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George Clooney and the rest of the returning 'ER' cast can't compete as guest stars at the Emmys

March 13, 2009 | 11:01 am

Last night's eagerly awaited episode of "ER" saw the return of three more of the original cast members -- George Clooney, Julianna Margulies and Eriq La Salle. With Anthony Edwards having appeared last fall in a memorable flashback and Noah Wyle's character in the middle of a compelling story arc, the only veteran still to return is Sherry Stringfield. And she too is set to check back in to County General before this 15th and final season wraps up April 2.

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Much of our attention was focused on catching up with Doug Ross (Clooney) and Carol Hathaway (Margulies) and admiring Peter Benton (LaSalle) for his care of Carter (Wyle) as he undergoes a kidney transplant. However, last night's episode also featured compelling performances from two Oscar winners -- Susan Sarandon ("Dead Man Walking") as a grandmother faced with making the ultimate decision about her grandson and Ernest Borgnine ("Marty") as a man struggling with the impending death of his wife.

While Sarandon and Borgnine will be eligible to compete for guest acting Emmys, Clooney and company will not because of their billing at the beginning of the episode. The Emmy rules dictate that "only those performers with 'guest star' billing may enter in a 'guest' performer category." Sarandon was credited as making a "special appearance," and Borgnine was credited as a "special guest star." The returning cast were all included in the list of series regulars, with Wyle leading off the credits ahead of Clooney.

Given the show's success rate at earning Emmy nods for its guest stars -- seven for actresses and 13 for actors -- Sarandon and Borgnine could be contenders. Only one of the women (Sally Field, 2001) and one of the men (Ray Liotta, 2005) won the guest acting Emmy. However, that is still one more Emmy than the regular cast has won.

The only series regular to ever win an Emmy was Julianna Margulies for the first season. Her character was to have died at the end of the pilot, but she had such great chemistry with George Clooney that the producers kept her on the show. She won supporting actress in a drama series in 1995 and was nominated for each of her following five years on the medical drama. Though she moved up to lead actress in the third season, she never won any of her four bids in that category.

George Clooney lost the lead actor race in the first two of his five seasons, and Anthony Edwards went winless four consecutive times in the category (1995-98) and then went without a nod for another four seasons before his character was killed off. Also appearing in that flashback with Edwards was two-time supporting actress nominee (1997-98) Laura Innes, who joined in season three as the feisty Kerry Weaver.

Sherry Stringfield lost three consecutive lead actress bids (1995-1997) before leaving the cast at the end of third season. Her return in season eight for five more years failed to yield any Emmy nods. Eriq La Salle lost three supporting actor nods (1995, 1997, 1998) in his eight years on "ER." And Noah Wyle had five consecutive unsuccessful supporting actor nods (1995-99) and then went without Emmy recognition for his last six years on the show.

To date, "ER" has racked up a record 122 Emmy nominations, including seven consecutive bids for best drama series (1995-2001). It has won 22 Emmys, including a single win for series in 1996.

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Photo: NBC

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