for Dr. Mark Greene (Anthony Edwards), the bedrock of County General’s emergency room, who, over the course of one long night, presides over a pregnancy that goes from bad to worse. (Colleen Flynn and Bradley Whitford play the expectant couple.) The episode marked the first time that the series deviated from its ensemble format to focus largely on one case. It also ended with a tragedy–Greene saves the child, but loses the mother–that left a deep impression on both the character and the audience going forward.
From left: Colleen Flynn, Bradley Whitford, Noah Wyle, and Anthony Edwards
Twenty years after “Love’s Labor Lost” five-Emmy victory, Yahoo TV caught up with the key creative talent that took home statues for that landmark episode. The following account reveals the origins of “Love’s Labor Lost;” the episode’s original — and very different — ending; and a remarkable example of how real life almost imitated television art.
Mimi Leder (Director; Co-Excutive Producer)
Won: Outstanding Individual Achievement in Directing a Drama
Lance Gentile (Writer; Medical Consultant)
Won: Outstanding Individual Achievement in Writing a Drama Series
Randy Jon Morgan and Rick Tuber (Editors)
Won: Outstanding Individual Achievement in Editing for a Series: Single-Camera Production
Walter Newman (Supervising Sound Editor)
Won: Outstanding Individual Achievement in Sound Editing for a Series (Shared with nine others)
Russell C. Fager (Sound Mixer)
Won: Outstanding Individual Achievement in Sound Mixing for a Drama Series (Shared with three others)
The crew of ER had 18 previous episodes under their belt by the time “Love’s Labor Lost” came up in the rotation. It was a reunion of sorts, as the five future winners had also collaborated on the 10th episode of the season, “Blizzard.” ER was already a runaway hit, but even before production started everyone recognized that this particular installment marked a significant creative leap forward.
Gentile: ER showrunner John Wells said to me, “Dr. Greene is too perfect. Can you think of something to rough him up a little bit?” So I came up with the story for “Love’s Labor Lost,” which was based on several things. One was a colleagues’ experience; he had to do C-section at 3 a.m. on a Saturday night with no OB doctor around. Luckily, that case had a good outcome! I was also inspired by the idea of what might be the scariest thing that could happen to me as an ER doctor. Because when you work in that environment, it’s like there’s a snarling bear underneath everything can reach out and tear your face off in a second. And when it happens, it never leaves your consciousness. During my 39 years of emergency room medicine, I had plenty of experiences where it appears that a patient could go south and you’re on high alert for that bear. Finally, in my personal life, my wife and I were having our first child around that time. She was super-pregnant and the show was looking for a pregnant belly to use as a model. So all the pregnant bellies on the first four seasons of ER were modeled after my wife’s!
Leder: It was a very strong script and a very deeply felt subject that was very painful. Lance is a great writer, and with the guidance of John Wells, it was a great collaboration. We had worked together on “Blizzard” and that was a very exciting episode to do, especially the opening with the ER being empty and the characters on roller skates rolling through the empty ward. Then there’s a huge car crash and all hell breaks loose. That’s the same idea with “Love’s Labor Lost:” a routine check-up turn into chaos and all hell breaks loose.
A clip from the ER episode “Blizzard”
Tuber: Two days into watching dailies, I saw that it was a special episode. There were several days when I’d go home close to tears. It was getting to me every night, which had never happened before.
Newman: We’d always get a list of doctor’s notes from Lance about the sounds we should hear in an episode, and with “Love Labor’s Lost,” he handed us a virtual book. It was pretty intense. From a sound point of view, ER was always an incredible challenge. In the old medical shows like Marcus Welby M.D., you’d just hear a monitor in the background going “Beep, beep, beep.” When they got really sick, it would speed up. On ER, the sound was constant. There were alarms, beeps, machines, breathing bags and all this chaos going on around. I don’t know if you could do that today.
Fager: As the location sound mixer, I’m responsible for getting the dialogue on set. ER remains the most difficult show I’ve done in my entire career. Because of the Steadicam, we’d shoot an entire five-page scene in one shot, but you’d spend four or five hours just doing that one shot! An easy job for me is two people sitting on a couch having a conversation. ER was not that. The whole feeling you get from the show, and “Love’s Labor’s Lost” in particular, is that you’re a participant. It’s like being part of a documentary.
In The Trenches
When Newman first joined ER as supervising sound editor, he was told that the hospital would be treated “like a war zone” onscreen. The same could be said about the process of making an episode of ER; the shoots were often grueling, with lengthy hours and complicated sequences that left the cast and crew exhausted. The difficult subject matter of “Love’s Labor Lost” made the episode an even more intense experience than usual.
Leder: We felt like the wind had been knocked out of us on a daily basis. We were living and breathing it, on a race to the finish line everyday. It was very guttural and visceral filmmaking.
Morgan: Steadicam operator Guy Norman Bee was an invaluable part of the crew by that time. I give credit to Guy as much as I do anyone else for ER having the look that it had. He had such command of the material; his moves were so precise, he knew instinctively where to be. Rod Holcomb created the look of the show by directing the pilot and Mimi pushed it even further on that episode, and she had Guy’s great camerawork there in her hip pocket.
Fager: In any show, you do a rehearsal at the very beginning and then it’s up to each department to figure out how to do it. Nobody would go up to Mimi and say, “I can’t do that.” You’d just prepare to do a six-page scene in one shot and do it 13 or 14 times. There’s a lot of pressure to not screw up, because there’s no coverage. You have to go back and start it over again. So you just prayed that by the time you get to Take 12 and Mimi goes, “That was great!” that you can say, “Yeah, it’s good for me, too.” The Steadicam would be doing a 360 or a 720, and I’d have my boom people ducking out of the way, while another person on the other side of the room popped up to take over sound. We had all sorts of choreography and planning, and hopes that the extras wouldn’t block the way. And because I’m trying to get clean dialogue, we had to minimize the sound effects while we’re shooting the scene. That stuff would be added during post-production.
Newman: We had doctors working on the show, and if a sound effect didn’t sound real, they’d call us on it. On “Love’s Labor Lost,” when Greene goes to operate on the mother, there’s this horrible sound of her flesh tearing apart. We had to make up that sound. It sounds so good in the episode, but it was horrible to listen to! [The studio] didn’t like it when you got too gross. Although, I remember we had one episode that Quentin Tarantino directed [Season 1, Episode 24: “Motherhood”] and we had a shot of somebody cutting through another person’s arm with a bone saw. Instead of going through the flesh, it goes through the bone. We heard that sound in playback and I saw all the [producers’] notepads go up, but Quentin said, “I love that!” So it stayed.
Gentile: We weren’t going to kill any babies in Season 1. I think we ended up killing babies later, but not in Season 1. It’s just too horrible. And it was pretty horrible as it was — all my OB friends were calling me the day after the episode aired going, “I’ve got 25 phone calls from my pregnant patients thinking they have pre-eclampsia!” [Executive Producer] Steven Spielberg was more hands-on in those early days, and the one thing he didn’t like was when Greene broke the baby’s collarbone during the delivery. He thought it was a bridge too far. And then there was the Zavanelli Maneuver, which is when Greene pushes the baby back into birth canal to relieve pressure on the cord and buy him time. William Zavanelli developed that maneuver and his daughter wrote me a letter saying, “Thank you very much for remembering my father’s contribution to obstetrics.”
Morgan: Because there were a lot of long hours and intense times, you needed someone to lighten things up for everyone else. So in one take, Anthony Edwards was acting like he’s trying to pull the baby out, and then he holds it up and it’s an alien doll from the movie Alien. He makes it looks like it’s attacking him and falls over.
Tuber: The cast did know that was going to happen, so they were kind of shocked and then laughed. I remember that there was another scene where they had to burst out of the room and down on a hall, but they kept laughing. In another outtake, [Colleen] was on the operating table and suddenly sat up and said, “Am I supposed to do this here or there?” It helped break the mood.
Newman: That episode was so well-orchestrated from beginning to end. When the mother’s dying, there’s the frenzy of Greene trying to breath life into her. And the EKG beeps are going off until they become a flatline, and that plays until he leaves the room. There’s no music, it’s just that flatline. And it’s creepy! Then after all that noise, it goes silent when he goes to see the father and his baby. That really worked, too. That was all Mimi.
Leder: I believe the episode propelled me into the feature film world. Steven [Spielberg] really put his feelings about my work into play by hiring me to direct The Peacemaker, the first feature film from DreamWorks. It was quite a remarkable and exciting time.
Making the Final Cut
The turnaround time on an average ER episode was always very tight, and “Love’s Labor Lost” required two editors as Morgan had scheduled some time off in order to be present for the birth of his son. (More on that later.) So his colleague, Tuber, who had been primarily cutting the show’s recaps and teasers, shared editing duties on the episode, which initially had a different last scene than the one viewers saw.
Morgan: Mimi’s a very intense person in the editing room. She really wants to work the footage and she doesn’t let the show go out until she’s satisfied with every single cut. Maybe it’s her way of getting the best out of people, but she does butt heads with her editors. She wants you to have a reason for everything you’ve done and be able to justify it. Her attitude is, “If you can make it that good, I can make it better.” A lot of times you end up with something better because of that collaboration. And sometimes, you feel like what you’ve done in the first place is better.
Mimi Leder on set with George Clooney
Tuber: Mimi had me come down and watch dailies in the trailer with her everyday. The biggest thing she told me that I wouldn’t have gotten on my own was that Noah Wyle and Ming-Na Wen [who played medical students John Carter and Deb Chen respectively] are the audience — they’re us. So we need to cut to them, because they’re the audience watching what’s happening. Since they didn’t have much to do in the scene, I don’t think I would have thought to cut to them as often as I ended up doing if she hadn’t told me that.
Leder: When we shot the final scene with Greene breaking down on the El train, we did not have a script at that point. We just had a couple scenes written and a sentence that Dr. Greene had lost the mother. I got Anthony on the train and told him, “You’ve just lost your patient. Let’s see what that looks like.” He went deep and that’s what we got.
Gentile: Originally there was a scene after that, where Greene takes the train to the lakeshore in Chicago, and there was a helicopter shot of him standing there. The camera rose up and there’s this little man overwhelmed by the events that happened to him. I think we used that shot in another episode, but it wasn’t used here.
Tuber: I remember there being three different endings, the one we had and two scenes that went beyond that. I thought that they should just lose everything but the subway scene, and that’s what the producers eventually decided on. I’m glad they did that. I had very little say; I put in my two cents and the majority went that way. In TV, the editor only gets the first shot and then the director comes in and changes it, then the producers come in and change it and then usually the studio or the network changes it. I remember Mimi saying that it was the best first cut she’d every seen, which made me feel pretty good.
Morgan: I think it was always Mimi’s vision to end it on the shot with Green standing by the lake, this lone figure lost in a big, big world. If memory serves, there was quite a bit of a montage before that that went on for a couple of minutes trying to climb into the head of Dr. Greene. John Wells always had this line, “Guys, I’m way ahead of you.” Meaning that, in the editing room, he’d cut scenes off in the middle if he knew what was coming next. That was his philosophy towards telling a story. You always have to stay a step ahead of the audience. John’s not going to spend a lot of time letting you moon over some big sentimental moment. He wants to move the story ahead.
Leder: We did shoot that other scene [on the lake], but ending on Dr. Greene and his grief was the only way to have ended that show. That was shot without a script and it was amazing.
A Happier Ending
At the same time that the ER crew was shooting “Love’s Labor Lost,” Morgan found himself in a hospital waiting room being told that his pregnant wife might not survive the delivery of their son.
Morgan: “Love’s Labor Lost” was the story of a pregnancy misdiagnosed by Dr. Greene with disastrous results. In my case, it was a planned C-section, but my son decided to come a day early. My wife had some health conditions that the scheduled team had been prepped for. But when we came in a day early, none of those people were there and the team that was were not prepared for what was going to happen. They gave her an epidural and, as they were wheeling her in, she said, “I feel like I’m going to faint.” They said, “Don’t worry, everyone feels that way.” Then she blacked out. The last thing she remembered hearing was a voice saying, “We’re losing her!” And another voice said, “Get the baby!”
Newman: I remember Randy’s experience pretty well. I can’t imagine what he was going through. There was an episode of ER featuring a little girl who was the age of my daughter at the time. Her father was dying and she said to one of the doctors, “Why can’t you save him?” It was that kind of show; you could identify with this stuff.
Morgan: The head nurse came to talk to me. She said, “You’re wife’s getting better.” At first I thought she was talking about the fact that she had been nervous about giving birth. Then another woman came along; I later found out that she was a nun, but she wasn’t dressed like one. She said, “Does you wife have any religious affiliations? Would she like to see a priest?” I said, “What are we talking about here?” Then the head nurse said, “You have a son.” I said, “I know, I’m looking forward to meeting the little guy. They’re going to escort me down for delivery.” And she said, “No, he’s already here. He’s in intensive care.” And that’s when I got filled in that my wife had passed out, her heart had stopped and a team had leaped in to work on her while another delivered the baby.
Fager: I think we scared three-quarters of American women with that episode. It’s very upsetting to think that she came in with a bladder infection and 24 hours later, she’s dead. It’s everybody’s fear. You just assume that everything is going to go right until things go wrong.
Morgan with his son, Joey, the day after winning his Emmy.
Morgan: My son was born with an Apgar Score of 1; zero is stillborn. If the numbers aren’t going up, they’ve got a problem. Fortunately, the second reading was 2, and then it became 4 and then 5. Once they got him stabilized, they rushed him down to neo-natal intensive care. I met our son before my wife did. They were trying to save her life in the OR. In “Love’s Labor Lost,” the baby is born, but they lose the mother and you just see the father break down bawling. We came very close to that scene being mine.
Tuber: I called Randy almost everyday during that time. I was very concerned for him. Thankfully, it all worked out well. And his son’s in college now!
The Road to the Emmys
As the first season wound down, the cast and crew realized that the show’s high profile would make it a major player in the Emmy race. While “Love’s Labor Lost” seemed the natural episode to submit for awards consideration, some struggled to choose between it and their earlier collaboration, “Blizzard.”
Gentile: Each writer had the ability to choose which of his or her episodes to submit. I was thinking of “Blizzard,” because it was a splashier episode. But John said, “Are you kidding me?” His understanding of TV is so brilliant.
Tuber: “Blizzard” was a really good show, so we didn’t know which to submit for an Emmy. If that one and “Love’s Labor Lost” had been made in two different years, we probably would have won two Emmys.
Morgan: “Blizzard” was a great episode, but it didn’t have going for it what “Love’s Labor Lost” did. That one was more of a director’s showcase than it was an editor’s piece. There were so many great episodes in those days, and sometimes picking one over another was difficult. Everyone made such a big deal about “Love’s Labor Lost” and we thought, “Well, that’s probably the best one to go with.” And I’m doggone glad we did.
Newman: “Blizzard” was the other episode I was going to submit. It was a busy episode, which in the sound world can be a good thing. But sometimes you’ve got to go with the show that’s less busy, but so well done. I’ve had shows go to the Emmys that feature 39 car chases, but then the show that wins isn’t as busy—it’s just really, really good. This year, I’m up for American Crime and it’s not a huge sound effects show. It’s just a good show, probably the best I’ve worked since ER.
Wyle with Eriq La Salle and La Salle’s girlfriend on the Emmys red carpet in 1995
Gentile: I think of the Emmy nominations as a spotlight roving over a sea of writers. It just so happened that it stopped on me. Why? Because of a lot of factors: the show was a success, and it just so happened it was a very personal episode.
Morgan: You have to take an Emmy nomination with a grain of salt. It’s not always a level playing field. As far as getting a nomination, it’s a popularity contest. It’s very dependent on being on a popular show or one that’s recognized for its quality. I also tell other editors not to necessarily put their best show, but their most memorable show. Because if people see the synopsis for an episode they remember on the nomination ballot, they’ll think, “I remember that one. It must be a good show.” And they’ll vote for it, even though it’s probably been five months since they saw it. It’s all about recognition on the nomination ballots. Once it comes down to the five or six nominees, it’s a true horse race.
Winning (and Losing) on the Big Night
ER eventually ended up with 23 nominations, with the entire ensemble recognized in the acting categories in addition to multiple technical nominations. Some of the statues — including the sound awards — were handed out at the Creative Arts Emmys held before the Primetime Emmy Awards. Going into Emmy night, most were confident in ER’s chances, even though the competition was fierce from other shows and, in some cases, each other.
Outstanding Writing Nominees: Lance Gentile (ER); Michael Crichton (ER); Winnie Holzman (My So-Called Life); Steven Bochco, Walon Green and David Milch (NYPD Blue); Chris Carter (The X-Files)
Gentile: Michael Crichton and I were both nominated in the Writing category. He said, “You’re going to win,” and I said, “No I’m not. You wrote the pilot. That’s the reason we’re all here!” So we made a $100 bet: I bet on him, he bet on me. So he won the bet! I bought him a really nice pen, put the $100 inside it, and wrapped it inside his ER script. The whole thing was a “You’re not in Kansas anymore,” moment for me. It was only my second episode of television, and the year before I had been an ER doctor. Now I’m sitting in the Shrine Auditorium nominated alongside writers of that caliber.
Outstanding Directing Nominees: Lou Antonio (Chicago Hope); Rod Holcomb (ER); Mimi Leder (ER); Scott Winant (My So-Called Life); Mark Tinker (NYPD Blue)
Leder: When I won, Rod [who had directed the pilot] was standing there applauding. I felt very good, but also bad that he hadn’t won. But I guess not that bad. [Laughs] I was only the second woman to win a Directing Emmy in the Drama category. [The first was Karen Arthur, who won for Cagney & Lacey in 1985.] Two in the history of the Emmys, [still]. It’s wonderful to be part of that, but wow. It shows that things need to change.
Outstanding Editing Nominees: Randy Roberts (Chicago Hope); Lorie Jane Coleman (Chicago Hope); Randy Jon Morgan and Rick Tuber (ER); Randy Jon Morgan (ER); James Coblentz (The X-Files); Stephen Mark (The X-Files)
Tuber: Randy and I both thought that “Love’s Labor Lost” would win. The only thing that worried us a little bit was that Randy had also been nominated for editing the pilot, and that might split the votes. But it was nice beating another hospital show. We started the same time as Chicago Hope; I watched an episode and thought it was a normal TV show, whereas ours had a lot more going for it.
Outstanding Sound Editing Nominees: Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman; Earth 2; ER; The Marshal; The X-Files
Newman: I was not confident that we’d win whatsoever. Now you think, “How could we lose?” But at the time, we were up against established shows like The X-Files. The thing that ER really had going for it was, where other shows would be busy sound-wise for two to three minutes, ER would be busy for 30 minutes. It was constant.
Outstanding Sound Mixing Nominees: Chicago Hope; ER; Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman; NYPD Blue; The Watcher
Fager: It was my first season in TV so I hadn’t paid much attention to the Emmys before. I knew we had a good chance. Most people don’t think of sound while watching a series. But someone voting in the Emmys would look at that episode and say, “Wow.”
Leder: It was rewarding to receive eight Emmys in our first year. The only one we didn’t get was Best Show, which we won the next year. It was kind of a shock to win all those Emmys and for the show itself not to have won. It was like, “Wait that doesn’t make sense!” But historically, that’s happened. It happened the year before to NYPD Blue.
Gentile: Maybe it was a little bit of backlash to our success. I don’t think a TV series has ever had a year like that. ER changed the landscape of television, reinvented the medical show and reinvented scripted drama basically. So it felt like it should have won. Honestly, the most surprising thing is that Anthony didn’t win Best Actor for his performance.
Morgan: As much as I respect Steven Bochco — Hill Street Blues is probably the greatest dramatic show ever to air on television — I was not a bit fan of NYPD Blue and that’s because I hated the production technique. ER might have 700 or 800 cuts in an episode, but there was a certain elegance about it. I’m not a person who believes in jump cut editing, and NYPD Blue was full of these herky-jerky camera movements and jump cuts. A shot would be sitting on a character and for no reason, it would jerk off in another direction. So in all deference to Steven, I didn’t think it was effective storytelling. I thought it was unwatchable! To this day, I can put on an old episode of ER and it’s still easy to watch.
Margulies with her Supporting Actress Emmy award
In Their Own Words
To conclude our trip down memory lane, we asked the winners to recall what they said when they accepted their Emmy twenty years ago.
Fager: The four of us went up, three post production sound mixers and myself. I’m trying to remember who said something. I didn’t even get to thank my wife! But I did get a statue. I remember when I was first getting into the business, I went over to someone’s house and they had an Emmy. The first time you see one in person, you say, “That’s pretty cool.”
Newman: I accepted with my whole team. I always bring everyone up there that I can, because we work such long hours. I remember that my head was going 20 times faster than my mouth when I was up there. You get nervous. I still get nervous! I’m a competitive guy and I like to win. In those days, they’d put all the nominees behind a curtain and when they’d announce the winner, they’d open the curtain and we’d all walk out there. It was like Let’s Make a Deal.
Tuber: I’d rehearsed my speech for the last 10 years and I never thought I’d get the chance to use it. I thanked my mentors, my wife and, of course, Randy and his son.
Gentile: I had an idea of what I wanted to say: We’re playing at being emergency workers, and we’re doing a show about people who save lives. But the people who actually do it are the ones who really need to be recognized. So that’s what I ended my speech with. Because the people who actually do this work have incredibly stressful jobs, and there’s no Emmys for them. There’s no “And the Best Paramedic Run of the Year goes to….”
Leder: I remember having an out of body experience, and hearing my voice projected over a microphone was frightening. I saw the actors holding up their hands and everyone smiling at me from ear to ear. There was Michael Crichton, and Steven Spielberg and my mother and my husband. It was really scary and wonderful. The only thing I remember saying was what my father taught me — to not be afraid. And when I directed that episode, I was not afraid. I gave it my all.
Morgan: First I thanked John Wells to allow me to be part of it all, and then Mimi’s direction and Lance’s script. Then I said, “This award really belongs to my wife, who, while I was spending the long hours working on this episode, was working on her own miracle with the delivery of our first son. So this award is for them.” I think I said it better back then. I hope I did anyway! [Laughs]
The ER episode “Love’s Labor Lost” is available to stream on YouTube, Amazon, Vudu, and iTunes.