He says network execs once thought ER was too brainy to succeed

By Wendy Grossman
Updated January 27, 2009 02:00 PM
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Credit: Ian Lawrence/Splash News Online

Being back on the set of ER for a final-season stint has been fun, George Clooney tells PEOPLE, but there was a time when he feared the beloved doc-drama might not even get off the ground.

“I was at a screening when the pilot of ER was screened, and the heads of the network looked at Les Moonves, the head of Warner Bros., and said, ‘What the hell did you do with our $2.5 million?’ ” the star, 47, reminisced Monday at the Reel Journalism Festival, held at Washington, D.C.’s Newseum.

“They thought it was a flop,” said Clooney. Why? Because the show gave too much credit to the average viewer. “[Moonves] kept saying, ‘Do you like it?’ They said, ‘It doesn’t matter if we like it. It’s too fast, the audience can’t keep up.’ ”

Last Laugh

Of course, the show’s creators had the last laugh: “It ended up getting a prime time spot. We were averaging 40 million people a week,” Clooney said.

The moral of the story: Audiences crave something to sink their teeth into, said Clooney. “You look at shows over the years that have been consistently major hits” – like M.A.S.H, Cheers, Seinfeld, NYPD Blues – “they’re well written, they’re smart, they survive.”