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More than 16 million watch 'ER' finale

NEW YORK -- An estimated 16.4 million people paid one lastvisit to the "ER" on Thursday, as the last piece of NBC'sonce-mighty "must-see TV" lineup signed off after 15 years.

It was the biggest audience for a drama series finale since"Murder, She Wrote" on CBS in 1996, Nielsen Media Research saidon Friday.

The two-hour finale brought back vintage "ER" stars Noah Wyle,Eriq La Salle and Laura Innes alongside current cast members JohnStamos and Angela Bassett. It was a typical few days at Chicago'smythical County General Hospital -- a woman who dies in childbirth,an AIDS patient who learns he has cancer -- ending on a hopefulnote. The 22-year-old daughter of Anthony Edwards' character, Dr.Mark Greene, is enthralled by the action and wants to be anemergency room doctor.

Vintage "ER" producer John Wells wrote the final episode inanother reminder of when "ER" ruled prime time. It has beenovershadowed in recent years by other medical dramas, "House" and"Grey's Anatomy."

The audience Thursday night was up sharply from the 9.5 millionpeople who watched on an average week this season. Yet it's stillhalf as many people who watched "ER" at its peak in themid-1990s.

When "Cheers" exited the NBC Thursday night lineup in 1993,there were 45.5 million people watching. The end of "Seinfeld"drew 41.3 million people in 1998, Nielsen said. Comedy show finalestend to draw bigger audiences than dramas.

"Friends," the last big piece of NBC's Thursday schedule, had29.2 million viewers for its 2004 finale.

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