The long sabbatical is over. After more than 10 years, "the doctor" is finally back in — sort of.
Anthony Edwards, who was celebrated for his stalwart portrayal of Dr. Mark Greene on the landmark medical drama "ER," is returning to network television. But this time around, he's ditched the scrubs.
Edwards is the star of "Zero Hour," a drama in the tradition of high-concept shows such as "Lost," "FlashForward" and "The Nine" — all of which have had varying levels of success on ABC in recent years. He plays Hank Galliston, a happily married publisher of a paranormal enthusiast magazine who becomes caught up in an international conspiracy after his wife is kidnapped.
His character is accompanied in his frantic search for his wife by Carmen Ejogo, who plays an unrelenting FBI agent. Together, the pair desperately try to sift through the overwhelming mystery, which includes treasure maps, Nazis, priests and puzzling clocks. At stake, of course, is the fate of the world.
"It's going really well," said Edwards by phone from New York, where the series is filmed. "The adventure is a maze of turns and mis-turns, of directions and misdirection."
"Zero Hour," which premieres Feb. 14, fit perfectly into Edwards' plan to return to series TV after leaving "ER" in 2002. During that time, he and his wife were committed to bringing up their four children.
"I very intentionally stayed away," he said. "I experienced eight years of not being able to control my time. But it was all very calculated. We had four kids over eight years. We decided we would make this commitment to the show and then raise our kids."
In "ER's" fifth season, the actor and "ER" executive producer John Wells decided his character would be written out in the eighth season. "I was never burned out, never at a point where I said, 'I can't do this show anymore.' But I certainly did not leave looking to do another one-hour TV drama. I never regretted leaving to spend my time with my kids, to be able to walk them to school."
His exit from the show remains one of the most emotionally wrenching farewells in recent years. His character was diagnosed with brain cancer. In his final official episode, Greene passes away in Hawaii, surrounded by his family.
"The plan was always to explore death — the physical problems of dealing with it, then, in the last year, the emotional closure," said Edwards. "We were all able to go through it together — it was really well thought out."
Though family was the priority — he, the wife and kids spent a year traveling around the world — Edwards did not entirely abandon the entertainment arena. He was an executive producer of HBO's film "Temple Grandin," which scored an Emmy for outstanding made-for-TV movie, and appeared in some feature films, including David Fincher's "Zodiac."
"Only in the last two years did I say, "OK, the kids are sick of me," he said. "I was feeling ready to bite into something."
When he read the pilot of "Zero Hour," Edwards was instantly intrigued.
"I felt the same way I felt when I first read 'ER,'" he said. "It seemed so unbelievably real, so smart. It was epic and mysterious."
Although Galliston is in a different professional league than Greene, Edwards felt a clear connection.
"I was really amazed how they were taking this guy into uncharted waters. In 'ER,' Greene was doing what he knew — the medicine is where he was most comfortable. This guy is not in a comfortable world. At the core, the show needed a guy that people could relate to, and I can do that."
Executive producer Zack Estrin said Edwards brings true star quality to "Zero Hour."
"We are incredibly honored that he chose this show to make his comeback," he said. "Anthony could have chosen any show. What he brings is that sense of familiarity — there's a real solidness, and the audience knows they can rely on him. We didn't want a kick-ass guy like Liam Neeson — we wanted someone who is like the people watching the show — a thinker, not someone who is automatically going to pull out a gun or make a fist."
Returning to the demands and pressures of a weekly drama haven't been as difficult for Edwards as he thought.
"I know how a set works," he said. "It was like going back to the jungle gym. Doing this is a lot easier than raising a kid."