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'ER' is leaving, and we're sick about it

THE SHOW "ER"

WHEN | WHERE Tonight from 9 to 11 on NBC/4. A retrospective airs at 8.

REASON TO WATCH Series finale. 'Nuf said.

CATCHING UP Dr. Neela Rosgotra (Parminder Nagra) has finally left County General for another hospital. Big life change for Dr. Archie Morris (Scott Grimes), too, as he officially proposed to Det. Claudia Diaz (Justina Machado) - who had been brought to the ER with gunshot wounds. Also: Dr. Cate Banfield ( Angela Bassett) and her husband, Russell

(Courtney B. Vance), finally have an adopted baby.

WHAT TONIGHT'S ABOUT Titled "And in the End," this episode is designed to bring the full emotional load of 15 years to a crashing and glorious end. But this is "ER," after all - probably best to expect a bittersweet coda with the message "Life goes on." There was no review copy, but NBC provided these quick clues: Dr. Carter ( Noah Wyle) opens a new medical facility "for the underprivileged in Chicago and some old friends . . . come to show their support."

Tonight, Sam (Linda Cardellini) celebrates her birthday, and she gets a special gift from Dr. Tony Gates ( John Stamos) and her son, Alex. Most of all, expect major cameos from a whole group of favorites - Susan Lewis (Sherry Stringfield), Kerry Weaver (Laura Innes), and others. Who knows? Maybe even Doug Ross ( George Clooney) will surprise us with one more visit.

BOTTOM LINE Tonight, each of us will bring shards of memories - dozens, no doubt - from all these years shared with "ER," and maybe some of those memories will be tied to ones in our real lives; TV shows with mighty hearts and quiet dignity have a sneaky way of insinuating themselves like that. Mine will be of that Noah Wyle "Doctors Without Borders" story arc from Africa, or Kovac (Goran Visnjic) and the flashbacks to his native Croatia. From the first day forward, "ER" exemplified a pretty simple idea - human life is fragile, and fragile even for those who work at one of the hardest and most vital jobs in the world. Yet, somehow, the fact that most of them - from Eriq La Salle's Peter Benton to Innes' Weaver - actually understood this life lesson ennobled their on-screen struggles over the years. It made them both human and identifiable. "ER" cared deeply about its characters and real people. Honestly, how many other shows can you say that about? Farewell, old friend.

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