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Swan Songs

By Belinda Acosta

MAY 22, 2000:  I think I should make it clear up front: I'm pro-Doug Ross. For ER fans, those can be fighting words, but only if you're anti-Doug Ross, meaning that George Clooney's surprise return last week for Julianna Margulies' last episode as Nurse Carol Hathaway either pleased you or pissed you off. I was pleased. To be honest, I wasn't surprised ol' Dougie showed up, no matter how adamant Clooney was about not being invited back to sew up the Dr. Ross-Nurse Hathaway storyline. According to a "leak" on The Today Show the Thursday morning before his appearance, Clooney agreed to come back to shoot a couple of scenes as long as they weren't promoted. (Crew members were reportedly given "hush money" to assure secrecy.)

To me, it was inevitable. It would have been gross negligence to leave that story hanging out there, as if fans of the show would forget the history of those two characters and be happy to see Clooney, and now Margulies, exit the show without a proper resolution to their tale. For me, that resolution was the reunion of Dr. Ross with Nurse Hathaway. Not too schmaltzy, no violins swelling in the background, no high-dollar wedding to send them off into the sunset (though I have to say, the sparkling ocean background was a nice touch).

But that's me. I've talked to several viewers who disagreed with the choice and turned their noses up at the reunion. Papi Chulo was particularly annoyed -- and this is someone who, in other situations, likes George Clooney, calling him a guy's guy. But when Doug and Carol embraced after a long season of watching Carol be miserable without him, his response was, "She was better off without him!"

Imagine my shock and horror. Who was this Papi Chulo with whom I'd spent Thursday nights watching the stories of the ER gang unfold since 1994? A stranger, I tell you, a stranger! And then there was the friend who just returned to town. A longtime ER fan, she revealed that she "never really liked Doug. Carol could do better."

This ignited a friendly, but familiar, discussion, so before it got too heated, I offered, "You know, we're talking about a TV character."

"Yeah," my friend conceded. "But it's Carol ..."

Carol, Doug, Mark, Benton, Carter ... The names are spoken as if they were close co-workers, neighbors, or relatives that we know. And in a real sense, we do know them, thanks to the work of the show's writers and the actors themselves, who crafted complex and spirited characters. Sure, it sounds like bickering over the minutiae of a soap opera, but it's much more than that. The Doug and Carol reunion was more sophisticated than, say, the union of Luke and Laura on the daytime soap General Hospital. Dougie was no angel, but at least he wasn't a rapist. (According to a GH watcher, by the time the Luke and Laura wedding took place, Luke's rape of Laura seasons earlier had been downplayed, and eventually, effaced from the soap's history. And people wonder why I have such disdain for soaps.)

Whether the show will survive without Margulies, one of the show's linchpins, is yet to be seen. But it's an ensemble show, and like the busy days at the ER, people come, people go. No one will replace Carol Hathaway. To Margulies' credit, no one should want to try.


For Fox, The City Is Spun

Expect a poignant sendoff for Michael J. Fox in the season finale of Spin City. The season-ender is also the show's 100th episode. Normally a moment of celebration at reaching a milestone in a show's run, the celebration is bittersweet, as Fox leaves the show riding high, but due to not-so-happy circumstances. In 1998, he revealed he had Parkinson's Disease, an incurable neurological disorder (he was diagnosed in 1991). Though speculation swirled about his future with the show, Fox made a commitment to reach the 100th episode. His health, his involvement in Parkinson's research, and a desire to spend more time with his family finally drew Fox to the tough decision to leave the show at this season's end.

While Charlie Sheen has signed on as the new lead, and the addition of Heather Locklear last year buoyed the show, several longtime cast members have announced or are said to be contemplating leaving the show. Connie Britton, who plays Nikki Faber, has made her plans for departure public. Rumors about Victoria Dillard (Janelle Cooper) and Alexander Chaplin's (James Hobert) desire to leave the show are still unsubstantiated. In addition, the show will move from its New York home base to a new studio in Los Angeles, which requires remaining cast members to uproot, or to live bicoastally.


Old Sopranos, New Sex Partners

A visit to The Sopranos Web site revealed that HBO will bring back season two of the series beginning June 7. There's talk of a season one encore, but no details have been set yet. Visit the official Web site at www.hbo.com/sopranos for up-to-date information. Season three of Sex and the City begins June 4. According to The Hollywood Reporter, former Twin Peaks star Kyle MacLachlan will appear in seven episodes as a love interest for one of the characters. Former Northern Exposure hunk John Corbett will also join the series in an unspecified role.


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