BURBANK, Calif. -- If you're hoping George Clooney will return to "ER," don't hold your breath. Clooney's Dr. Doug Ross may not return to whisk away Carol Hathaway (Julianna Margulies) and their twins.
At a press conference this week for his live CBS movie "Fail-Safe" (airing in April), Clooney said he hadn't been invited to reappear on the No. 1 medical drama.
"No one's ever talked to me about that," Clooney said, adding that he would consider returning.
Margulies has made no secret of her desire that Hathaway and Ross reunite before she leaves the show later this season. On the "ER" set Thursday, executive producer John Wells confirmed he and Clooney have not spoken about his possible return.
"I care very much what Julianna thinks, but our concern has to be what's in the best interest of the long-term viability of the show," Wells said.
When one critic suggested Clooney's Doug Ross seems like a jerk for not returning to see his former girlfriend and children, Margulies took offense.
"It upsets me to hear that," she said. "The writers are trying to make a very conscious effort that it is Hathaway who is not ready to leave with him. This is Hathaway's decision. He's leaving messages, I don't call him back. I'm not ready, I am still so angry at him for his decisions, for what he did to the hospital and his friends and me. Just as an actor and in respect to George Clooney's character, I've been trying to make that clear and I guess it's not coming off."
Margulies said she's leaving the hit show to spread her wings as an actor and attempt new challenges.
"I have the utmost respect for actors who can go beyond six years of playing the same character," Margulies said. "I really wanted to 'cause it would have been a smart business move on my part, but I just couldn't find it in my heart. I just don't know what else to do with her. I love this character so much, I just felt like I would end up killing her."
This season "ER" has been marked by a variety of departures and new arrivals. Maura Tierney, who played a nurse in the episode where Hathaway gave birth, will return in the coming weeks. The return of Ming-Na has already made an impression. Executive producer Lydia Woodward said Alan Alda may be invited back if the writers can find a story worth telling for his character.
Daily Variety has reported Kellie Martin will leave "ER" because the actress felt her character, Lucy Knight, wasn't evolving due to the addition of so many other characters. "I don't think it's that I was unhappy with my storylines, but there is a large cast they're writing for," Martin said.
One actress who was announced for the show will never make it to the air. French actress Jeanne Moreau, cast as Dr. Corday's mother for a five-episode stint during February sweeps, left the set a few hours after arriving to film her first scene last week.
Woodward refused to comment, but Margulies, in a French accent, put it succinctly: "She came, she looked, she left."
Star Anthony Edwards said the pace of "ER" can be daunting.
"There's an incredible pace and energy that's going on and it can be overwhelming for people," Edwards said. "It's very different than doing one shot a day on a feature film. In my experience that could very likely take a 72-year-old woman and make her panic and make her think, 'I don't know if I want to do this.' "
"WING" WORKERS: Reports earlier this season said actor Rob Lowe was unhappy about not being the center of NBC's hit drama "The West Wing" as the series was originally pitched to him. At a press conference on the Warner Bros. lot, executive producer John Wells said he never discussed the situation with Lowe.
"We have not had a single conversation," Wells said. "Rob never came to us, he hasn't said that, those conversations haven't happened."
Lowe was asked whether he is happy on the show, but his dodgy response lacked enthusiasm.
"I never know what's going to go on the show from day to day," Lowe said. "So some weeks are big weeks, some weeks are not big weeks. I enjoy being on the show pretty much and I enjoy the people responding to it in the way that they have."
While other actors stayed to talk to reporters after the press conference, Lowe bolted for the exit.
MERGER TALK: CBS president Leslie Moonves said the pending Viacom-CBS merger will have little effect on viewers at home. If the deal goes through, CBS will be part of the same company as Paramount Television, mirroring to some degree the ABC-Disney pairing.
"I don't think viewers at home will see any change whatsoever," Moonves said. "Whether we own a show, whether Paramount owns a show, our big score is in a big hit, regardless of who delivers it."
The FCC has yet to decide whether the new company can own both CBS and UPN, but Moonves thinks it's possible.
"It appears that everything is proceeding smoothly," he said. "I think UPN absolutely has a place in the world."