George Clooney’s ‘ER’ Memories: We Were Bigger Than ‘Idol’

George Clooney on "ER" in 1999 (Photo: Getty Images)

George Clooney remembers clearly when “things changed” for his career and he was catapulted to stardom: It was all because of “ER.”

Now famed as one of the world’s leading movie stars, Clooney, 50, revealed what starring in the legendary medical drama meant to him in an interview conducted by Hollywood Reporter film critic Todd McCarthy before a live audience at the recent Telluride (Colo.) Film Festival, where Clooney was a guest of honor this past week.

“I was walking through the streets of New York half way through the first season of ‘ER’ [1994-95], and I’d been on a lot of TV shows so people would kind of recognize me – ‘It’s that guy from that thing’ – and I remember walking down the streets in Manhattan and them going, ‘Hey George,’ and they knew your name as opposed to your character,” he said, recalling what it was like to become famous. “I remember that was a moment where I thought, ‘Things have changed’.”

Clooney then made an observation about the popularity of “ER” in its prime that brought home how much TV has changed and fragmented in only the 12 years since he left that series in 1999. The main point: TV’s biggest shows today aren’t as big as the biggest ones once were.

“People talk about numbers when you talk about ‘American Idol’ or whatever the big one is [at any given time] — 16, 17 million people [in truth, “Idol” scores somewhere in the neighborhood of 8-10 million more than that per show, but we see his point]. We were averaging 40 million people at 10 o’clock at night with an hour show,” Clooney said. “That made a huge difference in my career. It really changed things.”

As he points out, Clooney made his way up the ladder in Hollywood via television, with recurring roles on both “The Facts of Life” and “Roseanne” before hitting it big on “ER.” In the THR interview, he told a bawdy anecdote about Roseanne Barr.

“The first season of ‘Roseanne’ was pretty fun,” Clooney recalled. “The first time I met her she’s like, ‘You’re really good looking. Why don’t you take me behind the stage and make me stink?’ ”

For him, sitcom work was the easiest work he’s ever had. “When you do a sitcom,” he said, “it’s the easiest hours in the world. You work four days a week and you come in at 10 and you’re done at five most of the time.”

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