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ER: An Oral History of the Powerful, Groundbreaking "Love's Labor Lost"

Anthony Edwards, Bradley Whitford, John Wells and more look back 20 years later

Joyce Eng

"You set the tone." Dr. Morgenstern (William H. Macy) first said what would become County General's mantra to Dr. Greene (Anthony Edwards) on the pilot episode of ER. For the NBC drama itself, the foundation for its groundbreaking, fast-paced style was established in the pilot as well, but the show's tone -- its uncanny ability to meld technical wizardry with unmatched emotion and storytelling -- was set in the unforgettable Season 1 episode "Love's Labor Lost."

Photos: Look back on 15 seasons of ER

Airing on March 9, 1995, the episode seemed routine in its ordinariness at the start, but by the end, it was both epic and intimate in its devastating power. After Dr. Greene misdiagnoses pre-eclampsia as a minor bladder infection for a pregnant woman, he is determined to see the case through while short-staffed. But things soon escalate from a series of retrospective errors, and the mother dies following a crash C-section. A first-time departure for ER by focusing on one character, the harrowing hour served as a solemn reminder that doctors, while heroic, are not indomitable gods, and that the fragility and unpredictability of life don't always immediately tip on one action; tragedy can silently build and build until it finally, horrifically unloads.

To mark the 20th anniversary of "Love's Labor Lost," TVGuide.com chatted with Edwards, producers John Wells and Christopher Chulack, director Mimi Leder, writer Dr. Lance Gentile, and guest stars Bradley Whitford and Colleen Flynn to look back on the making of the iconic episode.

ER was a monster hit right out of the gate, capturing the riveting, relentless chaos of the lives of emergency medicine doctors unlike any medical show before it. After doing the first of what would become their staple disaster episodes, "Blizzard," in December 1994, it was time to take a different narrative risk.

Christopher Chulack (producer): The show was taking off, and the characters were developing so fast in terms of their relationships, and the thought in the room was that it was time to do something different and show somebody make a mistake and show somebody that's flawed and how things can go awry. Not that he did anything wrong -- I mean, technically he did -- but it's about split-second decisions. That was a theme we dealt with several times, especially with Dr. Greene.

John Wells (executive producer): The story for "Love's Labor Lost" came from a conversation we had with a series of ER physicians about their worst nightmares as an ER physician. What did they fear most could happen to them that would be devastating to their sense of themselves as a physician?

Dr. Lance Gentile (writer): I was lucky. I had never written a television show before in my life. I landed in this rocket ship. I'm an emergency physician and I went to film school at USC. I had written a film called State of Emergency, which HBO bought and made. It aired at the DGA. I had read in the trades about this project in development with Steven Spielberg, Michael Crichton and this guy John Wells, who I didn't know who he was. It was called ER. I thought, "Gee, that seems like something I could do." I found out where John Wells' office was. I just cold-called his office. ... I worked as a technical advisor with the idea that if it went to series, I would be on the writing staff. The rest is history. The first one [I wrote] was "Blizzard." Dr. Greene had been a little too successful and perfect, and so John said, "We need to shake him up a little bit." That was my assignment: Shake up Dr. Greene.

Wells: Lance pitched the fear of losing a mother or child or both in childbirth.

Gentile: It actually happened -- a successful version of that with a good outcome. It happened to one of the doctors I worked with. Saturday night, 3 o'clock in the morning -- he got a call to the OB ward. We worked in a small community hospital with not a lot of doctors. He gets down there and the baby is in crisis and needs a crash C-section. And he's an emergency room doctor. Like me or Dr. Greene, he had maybe scrubbed in on a C-section, but he had absolutely no experience with it, so it was like he might as well have been trying to fly a jet plane. He successfully delivered the baby with a lot of help from the OB nurses who said, "Cut here. Cut here." That was the basis of the story and I said, "What happens if everything possible goes wrong?"

Chulack: Lance told us what the circumstances could be that would lead you into that situation. It was the first episode we did that concentrated on one character for most of it. We thought it was time to try this. I think it had to be a Dr. Greene story. He was the face of County General. He was the calming force.

Gentile: Until then, there had been multiple stories spread evenly. John had insisted that there was no A story or B story or C story. We could never label them like that. They were all stories. This time, it would focus on one. [The writing process] was like any other episode. John was the guiding light. He shaped the show and shaped my writing. He was very much involved in how it all worked out and leaving me to do that and believing in me that I could do it. I was unproven, to say the least.

Mimi Leder (director/co-executive producer): We knew it was going to be a really great one. I had my choice of what to direct. The point of view of that episode changed dramatically halfway through. It shifted to Dr. Greene and things falling through his fingers and him trying to save this woman's life and this baby's life. I felt really up for the challenge and really lucky to be directing a story of that magnitude and of that intimacy.

Anthony Edwards (Dr. Mark Greene): It was the magic of everybody's collective imagination. All I knew before the script came in was that he was going to have the worst day a doctor could have. We actually shot the last scene of me on the train two months before we shot the episode.

Chulack: We would make four trips a year to Chicago. We would go fall, spring, winter and summer. The stories were written for those blocks for when we think the weather would be pretty close in Chicago when we shot the exteriors. I think it was six weeks to two months earlier we went and the script wasn't written yet.

Leder: We had just broken the story. We had scenes. We knew he had lost the mother, and it was his fault. I had him sitting on the train and feeling that emotion.

Chulack: He was amazing. That's the craft of Tony Edwards. You say, "Tony, so here's the story. We don't know exactly what's gonna happen or how we'll do it, but at the end of the episode, you're gonna feel like you killed a mother." And he says, "OK," and gets on the train and delivers that. He was great. They're just pros. That was one of the great things about the show -- the whole cast was one of the most professional casts I've been around my whole life. It was all about the work and not about, "We're the No. 1 show."

Edwards: That [scene] was kind of reflective of what our job is as actors and what the reality is. Even when you have all the information, it's always an imaginative place you're in. Whether you've seen the scene before or after, when you're in that moment, it has to be filled with emotional and intellectual imagination that will keep that illusion alive. I think good acting is a lot about trust. You trust them and you go to that place and they go, "That seems like it works well!" Luckily, two months later, it did. The script was definitely a powerful read.

When the script, structured almost like a horror story that you don't see unfolding, came in, attention turned to casting the young expectant parents at the center, Sean and Jodi O'Brien.
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I knew Colleen from China Beach and I knew Bradley's work, so when their names were mentioned, I responded, along with Mimi, to the idea of how wonderful they would be in the roles.

Leder: The castings were so very important that we got that right. They were a couple so in love, so waiting for their first child. Seeing the downfall and seeing everything go so wrong for a couple that was so perfect and so happy was just heartbreaking. They were so great and are such great actors.

Colleen Flynn (Jodi O'Brien): I got a call from my agent. I knew exactly what ER was. It's a spectacular show. He said that they needed to start filming and they were offering me the role. I think it had a lot to do with John Levey. He's been an incredibly supportive casting person in my life. They told me the story, and it sounded fantastic. I think I was just like, "Oh, yeah, oh, yeah, oh, yeah," when they were telling me. I think they told me that she died. They said it was important to fall in love with her and feel a connection to her. That I remember very distinctly -- that it was very important people fall in love with her right away. I was incredibly scared and flattered that that was something they thought I could do.

Bradley Whitford (Sean O'Brien): I'm pretty sure I auditioned. John Levey, who casts John Wells' stuff, auditioned me. It was nice because Tony and I had worked on The Client and had shared an apartment in Memphis when we were shooting there, and we had been friends before that. I remember Tony was frustrated in terms of work. Back then, they would often do a TV movie, which may or may not be a pilot depending on how that went. That was what Tony was going off to do right after The Client, and I remember thinking, "Oh, God, I hope it works out for him." Then it became the biggest TV show. That thing just leapt right out of the gate. I mean, Chicago Hope was supposed to be the big one, and it just blew right past it.

Edwards: We were roommates. Brad and I are really good friends to this day. I even called Brad two months ago to see if he could help get my daughter into college. He didn't, and I'll never forgive him. Apparently she has to get into college herself! But it all worked out. ... A huge part of the show is that when you're doing that well, you end up with the best actors around. Everybody wants to come play. Brad and Colleen and all these people would come. That makes your job as an actor easy.

Gentile: Because I worked with Joe Mantegna on State of Emergency, I pictured an Italian couple. But that went away. Bradley and Colleen were fantastic. It's funny. I had just had a baby. A lot of stuff that you see them talking about, it's stuff my wife and I did. When she saw the episode, she was like, "How could you put that in?" Like, we had an argument about what our kid's name was gonna be. My second son's name is Jared [the name Dr. Greene chooses for Sean and Jodi's baby]. My first son's name ended up being Rhett. That was the compromise, but we had a problem because I'm Italian and she's Jewish. I liked Dante and she said, "Dante Gentile?! How am I gonna have a kid named Dante Gentile?" But all that stuff was right out of my life [and] into the show.

Flynn: The next day, I went straight to the props people [because] they had so much to do with my fake belly and all the intravenous stuff. When we began filming later that day, I met the cast and crew, and I pretty much didn't stop laughing from the minute I met Bradley. Bradley is one of the funniest people I've ever met. People ask if we had met before, and I'd say, "No. He's just that funny." He and I didn't rehearse. I think whatever came out of those first scenes of us together was just the excitement of doing the show and the great vibe on the set. Everybody was such a pleasure to work with, and I felt so calm and excited. I got the script at some point and ... I think it was just the very clear language that was used. I knew what my job was. It was so well written. It's not something you wanted to see coming at all.

Whitford: People always talk about chemistry, and chemistry is when a thing works. Colleen was incredibly kind, incredibly funny, truthful and warm. It was an incredibly happy set. Show business is like dating a schizophrenic. "I adore you, I hate you." But that entire group of people was just in shock at the reception the show was getting. I'm not just saying this to kiss his ass, although I would, but [George] Clooney was incredibly funny, incredibly nice. He was exploding then too. ... That was the first time I met John Wells, who became very significant in my life later on. He was a young producer in a leather jacket. I remember he came down and said hi. I also remember we were shooting some scene and all of the sudden Steven f---in' Spielberg was there at the monitor. That was very, very exciting.

Production commenced after the usual rehearsal period that included mastering the "medical choreography" to shoot in the show's trademark continuous Steadicam style, pioneered by Leder.

Leder: After I read the script, I walked and talked through the technicalities of the procedures so I understood them. We had some big ones with the [botched forceps] delivery and then the trauma ones. It wasn't really important to us that the audience understood it. What was important was that the audience could feel it. Once I understood it, I could feel it, and my feelings led to knowing how to stage it. I would say that we rehearsed until we got it right. We rehearsed on film and we shot on film in those days. The first part of staging a scene on ER always was the actors understanding what they had to do technically, then staging the actors, then folding in the camera, then folding in the sound, then folding in the extras. It was all carefully woven together.

Edwards: We always did long, epic rehearsals. It became choreography. You can break things apart into little bits, but when you have everything working together in a room, you're free to shoot when you want and where you want, and it gives actors the confidence to just pick up and they always know where they are. That was a really intense place. It felt like a team sport. Ellen Crawford and Yvette Freeman, those were our main nurses who were actresses and they got really good at it. We all kind of had to own it and we'd get really proud when we finished something.

Chulack: It was the first year, so we were on a learning curve. The medical aspect, the rehearsals of them doing the procedure, we tried to be true to it. The passing of the instruments so it could be continuous was difficult. The resets were difficult. You do a wide shot with the Steadicam, where you spin it around, and then you have to reset it. For something as emotional as this, that was tough -- doing a take and then having to reset and get there again with the emotion. Noah [Wyle] was also sick with mono. I think Mimi did a great job. I love [the shot] from the gurney and Sherry [Stringfield] is right on top [of Flynn].
I think it was Joe Sachs who took over my job as the on-set advisor by then. ... We had a whole system where we did trauma sides. Some were real nurses and they knew the equipment, so they would make it look real. In fact, the doctor that told me the story is actually in the scene. He was a background artist. In the [trauma] scene, there's something that appears accidental, when Chen [Ming-Na Wen] knocks over a tray. That's now a staple of all operating rooms on shows. That actually happened. I was observing at a hospital when I was writing the episode. I was with the OB/GYN chief resident and there was a crash C-section, and they were running around the room and someone actually knocked over the tray. I was like, "Oh, I gotta use that!"

Leder: I remember that it so worked with her knocking it over. I wanted it to feel like we were whirling into a chaotic moment and then bang -- suddenly everything stands still. For a second, no one is breathing and then everyone catches their breath and you've got to keep going.

Gentile: You need those little beats. When you're writing, you have to humanize them. Otherwise you're just writing mechanical stuff. Going to the dad [screaming], "Why can't you deliver this baby?!" makes the emotional stakes clear. We were famous for the camera spinning around. That's not going to land emotionally. Where it lands emotionally is that dad, who's like, "Oh, my God! This is my wife. What are you guys doing?!" That's what makes the whole thing work in this incredibly stressful situation.
The takes were long. They were like little mini plays. They would take like two minutes or whatever the length they were in the scene, because doctors don't stop. It was the ballet of it. I mean, the truth is it'd be very difficult in modern hospitals for that situation to go that far down. There'd be a little more backup. The actual order and what happens is very real. It was fairly early in the show that we weren't as comfortable or familiar with every aspect of our medical stuff. I remember being really challenged and really frustrated trying to get it right and having to be coached by one of the DPs who was calming me down in between takes. We really wanted to get it right.

Flynn: The thing that was really exciting about it, not just the material, was that you felt like you got to be an actor. That's one of the greatest gifts I got from the show. There weren't these constant jumps and angles. You were able to complete a scene. The Steadicam stuff wasn't so much scary as it was exciting. You really got to see what you were made of. I was actually on the table a lot. People were working really hard to rig me up for continuity. I didn't take a lot of breaks. I really just stayed there. People would break and I would just lie there by myself!

Whitford: I was absolutely thrilled to be in any sort of proximity, let alone part of an episode of ER. It was really fun to watch [the trauma scene] from outside the room. A lot of it was continuous. As an actor, you have to figure out how to modulate the level of anxiety in this guy. That show was such a Steadicam show. You have to be ready. You know the camera's coming around, you're not quite sure when. It was very tightly choreographed. Part of the joy was this was all fresh to them. Even as a guest, you could feel that they were excited about this particular episode. That was rippling through everyone. I remember during the horrible surgical scene, Tony's reaching in and he pulls out an alien baby.

Edwards: We really lost it then. The show was so intense that we probably laughed more than most comedies. You were in this make-believe world of life and death and you were always trying to figure out how to get an alien baby in there, and get the props department in on it. I forget who it was. Maybe it was Julianna [Margulies] or it might've been Sherry who had a freakin' heart attack when that thing came out.

Flynn: That was so funny! I'm pretty sure I was respectfully told that would happen.

Chulack: It was pretty light on the set. There were a lot of alien babies and that type of stuff. We had spent $5,000 to $8,000 on the silicone baby, and George Clooney's playing football with the silicone baby, passing it down the hallway.

Leder: I don't think I knew [Edwards] was going to do that. It's so important to have levity. I honestly don't remember how many takes we did and how we did it. I do know though that when it was right, we moved on, and everybody felt it. When you got it, it was that feeling of euphoria that you really went through something together. We all knew when we had it. We all knew when we didn't have it. It was a very harrowing week and a half of filming because we were all so intensely focused on how to tell this story. We were all deeply in it.

Wells: The story itself was so emotionally moving that the shooting of it was not difficult, but very traumatic, because so many of us had or were having children at the time.

Gentile: The odd thing was, the guy who edited it, Randy [Jon Morgan], had a baby right when he was doing the episode. And there was a little problem -- it worked out fine -- but it was a little thing and they called him. And he was like, "Oh, my God!" He had just watched all this footage. It was life imitating art imitating life.

Test your ER knowledge -- STAT

After Jodi dies, Dr. Greene tells Sean the news in the episode's most affecting scene. Filmed without dialogue against just the sound of swooshing doors, heavy footsteps and a wailing newborn, the scene stops short of entering the nursery after Dr. Greene, but instead pulls back as Sean breaks down while cradling his baby boy.

Gentile: That was specifically written in the script that the camera stops outside the room. We look through the room, and he's sitting there and Greene sits down. And we know what's gonna happen. I scripted it like that. No dialogue.

Leder: I knew what I wanted to do: a nice, long shot of him walking through those doors. I had them build a long corridor with those doors. The sound work was extraordinary. You didn't need to hear the words. I just wanted to pull away. It said everything. You were never meant to hear it.

Edwards: It was always meant to be silent. That was always where the writers played that delicate balance. You couldn't do that every episode. We really, really tried to make it as real as possible. That is part of reality. You get hints of things, but you don't have it all spelled out. At that point, there are no words. When he gets that information, it's clear. I don't remember how many takes we did. We did so much in such a little amount of time. We were really banging out the show at this point. Inside [the nursery], we created it as closely as we could as to what Dr. Greene would say, which was that classic, "We did everything we could."

Whitford: It is so much better and powerful in silence from the back, pulling away. It's so much better because the audience fills in the specifics of it. It's not as strong if you hear what Tony says compared to when you just see what I responded to and see me burst into tears. I think about that choice all the time. It drives me nuts as an actor now. I'm so lucky to have been able to do the stuff I've done, but if I have one minor quibble, there's way too much coverage in television. That infects the writing process, the shooting process, the editing process. No one trusts the audience now. You watch powerful film structures in the '50s, it's incredible how much everything is allowed to just play. That's partly why I love Birdman, although that became a little, "Oh, Jesus! They're never gonna cut!" I think psychologically what happens every time you cut, for the audience, there's a little stroke. It's a jarring thing. I think there's way too much choppy chop now. You don't need it. ER didn't do that. This was filmed perfectly.

Wells: Standing outside in the hall and watching Dr. Greene go into the room to tell the father that his wife has died [was my favorite moment].

Flynn: I thought the way they shot when Brad's character gets told, just through the door, was an amazing touch. It wasn't an in-your-face sort of thing. The way it was filmed specifically -- the way it flowed and settled on Bradley was so beautiful and heartbreaking.

Whitford: It's all in the writing, but it's kind of perverse being an actor. What you're aiming to do is to make it as excruciating as possible. It's just relentless. The screenwriters call it torturing the hero. You don't want it to be a cheap trust in Dr. Greene, but you want to throw in some doubt and show that this guy just completely gives over to Dr. Greene in order to have maximum betrayal of trust at the end. It makes that scene much more impactful. What that episode is really getting at is you have to make these very difficult calls, which sometimes don't work out.

Gentile: In a way, that's reality. In emergency medicine, one thing leads to the next thing leads to the next thing. No one makes a blatant error. It's just a chain of events that sort of happens. That's your worst nightmare. His mistake, what sparks the whole thing, is his hubris a little bit. The first mistake he makes is he misses pre-eclampsia because he's busy being the teacher and impressing the young medical students with his encyclopedic knowledge. That pulls at the thread of the sweater, and the whole thing unravels, and he's determined to fix it. And he did try his best in the end.

Edwards: What was fun for me playing Dr. Greene was he was really good at what he did, but people related to him because his life was not so perfect. That was the role of Dr. Greene: to take people into this world. I think when you're following someone who loves what they do, you relate to it. That's what we did and tried to do on the show by showing doctors who are challenged in a real way, but they loved their job. [The writers] wanted to experiment with this kind of storytelling so they could spend time with a character, and would the show be able to sustain it? Would audiences want to and be OK with that? Everybody felt like they were taking a risk. John Wells was so confident and so supportive that I felt like I was in good hands. Doctors are doing everything they can do. The intention is always pure, but when it starts to go south, it's terrifying. You're fighting with yourself.

Chulack: I think that's a tribute to John and the writing staff that when you read the scripts, they were all chock-full of this medical mumbo jumbo, which is germane obviously to the story, but it was always about the characters and how they swim through this profession, interacting with their colleagues and their personal lives. That was always clear, even for someone like me who had never done a medical show like that up until then. It was really clear that it was a character-driven show.

Gentile: The aftermath was my favorite. I thought that was well conveyed by Anthony. That really got to what it feels like to be a doctor and have a bad outcome. You go into medicine to heal people and sometimes things go awry. It's how you know it can happen to anyone and how you know you did your best, but a person died, and it was at your hand. I think that's one of the reasons the episode resonates and works so well -- creating that inner pain and getting that across. He's trying and trying and he just goes numb. He just completely goes into robot mode. He's trying to hold it in and he just has this release when he sits down on the train. It's freakin' brilliant. This totally changed Dr. Greene.

Leder: I knew when we were making it that it was extremely special. I knew I didn't want to be precious about it. I just wanted to keep moving forward.

Edwards: They had never been so specifically emotional. It definitely felt different and important, and we could only do a couple of those a year. We were in a time in television where you weren't canceled after the third episode. We were doing well, but you knew you were gonna do your whole [episode] order. I didn't realize what a luxury that was for the writers to feel like they could get through a whole season as opposed to, "Oh, f---. We have to get to sweeps and if we get through sweeps, we'll have to get to the next sweeps."

Chulack: I think everyone was embracing it and executing it. Things are moving too fast. You're prepping one, shooting one, cutting one and breaking one. I don't personally feel as a group anyone thought it was special. You read a script and you go, "Oh, this looks good." I don't think anybody thought it would make television history.

Wells: The episode became, as we put it together, the clearest representation of what we were hoping the series could be. When you're doing the first season of a show, you're constantly looking for the episode where everything seems to come together and it's the show you were hoping to make when you first started thinking about making the series. "Love's Labor Lost" was the first time that everything really came together for us on ER, even though the show was already a hit. It was the first time we really felt we'd made what we wanted to make.

Chulack: Probably two weeks after we finished shooting, we had a screening. Mimi, even though she was on staff, she would take like four days to get it in shape with the editors, and then show it to us the producers. We'd watched the episode, take notes, take a pee break, give notes to the editors and Mimi. "Try cutting that. That looks great." Ultimately, John Wells had the final say. I think we thought it was a really great episode. I don't think it had more notes than any other episode.

Wells: There were small pieces of scenes that were cut, but nothing in its entirety that I recall, but it has been 20 years, so don't take my word for it!

Leder: I don't think there was anything major that was cut. The episode was very lean. When we locked it, I felt we had created a moment in time that was very moving, harrowing and powerful.

ER's Jerry shares the view from behind the desk

The episode was the top-rated show of the week, drawing 34.4 million viewers and a 24.2 rating -- and it traumatized fans everywhere.

Edwards: We used to watch the episodes together at lunch on the Thursdays they aired. That was really fun. So I had seen it. That night, I had worked until 9:30 or 10, so I came home like three-quarters of the way through the show, and my wife was watching the show. I didn't have my key or something and I was like, "Can you let me in?" And she was like, "I'm not letting you in! You killed her! You are not allowed in this house! You just killed a mother!" She was half-joking. I think she finally let me in halfway through the 11 o'clock news. It was a nice compliment to get.

Flynn: I have eight siblings. Unfortunately, I did not properly warn my siblings on the East Coast, and I got a lot of really upset calls from my sisters. They called us here when we were ready to watch it, just yelling at me -- you know, not mad, but just crying. "You should've called your aunt and told her!" I was like, "I'm sorry!" Then we watched it here, and my family got a little freaked out here. I did not expect the kind of response it got. I was a huge fan of the show before I did it. To watch this, I think it reflected the attitude of what I walked into. People were focused and inspired by the material. It was like, "We've got a really good thing. We're grateful we've got a really good thing. Let's do the best job ever."

Whitford: I had looped a little part of it two days before it aired. I remember my agent called and said, "They said it turned out good. It's their strongest episode." But they say that even if you suck. I didn't think it would work that well because I'm a pessimist. I expect the worst. But it was so well done, well cut, and the choices they made. Tony was extraordinary. It was one of the few times I've seen something I was in that I was just as caught up as the audience was. It surprised me that a television show can make you feel that deeply, especially one that I was in! When you're in something, the art is kind of taken out of it and I remember seeing it when it aired, and it was just upsetting. My sister was a nurse at a birthing center at that time and she was very upset about that episode. It really did traumatize everyone.

Gentile: I got a lot of blowback from my OB/GYN friends. "You scared my patients! They all called me today! They all think they have pre-eclampsia!" The truth is this [situation] is highly unlikely.

Leder: People were terrified. "Is this gonna happen to me?" It was very powerful and affected many people, especially women.

Wells: The episode taps into our deepest fears about the fragility of life and how at any moment everything can change for us, and that's what the strength of the series was.

Flynn: People really started to learn what pre-eclampsia is. For quite some time after the episode aired, it was a little bizarre people could just say, "Oh, she's that girl in that ER episode," and just the response that I would get. It was pretty amazing. I haven't had someone come up to me in a really long time about it, but that happened for years. If somebody didn't quite know who I was, somebody would say, "You remember that ER episode?" And they'd go, "Oh, yeah!"

Whitford: It comes up. It used to come up a lot more. I remember women pushing babies in their prams, coming up to me, "Damn you!" I do remember people being very upset about it. At that point, it was a big thing for me to be part of that. Honestly, I think it certainly had a lot to do with what became a long friendship and collaboration with John Wells. Maybe I never would've gotten West Wing without this!

Chulack: The reaction is what you don't quite realize. You're in it. It's a good piece of work. You're proud of it. But what you don't realize when it goes out there and 33 million people watch it is how they're gonna react. People were actually talking about it and it was more intimate then. You had to wait until the next day at work. Now, it will be big on social media and then it will go into the ether.

Edwards: Fans still talk to me about it. The diehard ER fans are pretty clear about what they like. That one always pops up. When you do that and have a brain tumor, people have a lot to say.

Photos: The hottest TV doctors

In September 1995, the episode won five Emmys: directing for Leder, writing for Gentile, editing, sound editing and sound mixing. Flynn was nominated for drama guest actress. Edwards submitted the episode for his drama lead actor nomination, but lost to Chicago Hope's Mandy Patinkin. The episode later won a Writers Guild Award and an American Cinema Editors Award, and was nominated for a Directors Guild Award.

Wells: I'm always surprised at the Emmys, and it is such a cliché but it's true -- to be recognized in any fashion by your peers is a wonderful honor. I was surprised and delighted and grateful that the work was being recognized, because we were working really hard!

Gentile: I was completely terrified. I'm an emergency room doctor. What the hell am I doing here in a tuxedo nominated for an Emmy? It was beyond otherworldly. ... The people in the category were all these mega TV writers -- and me! Lance Gentile -- who? Crichton was nominated too [for the pilot]. We were up against each other. We had a bet. I bet on him and he bet on me -- $100. I paid up. I bought a really nice Cross pen and I put the $100 bill in the box with the pen and I wrapped it in the pilot ER script. I mean, he's the whole reason this all happened. I couldn't imagine that he wouldn't win. We were all just riffing on his thing. I always thought of myself as a poor man's Michael Crichton.

Leder: It was a beautiful night. You're very happy to be nominated and you're very surprised when you win. It was my third directing Emmy nomination. So you're used to losing and when I won, it was very frightening. It's in my office at home. It just sits on a bookshelf staring at the other Emmy for drama series [that the show won in 1996]. They're happy together.

Gentile: My youngest son decided [the Emmy] needed something, so he took a Christmas star and put it on top of the wings. We've kept it that way. It's been there like 10 years. It's in my living room over the mantle and there's a motion censor, so when you walk into the room, the lights go on and a chorus of angels go, "Aaahhhh!" Nothing big! It's got the Christmas thing on it, so, you know, it's subtle.

Flynn: I was in Australia at the time. My manager called me. I don't think it quite registered when he called and I think he sensed that. The next day, the gentleman I was acting with, Brian Wimmer, brought roses to the set and he had them film me. He was really kind. He helped me understand what a big deal it was. I didn't attend because I was still in Australia. I missed the whole thing. I literally couldn't come back for it. It was all a little surreal.

Chulack: I thought Mimi and Lance deserved to win. I felt like we deserved it. But I also know what was on television and I know I'm not objective, but there was nothing like it on television. I knew what it took to get there. I could not believe that Anthony didn't win and never won [for ER]. That, I don't get. ... I think it was a Goliath syndrome. Lance was the only writer who won. Julianna was the only regular who won. That's crazy. Again, you're talking to me whose name is on the show and I'm not objective, but it's insane.

Gentile: That was such an amazing performance from Anthony. I was devastated that he didn't win the Emmy that year. That was just wrong.

Leder: I was shocked and very sad. That was heartbreaking for me. Awards aren't everything, but he went deep and he should've won.

Wells: Anthony's performance in that episode was one of the great pieces of understated emotional acting that I'd ever seen, and I still hold it up as an example of how to make what could be manipulative melodrama into an authentic and genuine tragedy.

Edwards: I'm really of the mind of award shows being good publicity for the show. Of course, it's nice to win, but you can't take it personally. If it happens, it happens. It has nothing to do with me. It's truly icing on the cake. You have the benefit of being able to do it. I was really happy for Lance and Mimi and all of us. It's a team effort.

Gentile: It really was a team effort. I hope that comes across. That's really the truth. It was certainly a life highlight for me, that's for sure. But none of us did it alone.

Leder: I think it stands as one of ER's greatest episodes. Does that sound egotistical? It was really powerful for television to do something like that in that moment and time. I don't know if we realized it at the time, but we felt it afterwards. Everyone knows that episode. And it's still upsetting for a lot of people. But I didn't break everyone's hearts alone. I did it with a lot of talented people.

Flynn: I feel like I got a chance to participate in something that was groundbreaking. It was groundbreaking. On a successful show, focusing on a different way of storytelling for them and for it to be so well directed -- I think Mimi did a wonderful job and I think Anthony did a wonderful job -- and you can do wonderful things and have it not get the response it deserves, so it was wonderful to have this amazing effort be matched with that in a public way.

Whitford: It's a miracle to get a job. It's a miracle to get a job on something that's humiliating. It's a miracle to get into a great creative situation. It's a miracle for that creative situation to come together and have an audience that is really moved by it. I've been around. As an actor, it was beyond a reasonable expectation to have been part of that. It really meant a lot to me.

Edwards: We would do big episodes through the year, but I don't think that any of them would've been there without the absolute foundation of a bigger story that was being told. ER was not a success because of "Love's Labor Lost"; it was a success because of all the episodes. Every once in a while, we'd do something like this or the live show, but it's a result of the 20-something other episodes. What was fun is you felt like there were new things being tried, new technical things, new versions of snow and rain. Those meant a lot. No one had done a realistic medical show. I'm sure a lot of the stuff that we figured out are happily shared and used on Grey's Anatomy and other places. There was such a mandate to do it realistically that we had to come up with some really interesting stuff and we were always pushing ourselves, technically and story-wise. This was just one example of that.

Chulack: There are a couple episodes that I think are really different, but certainly that was the first of it. I mean, when the show started, it was different. It was out of the box. You saw that episode and it was just powerful television. I think it gave us the power to take risks. There wasn't a lot of interference like there is now where we got notes on everything. That allowed the natural evolution of the show to happen unencumbered by a lot of commercial bullsh--. It let the writing staff and producing staff nurture the show as they saw fit, and the same with the great cast. They were in it and they realized they had something special and that the star of the show was the show.

Wells: If anyone ever asked us to put together a DVD set of the best episodes of ER, "Love's Labor Lost" would be at the top of that list for me. Even after we had made 331 episodes, I continued to hold that up as an example to everyone involved creatively of what the best of the show could be.
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