La Salle Scrubs Out of ER
July 30 -- ER's resident grumpy doc's days are numbered. Eriq La Salle, who plays perpetually cranky surgeon Peter Benton, is leaving the Thursday night NBC drama to concentrate on his directing career.
The thrice-Emmy-nominated actor, who has been with the show since its first episode, in 1994, had made no secret of the fact that he wanted to leave the show after his latest, three-year, $27 million contract expires next May.
"It is extremely difficult to lose a cast member that is so integral to our show," executive producer John Wells said in a statement about La Salle's decision. "Eriq La Salle has been one of the central figures on ER from day one and we are disappointed that he will be departing from the series after this season. We look forward to working with him this year and wish him the best in his future endeavors."
NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker said, "We're sorry that Eriq won't continue on ER, but we are thrilled he will be around for one more year. We thank him for his enormous contributions toward making the show America's top-rated drama for seven years."
La Salle, 39, began directing in 1996, when he completed two short films, Rebound: The Legend of "Earl the Goat" Manigault and Psalms of the Underground. He also shot the Showtime pilot for Soul Food and more recently directed the indie Crazy as Hell, which is in post-production.
He also plans to continue making films through his Warner Bros.-based production company, Humble Journey Films. He'll next be seen in front of the camera in the Robin Williams thriller One Hour Photo.
Reuters/Variety contributed to this story.