So, George Clooney is planning to leave "ER" at the end of next season.
Not only was this particular piece of news completely unsurprising, but it's also far more important to Clooney's future than it is to the future of the show."ER" will be just fine.
Which is not to say that Clooney was unimportant to "ER's" success. He and his character, Dr. Doug Ross, were particularly involved in the show's quick and enormous success out of the gate - he was the breakout star from an ensemble cast.
But the fact is that "ER" is indeed an ensemble drama, and the loss of any single character isn't going to sink the show.
Remember, when the show debuted Sherry Stringfield was one of only two major female characters. And her departure in the middle of the third season came with barely a blip in the storylines - and no damage at all to the show's ratings.
On the one hand, Clooney's decision truly is no surprise at all. It's been common knowledge that he signed a five-year contract, and he had vowed publicly on several occasions to honor that deal.
For that he deserves a pat on the back. Lots of other TV actors have bolted from hit shows - contracts or not - when theatrical movie producers come knocking at their doors. Clooney didn't do that.
But, on the other hand, this is a guy who had failed in seven previous TV series. Given that, you might think he'd worry a bit about his post-"ER" career.
Not that he doesn't have options. In addition to a burgeoning movie career, he also signed a development deal with CBS. Clooney's production company will deliver a series and two TV movies to the network, and the actor is slated to be an executive producer on the proj-ects.
He has no plans to star in any of them, but those plans could change. (Nobody at CBS is going to complain if Clooney wants to star in a movie or series for that net-work.)
As for "ER," that show will no doubt do fine. Don't be surprised if it adds a new character or two - even before Clooney leaves. And don't be surprised if current characters step up and fill the gap.
The departure of a character or two can actually be good for a show with an ensemble cast - it opens up new possibilities and new relationships, keeping the series from getting stale.
And while it doesn't always work, it can be very successful. Take, for example, "M*A*S*H," which actually got better after two of its original stars, Wayne Rogers and McLean Stevenson, departed and were replaced by Mike Farrell and Harry Morgan.
The biggest question for the "ER" writers is, what will become of Julianna Margulies and her character, Carol Hathaway? Hathaway is still engaged to Ross, but Margulies signed a six-year contract, so, presumably, she won't be leaving when Clooney does.
Well, the writers have a year to work all of this out. And there doesn't have to be a definitive end to the relationship, given that Clooney may still end up making occasional appearances on "ER."
TRILL WE MEET AGAIN: Speaking of cast changes in long-running shows, the season finale of "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" revealed who won't be back next season.
Terry Farrell is a goner - her character, Jadzia Dax, is dead.
And she wasn't fired. Unlike the rest of the cast, she chose not to sign on for a seventh season. (Farrell has already landed a new gig - she'll co-star with Ted Danson in a new sitcom that will be a CBS mid-season replacement series.)
As for "DS9," the death of Jadzia raises some interesting questions. She was a Trill, and her "other half" was a symbiont that lived inside her and carries her memories - along with the memories of several previous hosts.
The symbiont survived even though Jadzia did not.
Which means that the Dax half of the character could return next season in a new body. And that body could be either female or male - which would raise some interesting issues for Worf (Michael Dorn), Jadzia's widower.