ER (1994 - Present)
Commentary by Donna Syseskey, July 2001

I have been watching the television show ER for many years. ER is a high-energy drama about the professional and personal lives of doctors and nurses working in a Chicago Emergency Room. Most of the main characters are giving, caring people. There is one exception, Dr. Romano. He is a mean-spirited, egotistical man. These traits are not necessarily uncommon. However, I have wondered if it's just a coincidence that in this series, the most vicious person is also a man of short stature.

Dr. Romano was introduced in the forth season as a staff surgeon. Since then he worked his way up to Chief of the ER, though he did not give up his position in the surgery department. He seems to have an adversarial relationship with staff and patients alike. He shows no regard for the doctors and nurses and no sympathy for the patients under his care. TV Tome lists ER episode descriptions. All one needs to do is search for "Romano" to appreciate how often he clashes with other characters.

Perhaps the best example of his inability to deal with others is his long-standing adversarial relationship with Elizabeth Corday. Dr. Corday is an attractive English woman who came to the ER as a trauma specialist surgeon. Dr. Romano asks to meet with Dr. Corday but instead of a working session, he asks her to go on a date with him. Another common caricature of short man is that they are over sexed. Was this an attempt to imply this trait? Dr. Corday declines Dr. Romano's advances saying that she believes they are working too closely to be dating. However, she has recently started a romantic relationship with Peter Benton, a very tall and attractive African-American doctor. It seems ironic that their relationship happened because they both went out as colleagues to recover from another frustrating Romano day.

Later that season, when Dr. Romano learns of the Benton - Corday relationship, he sends her a letter stating that he won't sponsor her for another year. This seems to be a very juvenile reaction. Why didn't he tell her face to face? Was he not man enough to do it in person? He doesn't seem to have a hard time giving harsh news to others.

Dr. Corday wants to stay but the only way she can is to become an intern again. At first, she's assigned to a resident. When that doesn't work out, Dr. Romano takes her onto his team. In another few episodes, a young female resident, Dr. Margaret Doyle, accuses Dr. Romano of sexual harassment. Doyle asks Corday to join her complaint and Corday agrees. In the next episode, Dr. Corday withdraws her charges, because Dr. Romano threatens to expose her romantic relationship with Benton, which is not allowed by hospital policy. It seems especially ludicrous that in that same episode, he is appointed Acting Chief of the ER. Dr. Romano is the only male doctor on the show who seems to be unable to have a normal relationship with another person.

The next season, Dr. Romano appoints Corday to be his assistant. He announces this in a staff meeting and she is clearly surprised. When she speaks to him later, stating that she has to decide whether she wants the position, he gives her a very brief time to make up her mind. She takes it because it's a very good opportunity but he basically assigns her all of the unpleasant administrative tasks of his job, saying that people will take disagreeable news better from her. Even though this is devious, I thought that maybe Dr. Romano might start to show some good characteristics. In other shows, detestable main characters often grow into more complex characters with feelings and reasons for their behaviors. Unfortunately, as of the seventh season, the short Dr. Romano character has not been given that opportunity.

Dr. Romano is played by Paul McCrane. In the bio section on NBC's Web site, he describes his character as

Gleefully malicious. You can't just hate him. Well, you can really hate him, but there's something that's sort of attractive in how much you want to strangle the guy.

One has to wonder if the actor sees any stereotyping.

Perhaps the most insidious aspect of the series is that Dr. Romano is actually not that short. At 5' 8", he is just a half inches below the average U. S. male height. Every other regular male doctor is significantly taller than the average American male:

Goran VisnjicDr. Luka Kovac  6' 4"
Anthony Edwards  Dr. Mark Greene  6' 2"
Eriq LaSalleDr. Peter Benton  6' 2"
Noah WyleDr. John Carter  6' 1"
Erik PalladinoDr. Dave Malucci  6' 0"
George ClooneyDr. Doug Ross  5' 11"
Paul McCraneDr. Robert Romano    5' 8"

The producers of ER seem to be telling us that a man must be especially tall to be giving, caring and successful in their personal and professional lives. Surely this shows the American bias toward tall men.