"Chicago Hope" enlists Eric Stoltz for help in a ratings competition with "ER"

After memorable guest appearances on Must See TV’s “Mad About You” and “Seinfeld,” Eric Stoltz will don latex gloves next season as the newest doc in the “Chicago Hope” scrub room. Stoltz, 36, the offbeat film actor best known for high-profile performances in “Mask” and “Singles,” will join the cast of the Emmy-winning medical drama as a philosophizing, homeopathically inclined physician.

Casting Stoltz is the show’s latest attempt to gain ground in the bloody battle against NBC’s “ER.” “Hope”‘s Nielsen ratings dropped by 14% this past season, making it 45th overall with 12.1 million viewers. “ER,” in comparison, ended the year second overall (to “Seinfeld”) with an audience of 30.2 million, a 2 percent drop. What’s more, “ER” picked up 16 Emmy nominations while “Hope” collected only 4.

Adding Stoltz, however, may not improve the long-range prognosis. “He could give the show a bump in the ratings,” says EW assistant managing editor Mary Kaye Schilling, “but his casting won’t make a huge difference in viewership.” She adds, “I’ll certainly be more excited to see the show, but there’s no way it will overtake ‘ER.’ There is no war. ‘Chicago Hope’ has lost.”

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