We might just have the writers’ strike to thank for bringing George Clooney back to the ER! Yep, you read that right; NBC, facing a shortened development season brought on by the 100-day labor dispute, is in the final stages of renewing ER for a 15th season next fall. The reprieve has prompted executive producers John Wells and David Zabel to make ambitious plans for what (finally) appears to be the drama’s last season. “We want to revisit characters that have existed on the show over the years and say where they are now,” says Zabel of stars like Clooney (Doug) and Julianna Margulies (Carol). “We’d love to get them all back in some way, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to. But we’re gonna try.”

He’s already guaranteed a visit by at least one alumnus: Noah Wyle will reprise his role as Dr. Carter for four episodes next season. Goran Visnjic (Kovac) is also expected to make a return engagement. “The toughest will be getting Tony Edwards because his character is dead,” says Zabel, laughing. That’s a little tricky, but there are ways to do it that we’ve thought about. Even if it were like a lost episode from 1996 featuring him and Wyle.”

In the meantime, Zabel will keep the ER buzzing for the remaining six outings this season by bringing on Aida Turturro (The Sopranos) for a three-week stint as a patient and adding a hot new doc (possibly an unknown actor from Australia) who’s supposed to make Dr. Gates (John Stamos) look like a plain white-coat. “He’ll be a sexy rake, a devil you can’t resist,” explains Zabel, adding, “A dynamic new character has the ability to motivate everybody, though it’s easy to get excited about next season considering it will be the last.”