Last May, ER offered its viewers their last look at Dr. Doug Ross, when fan favorite George Clooney made a top-secret, single-episode return to the program he called home for five years. ("It was good and sneaky!" the actor boasts with a sly smile.) That was not, however, Clooney's last look at the ratings hit that paved his way to film stardom.

"It looks classy," the star of this past summer's The Perfect Storm tells TV Guide Online, referring to ER's shift to a film-like widescreen format and high-definition broadcast signal. Clooney then notes that the CBS TV-movie, Fail Safe, which he produced, also was shown in letterbox.

Discussing his past and present association with NBC's six-year-old hospital drama, Clooney shares this: "I'm sort of sentimental about ER, although this season I have watched a couple of episodes."

Most impressing him about the show's current incarnation is its saner pace and deeper delving into personal drama, improvements that he attributes to co-executive producer Jack Orman. "When we first started ER, we would do 50 patients a day. There was little sympathy — you killed kids and nobody cried. Everybody just did their job. But Jack has a really good take on the show."

In recent years, Clooney has sought to redefine his status as that of a film star, working with such acclaimed writer-directors as Quentin Tarantino (From Dusk Till Dawn), David O. Russell (Three Kings) and Joel and Ethan Coen (O Brother, Where Art Thou?). Yet no matter how many blockbusters and critical hits he may land, he says the masses who grew to love him as a doctor are still front and center in his world.

"Not long ago," he recalls, "I got off a plane with Mel Gibson, and people would point at Mel and whisper, 'Oooh, that's Mel Gibson.' Then they see me, and they're like 'George!!' and they grab me. You're in a much different way a part of their lives."