‘ER’: Here’s Why George Clooney Left the Show

by Allison Hambrick

Though he’s now a superstar, actor George Clooney got his start as pediatrician Dr. Doug Ross on the highly-popular series ER. Walking away from the series that made him a household name was a risk, so why did Clooney do it?

The answer is simple: he saw a career opportunity that others didn’t. When Clooney left ER, many predicted the move would hurt his chances of success. At the time, television was considered “lesser” than film, so making the jump could be difficult. Then again, Tom Hanks did it.

“George Clooney leaves ER tonight on the path to Hollywood immortality, or possibly en route to accidental obscurity,” wrote John Carman in a now-ironic article covering Clooney’s departure. The writer explained that for every Tom Hanks, there’s a David Caruso, someone who left their show too soon.

For a few years, Clooney filmed ER concurrently with films such as Batman & Robin, but he left the series in 1999. He left the series on good terms. He completed his contract for five seasons, so there were no hard feelings. It was time for the actor to move on. In the years immediately following ER, Clooney’s career exploded.

Arguably his most successful role is that of Frank Ocean in the 2001 remake of Ocean’s Eleven. The iconic film was a critical and commercial success. It featured an all-star lineup of Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Andy Garcia, Don Cheadle, Elliot Gould, Bernie Mac, Casey Affleck, Scott Caan, and Carl Reiner, among others. Ocean’s Eleven was such a hit that it spawned two sequels: Ocean’s Twelve and Ocean’s Thirteen. Clooney returned for both. Reception for the sequels was mixed, but both proved commercially successful. A spinoff with a female cast saw Sandra Bullock step into the role of Frank’s sister, Debbie, but Clooney himself did not appear.

Clooney also stepped into the director’s chair for a number of films. His first directorial effort, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, was generally well-received. It starred Sam Rockwell as a game show host whole doubled as a CIA assassin. Subsequently, Clooney directed a handful of other films: Good Night, and Good LuckLeatherheads, The Ides of March, and The Monuments Men. More recently, he directed The Tender Bar.

George and Amal Clooney Rewatched ER

Needless to say, Clooney’s gamble paid off. Between his successful acting career and his directorial stints, he proved his critics wrong. Even so, the actor remains proud of the work he did on ER.

Granted, his wife Amal is considerably less thrilled. During the pandemic, the two decided to revisit his iconic role.

“This has been a very, very disastrous thing for me because I forgot all of the terrible things I’d done as Dr. Ross,” Clooney explained during an ER cast reunion. “My wife keeps going, ‘Is that it? Are you done? Season 3 — do you finally settle down with Nurse Hathaway? It’s been a disaster for my marriage.”

Of course, Clooney was only joking. However, it is funny to imagine having to sit next to your wife and account for your fictional character’s actions.