Doug Ross and Carol Hathaway were endgame before endgame was a thing. For five seasons, ER fans watched the on-again, off-again relationship of Doug (George Clooney), the pediatrician with a penchant for breaking the rules, and Carol (Julianna Margulies), the nurse manager who always knew when to put a doctor in his (or her) place. When Clooney left the show in 1999, Margulies still had a year on her contract. And in Margulies’ final season, Carol gave birth to the couple’s twins. So when season 6 started winding down, executive producer John Wells knew there was only one way to finish the story: Clooney needed to come back.
“We knew we wanted to get them together at the end, but we wanted it to be a complete surprise,” Wells tells EW. “So I convinced Warner Bros. to give us a private jet and talked to George, and we flew up to Seattle with a very small crew that all signed pledges that they wouldn’t tell anybody.”
Clooney remembers the trip vividly: “We shot the scene in the back of a house that no one lived in anymore and got back on the plane. The rest of the cast didn’t know. [Anthony] Edwards didn’t know. The only people who knew were Julianna, John Wells, our cinematographer, our sound guy, and one grip, I think.”
But that was only the beginning of the secret-keeping. When the plane landed back in Los Angeles, Wells took the film home with him. “I kept it in my refrigerator because I was worried about it going through the lab, where we couldn’t control it,” the showrunner says. “We didn’t tell NBC. It was never in any scripts. They knew nothing about it. Then I processed [the film] two or three days before it was on the air, and we cut [the scene] in very late at night when nobody was around.”
At that point, the scene, which featured Carol finding Doug out at his boat before the two reunite with a kiss, had been approved by NBC, but the network didn’t see the full cut of the episode until it aired on the East Coast on May 11, 2000. The cast had a similar experience. “I was in Italy and I started getting calls,” Clooney remembers. “People were going batsh— over the idea that we’d pulled it off. Then I started getting calls from Noah Wyle going, ‘Are you f—ing kidding me?’ Eriq La Salle was like, ‘You could’ve told me!’ It was very funny, but we kept the secret from everybody because there’s no other way to keep it. I don’t know how you do it now.”
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