Producer and HUMANITAS President Emeritus John Wells on Potential for ‘ER,’ ‘The West Wing,’ ‘Southland’ Reboots
Producer John Wells has been cheered by the renewed appreciation for “ER” ever since the catalog of the venerable NBC/Warner Bros. TV medical drama landed on Hulu earlier this year. He’s been floored by reports that some hardcore fans binged all 331 episodes within weeks.
But Wells has no interest in returning to the Chicago-set series that he led as showrunner and executive producer during its 1994-2009 run for his John Wells Productions banner. Despite TV’s voracious appetite for reboots and sequels, Wells explained in an interview with Variety why he doesn’t want to revisit “ER,” why he thinks the timing is bad for a possible return to “The West Wing” and why he hasn’t given up hope on getting the “Southland” gang back together for at least another hour or so.
“The interest in (more) ‘ER’ started virtually a year after we went off the air. NBC was asking us to put it back on the air,” Wells said. “I have no interest in doing it again. We did that show and we did it very well. I was very proud of it. We had so many wonderful people come through the show over the years. But now other talented people have picked up the medical show banner and carried it bravely forward. Shonda (Rhimes) came in and has done a fabulous job with ‘Grey’s Anatomy. ‘House’ with (showrunner) David Shore was a great show.”
As for “West Wing,” the White House drama created by Aaron Sorkin for John Wells Productions, Wells isn’t shutting the Oval Office door entirely, but he says he wouldn’t want to attempt any kind of sequel in today’s politically polarized environment.
“‘The West Wing’ is the one people pester us about constantly. I have continued to say no, we’re not going to do it. I don’t want to do it even though it’s the one that I think there are actually ways to do it. But not given the political climate now,” Wells said.
“People forget that while (‘West Wing’) seemed very liberal at the time, it was actually very even-handed. We had as many Republican fans of that show as we had Democratic fans. The country is so polarized right now I think announcing that we were going to try to do any version would greatly tarnish what it was. Because I think it would be assumed to be a liberal screed rather than an opportunity to do what it was originally designed to be. We had our moments of standing on a soapbox, but for the most part it was about the sacrifices people made to be in government, and how difficult it was to get things done, how compromise was required. It was about service and the ideal of who we’re supposed to be as a country. This is a fraught time to try to enter into that conversation. I think it would be a very bad idea to try to go back in now.”
But the one that got away too soon in Wells’ view was the critically beloved cop drama “Southland,” which ran from 2009 to 2013 on NBC and TNT. Wells noted that the core cast members — Ben McKenzie, Michael Cudlitz, Regina King, and Shawn Hatosy (who now stars in the Wells-produced TNT drama “Animal Kingdom”) — have all seen their careers skyrocket in the years since the show was canceled after its fifth season.
“That one finished too soon,” he said. “I would love to do that (show) again. We’ve tried a couple of times. It’s going to be hard because everyone’s a star now.”