Is Dr. Ross leaving the hospital?" NBC's promos ask. Better question: Does anyone care?
Oh, I'm sure people care about the loss of Mr. Headbob-Smile-Headbob, but for me the departure of Sherry Stringfield was more traumatic. It was a surprise; her relationship with Anthony Edwards' Dr. Greene had just begun to blossom and she was a sympathetic character.
Though Doug's compassion for his young patients is admirable, his lack of common sense when disregarding rules and his earlier womanizing ways haven't always made him a poster boy for doctor of the year.
Perhaps more importantly, viewers have known about George Clooney's plans to check out of "ER" (tonight at 10 on WPXI) for months.
More disconcerting is how Doug Ross will be written out. Will the writers really let him leave as a pariah, disliked by his co-workers? And what of Jeanie Boulet (Gloria Reuben), who was riding with him to an accident scene at the end of last week's episode when Doug's sport-utility vehicle smashed into a flatbed truck?
An interview Reuben did with last week's TV Guide even hints Boulet's life may be in jeopardy. Would the producers write Doug out with the blood of a colleague on his hands?
Probably not. "ER" has been many things, but it's never been a risk-taking show (except perhaps when they did that live episode).
Whatever happens, one pertinent question remains: has "ER" jumped the shark?
Yes, you read that correctly.
"Jumping the shark" is a phrase coined by Sean J. Connolly in 1985, according John Hein, creator of the Web site www.jumptheshark.com.
"It's a moment. A defining moment when you know that your favorite television program has reached its peak," Hein writes on the Web site. "That instant that you know from now on ... it's all downhill. Some call it the climax. We call it 'Jumping the Shark.' From that moment on, the program will simply never be the same."
Connolly came up with the phrase when he and Hein, now 31, attended the University of Michigan. They were talking about the telltale sign of the demise of "Happy Days," an episode that showed Fonzie literally jumping over a shark on water skis.
"That's the quintessential moment when a show goes bad," Hein said. "You can't get more well-defined than that."
That doesn't mean others won't try.
At jumptheshark.com anyone can post an opinion as to when any one of the 450 shows listed jumped the shark. Others have speculated "Happy Days" was over when Fonzie switched from white T-shirts to black ones.
"First of all, white T-shirts are 20 times cooler than black T-shirts," the person wrote. "And second of all, it's a known fact that people wear black on television to make themselves seem slimmer."
One person thinks "Ally McBeal" jumped the shark when Georgia (Courtney Thorne-Smith) became "a piece of furniture," two people say it was the introduction of the dancing baby, and four people voted for the frog episodes from this past fall.
Hein, who attended Markham Elementary in Mt. Lebanon for kindergarten through fourth grades, said he created the Web site to amuse his friends, not expecting it would gain a cult following.
"It just turned into this little wonderful monster," Hein said. "I didn't know so many people had so much time to discuss when their favorite TV shows went downhill. Instead of just talking to my five college buddies, I'm talking to thousands of people across the world."
Hein runs his own computer training company in Woodbury, N.Y., by day and spends about two hours working on the site every night. Publishers have approached him about book deals based on the site and a production company has suggested a game show.
As for "ER," two people agree with me the show jumped when Stringfield left. Others put the point of the show's beginning decline at the debut of Carter's beard this fall, the introduction of Lucy (Kellie Martin) and the live episode.
One person has already suggested "ER" jumped the shark when Clooney left, even though that won't happen until tonight. Tune in and see what happens and post your thoughts to the Web tomorrow. The shark is always hungry for TV criticism.
FAREWELL: Reporter Stu Emry retired from KDKA last Friday and he received a warm on-air send-off. The station allowed him to reminisce about the stories he covered in his 10 years at the station and more than 30 years in the market.
Emry's goodbye came hours after the acquittal of President Clinton, which reminded Emry of the time he interviewed candidate Clinton on his campaign bus.
"He seemed like an honest man at that time," Emry said, prompting a volley of guffaws from newsroom colleagues.
"You're still supposed to be objective here, Stu," said anchor Ken Rice.
ATTENTION: A video production crew from The Military Channel will attend Saturday's memorial service for the 14th quartermaster detachment in Greensburg. The service will be held to honor the memory of soldiers killed and injured during a Scud missile attack during the Gulf War.
The video crew began taping interviews for The Military Channel series "War Stories" yesterday and will be in the area through Sunday.
The Military Channel isn't carried on any local cable systems; however, WNEU (Channel 63) has switched from home shopping programming to a test run of The Military Channel.
Rob Owen can be reached at (412) 263-2582 or firstname.lastname@example.org.