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15 Critical Facts About ER

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A 20-year-old script from the author of Jurassic Park led to the creation of one of the most highly regarded and longest-running dramas in television history, and launched the careers of George Clooney and Julianna Margulies in the process. Here are some facts about ER that have been properly sanitized.

1. IT BEGAN AS A MICHAEL CRICHTON MOVIE SCRIPT.

It was about 180 pages long and featured more than 100 characters. Crichton was a medical student at Harvard Medical School in the 1960s, and John Carter was the stand-in for Crichton. Steven Spielberg was an executive producer on the project. That, coupled with the fact that Crichton had recently become a hot property following the success of Jurassic Park, helped the pair successfully negotiate a series order with NBC, after the network initially only agreed to a two-hour movie.

2. GEORGE CLOONEY "BEGGED" FOR AN AUDITION.

"George Clooney begged me for a part," said executive producer John Wells. The 33-year-old was by that time a TV veteran who hadn’t yet found his breakout role (one of his earlier roles had been on a short-lived 1984 CBS sitcom titled E/R). "George was the first person to audition. He came after me for it," recalled Wells. "Our second day in the office, George showed up and wouldn't leave until I'd let him audition ... George got his hands on the material and was like a dog with a bone."

3. ERIQ LA SALLE WAS GLAD THAT HE HAD KEPT HIS COSTUME FROM A PREVIOUS ROLE.

La Salle came into his ER audition in scrubs, which he had gotten on The Human Factor, a medical show he worked on with John Mahoney two years earlier.

4. CAROL HATHAWAY WAS SUPPOSED TO DIE.

Julianna Margulies’s character was not supposed to survive her suicide attempt in the pilot. But audiences liked Margulies—and her chemistry with Clooney—so the producers opted to keep her alive, and employed.

5. AN ABANDONED, POSSIBLY HAUNTED HOSPITAL WAS USED FOR THE FIRST EPISODE.

“24 Hours” was shot at the former Linda Vista Hospital in Los Angeles's Boyle Heights neighborhood. It was built in the early 1900s as a hospital for Santa Fe Railroad employees. The movies End of Days and Outbreak also shot scenes there. The people behind the paranormal documentary/reality TV show From Beyond claim they heard voices and were “grabbed and scratched” when they spent time there. The other 330 episodes of ER were shot at a replica of Los Angeles County General Hospital’s emergency room at Warner Bros. studios in Burbank.

6. CAST AND CREW TOOK FOUR TRIPS A YEAR TO CHICAGO TO SHOOT THE EXTERIORS.

Since ER was set in Chicago, it was important that the production did some shooting in the Windy City. Sometimes scenes would be shot without the script being finished, so the actors only had a vague sense of what their characters were experiencing. The last scene of the classic “Love’s Labor Lost,” when Dr. Greene breaks down on the L, was filmed two months before the rest of the episode, so the script wasn’t written yet. All Anthony Edwards was told was that he’s going to feel like he killed a mother.

7. NOAH WYLE ONCE ACTED WITH MONO AND A 104-DEGREE FEVER.

Wyle was hallucinating before shooting “Love's Labor Lost.” The medical tech on the set gave him an IV; Wyle performed his scenes with a bag of saline in his pocket.

8. WYLE TREATED AN ACTUAL MEDIC WHO WAS DEHYDRATED.

While on location in Africa years later, the on-set medic passed out from the heat. Wyle took a functioning IV, stuck a needle in him, and revived him with a bag of saline. He credited learning how to do that “through osmosis.” Wyle played a doctor on ER more than any other actor: 254 episodes

9. THE CAST LIKED TO PULL PRANKS WITH FAKE BABIES.

Anthony Edwards would always try to figure out how to involve an alien baby in the proceedings to bring some levity to the sometimes tense set. Clooney was known to play football with a very expensive silicone baby prop.

10. THERE WAS ONLY ONE NOTICEABLE MISTAKE DURING THE LIVE EPISODE.

Performing the season four opener, “Ambush,” live was Edwards and Clooney’s idea. It was performed live twice, once for the east coast and once for the west coast. During the second performance, the actor who played the HIV-positive patient accidentally dropped his syringe before he threatened the staff with it.

11. LA SALLE ASKED PRODUCERS TO END HIS CHARACTER’S RELATIONSHIP WITH ALEX KINGSTON’S.

La Salle made producers end Dr. Benton’s romance with Dr. Corday because he was uncomfortable with what the interracial relationship was saying to African Americans. La Salle claimed he was uncomfortable that his relationships with black women on the show were dysfunctional, whereas his one relationship with a white character was not.

12. SOME ACTORS ASKED TO BE KILLED OFF.

Maura Tierney, who played Dr. Abby Lockhart from 1999 to 2009, asked to be killed off. Instead, she was given a juicy enough storyline that she was okay with sticking around until the end of the series. When Edwards told John Wells that he was leaving the show after eight seasons, Wells said that Dr. Greene was too important a character to just walk away from the show, so he asked Edwards: "'Do you mind if we kill him?' And I was like, 'Nope!' You’ve gotta do what’s best for the show, so that’s okay.” When Kellie Martin decided her character, Lucy Knight, wasn’t working for her, she requested that her departure be made “big.”

13. DAVID KRUMHOLTZ WAS FEARED AFTER HIS GUEST SPOT.

The day after “Be Still My Heart” aired on February 10, 2000, Krumholtz—whose character, Paul, fatally stabbed Lucy—"went out in Burbank, and went shopping in a mall or something," the actor recalled to the Los Angeles Times. "I got recognized at least five or six times from that episode, and people were actually frightened! I couldn't have been more unassuming to those people that probably were surprised to see that I was short and sweet and smiley." Nearly a decade later, when he was starring on Numb3rs, he was still regularly asked about that episode of ER.

14. A LOT OF HOSPITAL SCRUBS WERE USED IN THE 15 SEASONS.

The producers estimated that, over the course of the series, they had procured approximately 130,000 sets of hospital scrubs.

15. THE SHOW SAVED LIVES.

A 28-year-old woman in Texas discovered she had a brain tumor because her tongue went out to the side, just like Dr. Greene’s tongue did when his brain tumor returned. The woman’s tumor was caught early and she survived. A USC study found that subjects were 65 percent more likely to change their eating habits if they watched the episode about obesity. And a 2002 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation discovered viewers “increased their knowledge” of HPV and contraception after viewing episodes of the show.

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The Curious Origins of 16 Common Phrases
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Our favorite basketball writer is ESPN's Zach Lowe. On his podcast, the conversation often takes detours into the origins of certain phrases. We compiled a list from Zach and added a few of our own, then sent them to language expert Arika Okrent. Where do these expressions come from anyway?

1. BY THE SAME TOKEN

Bus token? Game token? What kind of token is involved here? Token is a very old word, referring to something that’s a symbol or sign of something else. It could be a pat on the back as a token, or sign, of friendship, or a marked piece of lead that could be exchanged for money. It came to mean a fact or piece of evidence that could be used as proof. “By the same token” first meant, basically “those things you used to prove that can also be used to prove this.” It was later weakened into the expression that just says “these two things are somehow associated.”

2. GET ON A SOAPBOX

1944: A woman standing on a soapbox speaking into a mic
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The soapbox that people mount when they “get on a soapbox” is actually a soap box, or rather, one of the big crates that used to hold shipments of soap in the late 1800s. Would-be motivators of crowds would use them to stand on as makeshift podiums to make proclamations, speeches, or sales pitches. The soap box then became a metaphor for spontaneous speech making or getting on a roll about a favorite topic.

3. TOMFOOLERY

The notion of Tom fool goes a long way. It was the term for a foolish person as long ago as the Middle Ages (Thomas fatuus in Latin). Much in the way the names in the expression Tom, Dick, and Harry are used to mean “some generic guys,” Tom fool was the generic fool, with the added implication that he was a particularly absurd one. So the word tomfoolery suggested an incidence of foolishness that went a bit beyond mere foolery.

4. GO BANANAS

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The expression “go bananas” is slang, and the origin is a bit harder to pin down. It became popular in the 1950s, around the same time as “go ape,” so there may have been some association between apes, bananas, and crazy behavior. Also, banana is just a funny-sounding word. In the 1920s people said “banana oil!” to mean “nonsense!”

5. RUN OF THE MILL

If something is run of the mill, it’s average, ordinary, nothing special. But what does it have to do with milling? It most likely originally referred to a run from a textile mill. It’s the stuff that’s just been manufactured, before it’s been decorated or embellished. There were related phrases like “run of the mine,” for chunks of coal that hadn’t been sorted by size yet, and “run of the kiln,” for bricks as they came out without being sorted for quality yet.

6. READ THE RIOT ACT

The Law's Delay: Reading The Riot Act 1820
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When you read someone the riot act you give a stern warning, but what is it that you would you have been reading? The Riot Act was a British law passed in 1714 to prevent riots. It went into effect only when read aloud by an official. If too many people were gathering and looking ready for trouble, an officer would let them know that if they didn’t disperse, they would face punishment.

7. HANDS DOWN

Hands down comes from horse racing, where, if you’re way ahead of everyone else, you can relax your grip on the reins and let your hands down. When you win hands down, you win easily.

8. SILVER LINING

The silver lining is the optimistic part of what might otherwise be gloomy. The expression can be traced back directly to a line from Milton about a dark cloud revealing a silver lining, or halo of bright sun behind the gloom. The idea became part of literature and part of the culture, giving us the proverb “every cloud has a silver lining” in the mid-1800s.

9. HAVE YOUR WORK CUT OUT

The expression “you’ve got your work cut out for you” comes from tailoring. To do a big sewing job, all the pieces of fabric are cut out before they get sewn together. It seems like if your work has been cut for you, it should make job easier, but we don’t use the expression that way. The image is more that your task is well defined and ready to be tackled, but all the difficult parts are yours to get to. That big pile of cut-outs isn’t going to sew itself together!

10. THROUGH THE GRAPEVINE

A grapevine is a system of twisty tendrils going from cluster to cluster. The communication grapevine was first mentioned in 1850s, the telegraph era. Where the telegraph was a straight line of communication from one person to another, the “grapevine telegraph” was a message passed from person to person, with some likely twists along the way.

11. THE WHOLE SHEBANG

The earliest uses of shebang were during the Civil War era, referring to a hut, shed, or cluster of bushes where you’re staying. Some officers wrote home about “running the shebang,” meaning the encampment. The origin of the word is obscure, but because it also applied to a tavern or drinking place, it may go back to the Irish word shebeen for a ramshackle drinking establishment.

12. PUSH THE ENVELOPE

Pushing the envelope belongs to the modern era of the airplane. The “flight envelope” is a term from aeronautics meaning the boundary or limit of performance of a flight object. The envelope can be described in terms of mathematical curves based on things like speed, thrust, and atmosphere. You push it as far as you can in order to discover what the limits are. Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff brought the expression into wider use.

13. CAN’T HOLD A CANDLE

We say someone can’t hold a candle to someone else when their skills don’t even come close to being as good. In other words, that person isn’t even good enough to hold up a candle so that a talented person can see what they’re doing in order to work. Holding the candle to light a workspace would have been the job of an assistant, so it’s a way of saying not even fit to be the assistant, much less the artist.

14. THE ACID TEST

Most acids dissolve other metals much more quickly than gold, so using acid on a metallic substance became a way for gold prospectors to see if it contained gold. If you pass the acid test, you didn’t dissolve—you’re the real thing.

15. GO HAYWIRE

What kind of wire is haywire? Just what it says—a wire for baling hay. In addition to tying up bundles, haywire was used to fix and hold things together in a makeshift way, so a dumpy, patched-up place came to be referred to as “a hay-wire outfit.” It then became a term for any kind of malfunctioning thing. The fact that the wire itself got easily tangled when unspooled contributed to the “messed up” sense of the word.

16. CALLED ON THE CARPET

Carpet used to mean a thick cloth that could be placed in a range of places: on the floor, on the bed, on a table. The floor carpet is the one we use most now, so the image most people associate with this phrase is one where a servant or employee is called from plainer, carpetless room to the fancier, carpeted part of the house. But it actually goes back to the tablecloth meaning. When there was an issue up for discussion by some kind of official council it was “on the carpet.”

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15 Facts About the Summer Solstice
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It's the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, so soak up some of those direct sunrays (safely, of course) and celebrate the start of summer with these solstice facts.

1. THIS YEAR IT'S JUNE 21.

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The summer solstice always occurs between June 20 and June 22, but because the calendar doesn't exactly reflect the Earth's rotation, the precise time shifts slightly each year. For 2018, the sun will reach its greatest height in the sky for the Northern Hemisphere on June 21 at 6:07 a.m. Eastern Time.

2. THE SUN WILL BE DIRECTLY OVERHEAD AT THE TROPIC OF CANCER.

A vintage mapped globe showing the Tropic of Cancer
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While the entire Northern Hemisphere will see its longest day of the year on the summer solstice, the sun is only directly overhead at the Tropic of Cancer (23 degrees 27 minutes north latitude).

3. THE NAME COMES FROM THE FACT THAT THE SUN APPEARS TO STAND STILL.

Stonehenge at sunrise.
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The term "solstice" is derived from the Latin words sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still), because the sun's relative position in the sky at noon does not appear to change much during the solstice and its surrounding days. The rest of the year, the Earth's tilt on its axis—roughly 23.5 degrees—causes the sun's path in the sky to rise and fall from one day to the next.

4. THE WORLD'S BIGGEST BONFIRE WAS PART OF A SOLSTICE CELEBRATION.

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Celebrations have been held in conjunction with the solstice in cultures around the world for hundreds of years. Among these is Sankthans, or "Midsummer," which is celebrated on June 24 in Scandinavian countries. In 2016, the people of Ålesund, Norway, set a world record for the tallest bonfire with their 155.5-foot celebratory bonfire.

5. THE HOT WEATHER FOLLOWS THE SUN BY A FEW WEEKS.

Colorful picture of the sun hitting ocean waves.
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You may wonder why, if the solstice is the longest day of the year—and thus gets the most sunlight—the temperature usually doesn't reach its annual peak until a month or two later. It's because water, which makes up most of the Earth's surface, has a high specific heat, meaning it takes a while to both heat up and cool down. Because of this, the Earth's temperature takes about six weeks to catch up to the sun.

6. THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE GATHER AT STONEHENGE TO CELEBRATE.

Rollo Maughfling, the Archdruid of Glastonbury and Stonehenge, conducts a Solstice celebration service for revelers as they wait for the midsummer sunrise at Stonehenge on June 21, 2012, near Salisbury, England.
Rollo Maughfling, the Archdruid of Glastonbury and Stonehenge, conducts a Solstice celebration service for revelers as they wait for the midsummer sunrise at Stonehenge on June 21, 2012, near Salisbury, England.
Matt Cardy, Getty Images

People have long believed that Stonehenge was the site of ancient druid solstice celebrations because of the way the sun lines up with the stones on the winter and summer solstices. While there's no proven connection between Celtic solstice celebrations and Stonehenge, these days, thousands of modern pagans gather at the landmark to watch the sunrise on the solstice.

7. PAGANS CELEBRATE THE SOLSTICE WITH SYMBOLS OF FIRE AND WATER.

Arty image of fire and water colliding.
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In Paganism and Wicca, Midsummer is celebrated with a festival known as Litha. In ancient Europe, the festival involved rolling giant wheels lit on fire into bodies of water to symbolize the balance between fire and water.

8. IN ANCIENT EGYPT, THE SOLSTICE HERALDED THE NEW YEAR.

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In Ancient Egypt, the summer solstice preceded the appearance of the Sirius star, which the Egyptians believed was responsible for the annual flooding of the Nile that they relied upon for agriculture. Because of this, the Egyptian calendar was set so that the start of the year coincided with the appearance of Sirius, just after the solstice.

9. THE ANCIENT CHINESE HONORED THE YIN ON THE SOLSTICE.

Yin and yang symbol on textured sand.
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In ancient China, the summer solstice was the yin to the winter solstice's yang—literally. Throughout the year, the Chinese believed, the powers of yin and yang waxed and waned in reverse proportion to each other. At the summer solstice, the influence of yang was at its height, but the celebration centered on the impending switch to yin. At the winter solstice, the opposite switch was honored.

10. IN ALASKA, THE SOLSTICE IS CELEBRATED WITH A MIDNIGHT BASEBALL GAME.

Silhouette of a baseball player.
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Each year on the summer solstice, the Alaska Goldpanners of Fairbanks celebrate their status as the most northerly baseball team on the planet with a game that starts at 10:00 p.m. and stretches well into the following morning—without the need for artificial light—known as the Midnight Sun Game. The tradition originated in 1906 and was taken over by the Goldpanners in their first year of existence, 1960.

11. THE EARTH IS ACTUALLY AT ITS FARTHEST FROM THE SUN DURING THE SOLSTICE.

The Earth tilted on its axis.
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You might think that because the solstice occurs in summer that it means the Earth is closest to the sun in its elliptical revolution. However, the Earth is actually closest to the sun when the Northern Hemisphere experiences winter and is farthest away during the summer solstice. The warmth of summer comes exclusively from the tilt of the Earth's axis, and not from how close it is to the sun at any given time. 

12. IRONICALLY, THE SOLSTICE MARKS A DARK TIME IN SCIENCE HISTORY.

Galileo working on a book.
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Legend has it that it was on the summer solstice in 1633 that Galileo was forced to recant his declaration that the Earth revolves around the Sun; even with doing so, he still spent the rest of his life under house arrest.

13. AN ALTERNATIVE CALENDAR HAD AN EXTRA MONTH NAMED AFTER THE SOLSTICE.

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In 1902, a British railway system employee named Moses B. Cotsworth attempted to institute a new calendar system that would standardize the months into even four-week segments. To do so, he needed to add an extra month to the year. The additional month was inserted between June and July and named Sol because the summer solstice would always fall during this time. Despite Cotsworth's traveling campaign to promote his new calendar, it failed to catch on.

14. IN ANCIENT GREECE, THE SOLSTICE FESTIVAL MARKED A TIME OF SOCIAL EQUALITY.

Ancient Greek sculpture in stone.
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The Greek festival of Kronia, which honored Cronus, the god of agriculture, coincided with the solstice. The festival was distinguished from other annual feasts and celebrations in that slaves and freemen participated in the festivities as equals.

15. ANCIENT ROME HONORED THE GODDESS VESTA ON THE SOLSTICE.

Roman statue of a vestal virgin
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In Rome, midsummer coincided with the festival of Vestalia, which honored Vesta, the Roman goddess who guarded virginity and was considered the patron of the domestic sphere. On the first day of this festival, married women were allowed to enter the temple of the Vestal virgins, from which they were barred the rest of the year.

A version of this list originally ran in 2015.

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