E.R.: innovative medical dramaSky Atlantic, the brilliant new HBO-inspired channel from Sky, is currently running a number of great, classic shows from the beginning. Last night, I caught up with the Pilot and first few eps of ER, a show I used to adore but only started watching from around Season 4 or 5.

The pilot isn’t anything all that special: there isn’t much in the way of plot; it’s just a random collection of traumatic events and an introduction to the characters. I’ve seen many better pilots in my time.

What’s easy to forget some 17 years on from that first airing is just how revolutionary and innovative E.R. was at the time.

Never before had a medical drama been shot in such a kinetic, absorbing style. Never before had a show allowed its characters to speak “normally”, without qualifying what “O2 sats” or “insanelylongmedicallynamedthingy” was. Never before had a show stretched its character’s personal arcs across more than a few episodes before nicely tying them up.

Now TV can’t get enough of the verité style; the best shows all worry more about the characters than the events; our favourite shows stretch character arcs and storylines across entire seasons1, without wrapping things up nicely at the end of each episode.

It’s easy when we look back at our old favourites2 to see them in the same light we see things now. But if we’re going to continue to innovate, it’s vital that we don’t forget what innovation looked like in the first place.

Remembering how someone set about doing things differently can inspire us new creative heights, allowing us to see how people looked at things from new angles and created something fresh, exciting and–ultimately–hugely influential.

What innovations did your favourite films and shows introduce? How did they change the landscape and inspire other creators to go further?

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  1. or even longer in some cases (LOST) []
  2. be they TV shows, films or any other artistic or creative endeavour []