Was Carol Hathaway Originally Going to Die in the ER Pilot?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about TV and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the TV urban legends featured so far.

TV URBAN LEGEND: Julianna Margulies’ character, Carol Hathaway, basically died in the first episode of ER.

TV shows have long had a tradition of writing characters off in early episodes and then quickly changing their minds when early audiences responded well to the character. Hill Street Blues famously re-shot two early episodes (including the pilot) when they decided to bring two characters back from the dead (Officer Renko in the pilot and Officer Coffey at the end of the first season). In the case of Julianna Marguelies’ Carol Hathaway on the plot of ER, though, the change amusingly happened after they left the first episode the same, meaning that they left the first episode as it was originally written, including the fact that Carol effectively died in the episode!

We meet Carol Hathaway, County General’s nurse manager, early in the two-hour pilot of ER, titled “24 Hours” (since the whole first episode takes place in, yes, you guessed it, 24 hours). She is clearly competent and well liked and she also is shown to have had a past with roguish doctor, Doug Ross (George Clooney).

She leaves work near the halfway point of the episode…

However, right before she leaves, we see her get something from the drug cabinet (to which she had the keys)….

We don’t think anything of it, of course, until about mid-way through the episode when Carol shows up as a PATIENT! She has overdosed!

Here’s the thing, though. Originally, Carol was going to die in the episode. As a result, the various tests that they ran on Carol were such that she effectively was dead. Here is a brilliant summation of the situation by Lindsay E. Murphy:

Carol’s prognosis in the Pilot is so dismal because of two things mentioned: her serum barbiturate level and her positive Babinski reflex. In the first case, a “serum barb” is part of a tox screening that measures the amount of barbiturates (a potent class of central nervous system depressants/sedatives) in the patient’s bloodstream. Depending on the specific drug she took, the serum concentration of barbiturate needed for a fatal dose can range from anywhere between 30 and 80 mcg/mL; Carol’s was 45 mcg/mL, which should have been more than enough to kill her.
Second, the positive Babinski. Barbiturates work by inhibiting activity in the nervous system; consequently the CNS slows down, which makes barbiturates a very handy class of drugs for controlling seizures and sedating hyperactive patients. Overdose, however, causes a “shutdown” situation in the CNS, leading to coma, respiratory arrest, and death as the brainstem (the segment of the CNS that controls autonomic functions such as respiration and heartbeat) shuts down. One test used in neurology to see how badly the CNS is damaged is the Babinski reflex; stroking an object (the end of a reflex hammer, a blade, your finger, whatever) along the outside sole of the foot should cause the foot to flex inward (plantar flexion); this is a negative Babinski, and suggests intact motor function. In a positive Babinski, the toes, most notably the big toe, dorsiflex (splay outward); this is a sign of severe motor deficit, and is usually (though not always) associated with diffuse cerebral damage.

This last point also refers to Morganstern’s comment. Decerebration, or the loss of cerebral functions, is the complete shutdown of the cerebrum, that portion of the brain that controls all higher functions – senses, thinking, memory, etc. If the cerebellum and hindbrain (or brainstem) are intact, the patient will retain autonomic function and remain in a coma; if these structures are damaged as well, there will be no respiration or heartbeat save for that artificially maintained by a ventilator and/or pacer, and the patient is said to be brain-dead.

Given her barb level and lack of CNS response, Carol should have died. A few patients have been known to survive high doses of barbiturates – the chances of this happening, however, do fall into miracle territory.

However, test audiences liked Carol so much that the show decided to have her survive, but without changing the rest of the episode! Kevin Reilly, NBC’s VP of Drama at the time, noted that they looped in a line about her maybe surviving, but that must have been in reruns, because it’s not in the original pilot.

Carol, though, survived and showed up alive in the next episode. It reminds me a lot of how 77 Sunset Strip’s pilot ended with Edd Byrnes’ Kookie headed to the electric chair but audiences liked him so much that they retconned the first episode at the start of the second episode and Kookie became a good guy.

The legend is…

STATUS: True

Thanks to Lindsay for the excellent information!

Be sure to check out my archive of TV Legends Revealed for more urban legends about the world of TV.

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com.

Did Tom Selleck Force Blue Bloods to Reverse a Character Being Written Off the Show?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about TV and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the TV urban legends featured so far.

TV URBAN LEGEND: Tom Selleck forced Blue Bloods to reverse a plotline involving a fired cop.

One of the longest running, most watched dramas on television is CBS’ Blue Bloods. The show stars Tom Selleck as Frank Reagan, the New York City Police Commissioner, along with his two sons, Detective Danny Reagan (Donnie Wahlberg) and Sergeant Jamie Reagan (Will Estes), and his daughter, Assistant District Attorney Erin Reagan (Bridget Moynahan), as well as his father, Henry Reagan (Len Cariou), who is the former New York City Police Commissioner. Jamie was a lawyer who had graduated from Harvard, but when the oldest Reagan son, Joe, was killed in the line of duty, Jamie quit his lawyer job to enter the police academy. He recently became a Sergeant and was married to his former partner, Edit “Eddie” Janko (Vanessa Ray).

While perhaps not necessarily what you would deem a “Conservative” TV series, it is fair to say that Blue Bloods is certainly MORE conservative than most other TV shows out there and its star, Tom Selleck, is one of the more prominent conservative actors around. He has been a member of the National Rifle Association for decades and was a board member of the NRA for over a decade. Similarly, Frank Reagan is one of the more conservative characters on the show, which sets up a conflict between Frank and his somewhat liberal son, Jamie, his much more liberal daughter, Erin, and his even more liberal granddaughter, Nicky Reagan-Boyle (Sami Gayle). In general, though, the show tends to side with Frank in the end of most episodes. This is especially shown in interactions between Frank and Garrett Moore, the NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Public Information (played by Gregory Jbara), who often tells Frank the most politically motivated thing to do in a situation and Frank, of course, usually takes a more principled stand. Robert Clohessy, meanwhile, plays another assistant to the Commissioner, Sid Gormley, who often takes more conservative positions and so Gormley and Moore will often be the dueling angles on Commissioner Reagan’s shoulders on issues. The show even pokes some fun at the idea of “Saint Frank” on the show, as he is almost never is shown as being wrong on the series.

One notable example, though, was actually driven by Selleck behind the scenes.
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Did Clark Kent Ever Turn Into Superman in a Phone Booth on Television?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about TV and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the TV urban legends featured so far.

TV URBAN LEGEND: Clark Kent never turned into Superman in a phone booth on television.

Something that we’ve discussed a number of times in Legends Revealed is the idea that the public’s collective memory is not always accurate, as they’ll conflate two different things into one, like remembering Mr. T’s famous “I pity the fool” line from Rocky III (and seemingly every other project he’s ever done) and presuming that he used the same line as B.A. Baracus on The A-Team (as it turned out, he did not
) or they will remember lines in a tidier fashion than they actually existed (like Gracie Allen’s famous “Say good night, Gracie!” “Good night, Gracie!”, which she never actually said).

As it turns out, one of these examples of the public’s collective memory failing is Superman and his use of phone booths to transform from Clark Kent into Superman. As we detailed in a Comic Book Legends Revealed a number of years ago, it turns out that it was simply a matter of him doing so in one of the most popular Superman projects of all-time, the early 1940s Fleischer cartoons

that locked that image into our collective memory, so that the idea of Clark Kent transforming into Superman is just taken for granted, despite him rarely actually doing so.

Recently, though, reader Gerald P. wrote in to ask about that old Comic Book Legends Revealed. He noted that I mentioned that Clark never changed into Superman in a phone booth in any of the 104 episodes of The Adventures of Superman, so he wanted to know if it was true that Clark never actually changed into Superman at all on any of his live action television series.

Let’s find out!
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Was The Flash’s Harrison Wells Based On an Obscure DC Comics Character?

TV URBAN LEGEND: Doctor Harrison Wells was based on an obscure DC Comics character.

When the CW series of superhero shows started out, it was not always easy to get permission to use certain characters on TV series, not with all of the various licenses out there. Ray Palmer, for instance, was introduced in Arrow only after Warner Bros. nixed the first DC Comics character that they wanted to introduce to play Felicity’s new boss.

One interesting way that the producers on the various CW superhero TV series have gotten around any possible issues is to just take obscure DC characters and essentially just make them brand-new characters. The most famous example of this asw Arrow star Felicity Smoak, who was named after an obscure Firestorm character from the 1980s.

However, things are complicated by the fact that the shows also occasionally invent completely new characters that have no comic book counterparts, with the most famous example being John Diggle, one of the main characters on Arrow. Diggle has since been adapted into comics, but he was invented for the TV series.

Doctor Harrison Wells on Flash seemed to be another example of an original character, but reader Victor C. wrote in to ask if it was true that Wells was actually named after an obscure character from a 1991 Flash one-shot.

Let’s find out!
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Did the Sopranos Almost Resolve the Mystery of the “Pine Barrens” In the Final Season?

TV URBAN LEGEND: “The Sopranos” almost revealed the mysterious final fate of the Russian gangster from the episode “Pine Barrens” in an episode in the final season of the series.

When long-running television series begin to reach the end of their runs, there is often an urge (very often driven by the fans of the show) to try to resolve any unresolved stories left over from past episodes, whether such an impulse really fits into the final plot of the series or not. “How I Met Your Mother”, for instance, tried valiantly to resolve their long-running pineapple mystery in their final episodes (they never found a way to make it work). “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”, on the other hand, seems to delight in defying fans’ desire to learn the true name of the Waitress before the series ends. When you take into account the famous final scene of the hit HBO drama “The Sopranos”, the show’s creator, David Chase, seems to pretty clearly lean towards the latter school of thought. The finale famously lacked a clear cut resolution to the life of New Jersey crime boss Tony Soprano.

There was another famous unresolved plot line on the Sopranos, though. In the acclaimed season three episode “Pine Barrens” (written by longtime “Sopranos” writer Terence Winter, who later created “Boardwalk Empire” and “Vinyl”, based on an idea by frequent “Sopranos” director, Tim Van Patten, who also worked on “Boardwalk Empire” with Winter), Soprano made men Christopher and Paulie were forced to fill in on a collection duty for another member of the crime family.

They were irritated at having to do collections and when one of the people they were collecting from, a Russian gangster named Valery, gave them attitude, Paulie snapped and killed the man. Or at least he believed he killed him.

When Paulie and Christopher drove to the Pine Barrens (a heavily forested area in New Jersey) to get rid of his body, they were shocked to discover that Valery was still alive. They then gave him a shovel and made him dig his own grave. However, Valery waited until their guard was down and then used the shovel to attack them and escape. Paulie then shot him in the head. Amazingly, Valery got back up and continued to run away. When the two men returned to Christopher’s car, they discover that it was stolen. So now the two men have to worry not just about the missing Russian but about surviving the night. They never found Valery, but they are eventually saved by Tony, who explained to them that if Valery shows up again and it causes any sort of problem with the Russian mob boss, Slava, then Tony would force Paulie to take responsibility for what happened. Valery was never seen or heard of again on “The Sopranos” (Slava was, though, so the presumption was that Valery never made it back to tell Slava about what happened).

Reader Matt G. wrote in to ask about a story he once read about Tony Sirico (who played Paulie) saying that they nearly addressed the Valery situation. Sirico, did, in fact, tell the New York Times soon after “The Sopranos” ended:

We had a scene this season when Chris and I are talking in the bar about whatever happened to that Russian guy. And in the script we were supposed to go outside and there he was standing on the corner. But when we went to shoot it, they took it out. I think David didn’t like it. He wanted the audience just to suffer.

Is that true?
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Was the Original Female Lead on Seinfeld Replaced For Not Being ‘Sexy’ Enough?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about TV and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the TV urban legends featured so far.

TV URBAN LEGEND: The original female lead on “Seinfeld” was replaced for not being sexy enough.

Television pilots can be fascinating to explore in greater detail. There is so much attention paid to just this one single episode (as the pilot typically determines whether the network wants to pick the television show up as an ongoing series) that the levels of micro-management on the pilot can go to extreme lengths. This is particularly evident when it comes to the cast of the series, as the pilot is often the first time that people are seeing the actors interacting on a finished product. Thus, very often actors are added or removed after the pilot. In one memorable instance, an actor was digitally added to the pilot of a hit TV series after the pilot had been finished but before it even aired! More often, though, pilots are where producers determine that certain characters don’t work and they get replaced on future episodes. That was the case in the original pilot for the “Big Bang Theory,” where there was an entirely different female lead at first. That was also the case in the original pilot for the hit TV series, “Seinfeld,” where the female lead on the series went in a dramatically different direction after the pilot.

Why did Lee Garlington get replaced by Julia Louis-Dreyfus as the female lead on “Seinfeld” after just one episode? There are a number of conflicting stories out there, including one that said that it was because the character needed to be “sexier.” What’s the truth? Read on to find out!
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Did George Lucas Want to Destroy All Copies of the Star Wars Holiday Special?

TV URBAN LEGEND: George Lucas once said, “If I had the time and a sledgehammer, I would track down every copy of that show and smash it.”

The Star Wars Holiday Special is one of the most bizarre pieces of pop culture ever. A year after Star Wars debuted and was a huge success, they decided to do a TV special while waiting for the sequel to come out in 1980.

All of the major cast members showed up, from Mark Hamill to Harrison Ford to Carrie Fisher…

Of course, so did Bea Arthur…

The idea was that it was a variety special based on the basic concept of Han Solo and Chewbacca traveling to Chewy’s home world, Kashyyyk, to celebrate Life Day (essentially the Wookiee equivalent of Christmas).

The special is also known for having a cartoon in it that officially introduced Boba Fett before he showed up in the next film in the series.

Anyhow, the special was not warmly received and George Lucas clearly made a point to keep the show hidden. It made only a single official airing on broadcast television, but it aired in a number of other countries unofficially and those copies are the ones that places like YouTube air.

So Lucas did not like the special.

However, his dislike for it has created a bit of a legend.

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Did a Typo Accidentally Make Rudolph’s TV Special Public Domain?

TV URBAN LEGEND: A typo accidentally made Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer TV Special public domain.

Everyone knows the classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer TV Special that has been airing yearly on CBS for over FIFTY years now…

The story of Rudolph, mocked for his shiny red nose, who heads off with a depressed elf named Hermey (who wants to be a dentist instead of work for Santa Claus) and end up on an island of Misfit Toys before everything works out for everyone involved, is a total classic.

However, did you ever notice that there is a major error in the opening of the special?

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Did Captain Kirk Never Actually Say ‘Beam Me Up, Scotty’ On Star Trek?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about TV and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the TV urban legends featured so far.

TV URBAN LEGEND: Kirk never actually ever said, “Beam Me Up, Scotty” on Star Trek.

It’s funny, I’ve done legends like this one before, like on whether B.A. Baracus ever actually said “I pity the fool” on The A-Team or whether Gracie Allen said, “Goodnight, Gracie” on The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, but I’ve left this one alone because I figured that it was too famous. And don’t get me wrong, it IS pretty well known, but what about the people who DON’T know it? I figure I might as well get it out of the way for those folks, as well.

So here ya go, despite there being a whole lot of teleportation on Star Trek over the years…

and Montgomery “Scotty” Scott (who also famously hid his right hand for most of the series) often being the one being the controls of the teleporter…

Did he ever use the phrase “Beam me up, Scotty”?

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Did Eddie Murphy Get His SNL Gig After Another Comedian Forgot to Sign His Contract?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about TV and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the TV urban legends featured so far.

TV URBAN LEGEND: Eddie Murphy’s spot on Saturday Night Live was only available because another comedian forgot to sign his contract.

Reader Jim S. wrote in to ask about the following piece of information that he had read about how Eddie Murphy was cast on Saturday Night Live in 1980’s Season 6. From TV Tropes, it states that Robrt Townsend “[a]uditioned for season six and was chosen to be a cast member, but everyone else (save Jean Doumanian) saw potential in an up-and-coming stand-up comedian at the time named Eddie Murphy. Also, Robert Townsend forgot to sign his contract.”

Robert Townsend, of course, was a talented stand-up comedian in the early 1980s who later gained a good deal of acclaim for his film work, especially his 1987 satirical film, Hollywood Shuffle, which he wrote, directed and starred in (Townsend would also later create and star in Meteor Man and the sitcom, The Parent’Hood).

It is true that when Jean Doumanian became the producer of Saturday Night Live for its sixth season, when she had to put together an entirely new cast, she was looking to hire just a single black actor for the cast. She also did, in fact, want Townsend at one point but she eventually was convinced to hire Eddie Murphy, who, of course, became a superstar…

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