Robert Romano (ER)

Robert Romano
Paul McCrane as Robert Romano
First appearance

October 30, 1997.
(4x05, "Good Touch, Bad Touch")
Last appearance

November 20, 2003.
(10x08, "Freefall")
Portrayed by

Paul McCrane
Gender Male
Occupation Physician
Title Attending General Surgeon (1997-2003)
Chief of Surgery (1999-2003)
Chief of Staff (1999-2003)
Chief of Emergency Medicine (2003)
Family Dog named Gretel

Dr. Robert 'Rocket' Romano is a fictional character on the TV series ER. He was portrayed by Emmy-winning actor Paul McCrane. Paul McCrane's removal from the main cast opening credits was in the 9th episode of season 10.

Romano was a brash, insensitive man who often made racist or bigoted comments. Although he was a deliberately unpleasant and cruel character, he also frequently provided comic relief, and thus became popular with viewers as ER's "man you love to hate". TV Guide included him in its list of The Most Loathed TV Characters and commented: "we loved to hate him and hated to love him too".[1]

Character history

Dr. Romano first appeared in the show's fourth season as a surgical attending sponsoring Elizabeth Corday's trauma fellowship in the Chicago ER. Romano was a brilliant surgeon, but did not get along with the majority of the staff, except Corday whose early quarreling and professional setbacks at Romano's hands (discontinuing her fellowship at the end of Season 4, forcing her into a demeaning intern position for Season 5) blossomed into a respected friendship over the years. Romano was obnoxious and ambitious, and was eager to jump at the job of interim ER Chief to help weasel his way toward the top of the administrative ladder.

During season 5, Maggie Doyle accused Dr. Romano of sexual harassment. She asked Elizabeth Corday to back her up, but Corday refused when Romano blackmailed her. Kerry Weaver forced Romano to retract an inaccurate, critical review of Maggie's job performance, but this did not prevent Maggie from leaving the ER after the mess of the sexual harassment lawsuit.

Dr. Romano finally got his reward when he was hired as the new Chief of Staff, much to the dismay of the entire staff, but was good news for Dr. Corday because he promoted her to Associate Chief of Surgery. Kerry Weaver had originally backed him up for the job, backstabbing Mark Greene in the process and earning the permanent ER Chief position, but soon became disgusted with him after seeing his diabolical ways which included him suspending her in Season 6 after she treated a comatose, brain-damaged young woman without HMO approval. Over the next four years, Romano did not do much for staff morale or take interest in many of the priorities of health care and hospital issues. When Peter Benton arranged for the surgery of a Medicare patient over Romano's objections, Romano fired Benton. Romano then blacklisted Benton throughout the community, making it almost impossible for him to find a job in Chicago. This forced Benton to come back and accept a daily call, no-benefits job from Romano. After Benton impressed Romano by keeping his mouth shut and doing the job, Romano "rewarded" him with a raise and benefits but also manipulated him into taking on a new post related to affirmative action at County (but was then outmaneuvered when Benton got a talented African-American student a previously-denied interview, and the student was then accepted into medical school).

In addition, Romano stopped at nothing to fire Dr. Legaspi, a psychiatric attending and love interest of Kerry Weaver. The two both realized that she was being discriminated against for her homosexuality by Romano and Kerry came out of the closet to Romano when announcing she would defend Kim. However, Kim left for a job in San Francisco and Romano surprisingly decided to keep Kerry's secret (she came out to her staff for separate reasons later in Season 8). By this point, Romano has alienated himself from virtually all the staff; he is particularly bitter enemies with Kerry Weaver and Peter Benton, and Elizabeth Corday is the only genuine friend he has.

Despite his uncompromising demeanor, Romano did, however, have a few soft spots. These include the fact that he was genuinely fond of medical student Lucy Knight, and showed grief and anger when he was unable to save her after a homicidal attack. His genuine affection and respect for Corday is unmistakable, and is demonstrated when he rescues her wedding ring from a drain. When Elizabeth is investigated after several of her elderly patients die of infection, Romano reacts with anger when the detectives suggest she is euthanizing them; the following year, Romano is extremely supportive towards her and Mark Greene when their baby daughter accidentally suffers an ecstasy overdose. He was also shown several times using sign language to communicate expressions of praise and affection to Reese Benton, behind his father's back (despite the fact that he and Peter Benton had a very hostile relationship most of the time). The stern surgeon also showed a few sentimental moments after learning of the death of Dr. Mark Greene and was then driven to successfully save a young girl who also had cancer. Ruthless though he may have been as an administrator, Romano was extremely dedicated to the work he did as a surgeon and seemed to prefer it to the daily tasks of Chief of Staff; his inability to continue his work in the OR explain his increasingly harsh demeanor in Seasons 9-10

At the beginning of the ninth season, Dr. Romano lost his left arm when he backed into the tail rotor blades of a helicopter that was evacuating a patient after a smallpox/monkeypox outbreak. Dr. Kovač was able to save Romano's life, and surgeons were able to reattach Romano's arm.

Despite limitations in his recovery, Romano performed unauthorized procedures in surgical care that he was not physically qualified to handle. In attempting to cope with his injury, he survived a period of acute frustration and depression - he briefly showed this vulnerability to Corday when the two momentarily crossed the professional line and touched a level of genuine intimacy. Corday immediately backed away from the situation, however, and Romano later apologized for his direct behavior. Romano's continued reckless behavior ultimately led to him being demoted to the ER - he lost his Chief of Staff position after Dr. Anspaugh tired of his attitude and named Kerry Weaver the new Chief of Staff - and became the permanent Chief there.

Dr. Romano became completely hostile and bitter throughout his remaining time as ER chief. He routinely insulted and took out frustration on the entire staff and newcomers to the ER making him almost impossible to work with. As his arrogance continued, he managed to get himself beaten up in a bar after complaining about a strong man show and calling it "homo-erotic".

However, Romano found that the reattached arm was lacking in both its motor and its sensory capacities: not only was he unable to properly perform surgery, he failed to notice when the arm sustained further injuries after a kitchen accident in which the arm caught fire. Since the hospital's policies impeded his efforts to obtain a more suitable replacement, his career as a surgeon ended and he decided to have the arm amputated.

At the start of the tenth season, Dr. Romano made an unwelcoming return to the renovating ER after his leave from his amputation. He grew out a beard and was given a prosthetic hook to replace his arm because his insurance did not cover an electric prosthetic device. Romano felt insulted and was further agitated but was later able to get a realistic robotic controlled arm that, he claimed, often malfunctioned. For the most part, the former glorified surgeon-turned-burnout was always a ticking time bomb waiting to go off. He was getting in countless fights with Weaver, Pratt often joked calling him "RoboDoc" (a reference to the classic Sci-Fi film RoboCop, in which actor Paul McCrane plays a criminal who fights the cyborg cop) - even Neela Rasgotra and another resident named Coop said he was quite the "character." Sam Taggart remarked on encountering him for the first time, "That is one venomous ginger midget you've got around here." Dr. Romano later told Dr. Pratt he was working up a file of bogus complaints until he had enough of them to get Pratt fired from County.

Romano died early through Season 10 in the episode "Freefall" on Thanksgiving Day. When a wealthy patient left his Rolex watch in a trauma room before being transported to another hospital, Romano told Neela Rasgotra to go up to the helipad and return it before they flew out. Since Neela, being relatively new, did not know how to get up there, Romano took it upon himself to escort her to the rooftop to return it. After arriving on the top floor, and seeing a helicopter for the first time since his accident, a panic attack (over his initial fear of it) sent Dr. Romano fleeing into the ambulance bay for air. High above the ER, the transport helicopter was suddenly buffeted by strong winds and began sidewinding on the roof of the hospital. After injuring a nurse and nearly killing Neela, the chopper spun off the rooftop and exploded as it fell down the side of the building, filling the higher floors with flames. Dr. Romano noticed fire and debris raining down and screamed as he looked up and saw the flaming chopper plummeting down towards him. The twisted wreckage crashed onto Romano, killing him instantly and causing a huge explosion in the ambulance bay. Just moments before, Romano had "fired" Pratt and caught Morris smoking marijuana, but his death took Morris off the hook and Dr. Anspaugh told Pratt (not knowing Romano was dead) that Romano's allegations were without merit and that Anspaugh found him to be a great physician. In the following weeks, a small memorial of flowers was placed at the scene of the crash; still, no one mourned for Romano.

The only staff member to attend his memorial service was Elizabeth Corday, for whom Romano had had feelings since she had first arrived in the fourth season, during which she rejected his amorous advances. Weaver later told Corday that despite the frustrated differences many had with Robert over the years, she stated "He'll be missed, whether we realize it or not." He bequeathed a substantial amount of money to the hospital; Dr. Weaver, a lesbian who had been personally offended by Romano's homophobia, decided ironically to use the money to fund a gay and lesbian medical program at the hospital. John Carter wondered if Romano's ghost would animate his prosthetic arm and come get vengeance. A memorial plaque displaying the doctor's portrait was placed on the wall between the two main elevators, where the staff never paid it much attention. After a violent shootout in the ER in Season 12, the plaque was stored away when the department underwent restoration for the damages.

During the 15th and final season of ER, at the end of the episode The Book of Abby, long-serving nurse Haleh Adams shows the departing Abby Lockhart a closet wall where all the past doctors and employees have put their locker name tags. Among them, the tag "Romano" can be seen.

Return to the Series

Romano appeared in a flashback sequence in the season 15 episode entitled "Heal Thyself". In his scene, he berated Mark Greene for delaying his chemotherapy to instead work on a patient, thus keeping the oncology unit of the hospital open an extra hour. He then walks away, but is seen looking back worriedly at the end of the hall.

Other offices
Preceded by
David Morgenstern
Chief of Surgery
Succeeded by
Elizabeth Corday
Preceded by
Donald Anspaugh
Chief of Staff
Succeeded by
Kerry Weaver
Preceded by
Kerry Weaver
Chief of Emergency Medicine
Succeeded by
Susan Lewis


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