Friday, April 11, 2014

What I'm Watching Now: Emergency!

Sometimes life makes it difficult to commit yourself to even just one film. When I was in the midst of school, even taking 74 minutes out for a Movie of the Week was a daunting task. However, being the bull headed retro TV lover I am, I scaled back and made a compromise. I decided to just fall into the arms of episodic television. Even though these shows ran longer than the modern fare, they were still only 50 minutes apiece. Yet, I continued to struggle. (Look world, I needed a brain break, but I wanted to dive into the retro hues of 70s small screen offerings, can you help a girl out?) And, it was here in the throes of desired escapism that I discovered Emergency!

The first scene from the first episode of Emergency!
It was the perfect match for me. Although a single story tends to string an episode together (usually via funny moments at Station 51), the paramedics often jumped from one isolated rescue to the next. This meant that I could easily watch 20 minutes, get the meat of the story, and then drift off to academic dreamland (you know, where your dream has mathematics symbols floating amongst terminology like “hegemony” and “patriarchy”). All I had to remember from each episode is that Dr. Brackett is one dreamy cat and Dix ain’t taking your flack. It was easy-peasy!

Pitter-patter goes my heart...
After a few shots of the series, I became a full fledged junkie, staying up just a little later every night so I could venture farther and farther into the episodes. Before I knew it, I was wishing I’d gone to school to be a paramedic because I was so intrigued by the number of well organized boxes Johnny and Roy kept on their truck. I was also intrigued by Johnny and Roy who were adorable and heroic to boot! It was meant to be!

I am ashamed to admit that I was woefully ignorant when it came to this series. I'm not sure why, but despite my love of small screen car accidents, general chaos and things that go boom, Emergency was not registered on my radar. But I've seriously made up for it in the last few months and have seen almost every episode (granted some were only in pieces, but I'm getting there). Recently, Me-TV aired the Emergency finale TVM, and I dug up a bit of trivia for a live tweet. I don’t want to force anyone to scroll through my feed, so here are the highlights of what I learned about the series:

Robert Fuller, who played Dr. Kelly Brackett said no one thought the series would be successful. In an interview he revealed, “Everyone expected us to fold after the first thirteen weeks. But we surprised ‘em!”

Brackett and Dix were an item in the pilot TVM. I think she feels the same about him as I do!
Did they ever! The show ran for seven seasons, and it never veered from its original formula. The chemistry between Johnny Gage (Randolph Mantooth) and Roy DeSoto (Kevin Tighe) was practically intoxicating and came from a very real place. The two actors remain the best of friends and Tighe was even best man at Mantooth’s wedding in the early 2000s. Do I hear, “Awwww?” I’m sure I do.

Emergency co-creator Robert A. Cinader got the idea for a series when he was working on another project and interviewing firemen who seemed to have a lot of medical knowledge. Although we take it for granted now, the job of being a paramedic was a very new vocation in the early 1970s. With Jack Webb behind the production, the series took on that Webb-flair (if you will) of bare-bones procedural fare, and sometimes felt downright life-like. Cinéma vérité - Webb style!

When Emergency first aired on NBC on January 15th, 1972, there were only six paramedic units in the United States. The filmmakers were extremely serious about their programming and filmed in co-operation with the LA Fire Department. Many stories featured throughout the run of the series were based on actual events. This somewhat realistic approach is considered a catalyst for many who would become paramedics.

The filmmakers also hired Jim Page, an LA County Battalion Chief as their technical editor for the show. Mike Stoker (who played Mike Stoker!) was a real life fireman and a long-standing actor on the series.

The Stoker, yo!
Mike Norell, who played Captain Hank Stanley, is an accomplished TV movie writer. He penned several teleplays, including one of my faves, Three on a Date. Oh my gawd, it's love.

He might be putting out that fire, but he's ignited a different one in my heart!
Gorgeous singer Julie London was the ex-Mrs. Webb, and obviously remained on good terms with him because he invited her and her current hubby, the affable bandleader Bobby Troup to round out the cast. In an interview, London, who travelled a lot, said she embraced the chance to work on a series, stating, “I have three children at home and wanted to be with them instead of being a long distance mother from some hotel in a distant city.” She later commented that Troup, who played Dr. Joe Early (the slowest doctor ever) came to work with her even on days he wasn’t scheduled for filming. More awwws.

He might move a little slow, but Dr. Early rules. It's true.
Exteriors of the firehouse were provided by LA County Fire Department Station 127 in Carson, CA. The station house has since been renamed the Robert A. Cinader Memorial Fire Station. Rampart General was Harbor General Hospital, which is now known as the Harbor UCLA Medical Center in Torrace, CA.

For all your hospital action needs, please visit Rampart General.
As you may have guessed, the series has left a long and wonderful legacy. In 1972 a California Senator named Alan Cranston wrote a letter to Jack Webb stating, “Emergency has dramatized the potential of the paramedic.”

Paging the Gage Brigade... Paging the Gage Brigade...
Did you know that May 15th is Emergency Fest Day in Maryland? Well, it is.

Mantooth has a fan club who call themselves the Gage Brigade!

Malloy and Reed visit Dix at Rampart General.
Although Webb is most famous for his economical productions and deadpan delivery, he had a meta-moment on Emergency:

In the first episode titled The Wedsworth-Townsend Act, Officers Jim Reed (Kent McCord) and Pete Malloy (Martin Milner) from Adam-12 appear as a way to bridge the shows and perhaps attract curious Adam-12 fans. In this episode, the actors are clearly performing as their characters from the beloved series. And in an Adam-12 episode titled Lost and Found the Emergency crew repays the favor by appearing in an episode about a suicide hotline. However, in-between those two episodes, in the Emergency episode Hang Up, Johnny laments having to leave the station house right in the middle of an airing of Adam-12 for a rescue. It’s simply post-modern!

The guys of Station 47.
Also, Emergency’s legacy spread far and wide and into other non-Webb related shows:

The other day I watched a Quincy episode titled Cover Up, which originally aired on February 7th, 1980. In this episode, paramedics from Station 47 are called out to a bowling alley for a potential heart attack. They make their call to Rampart Emergency, but are told the patient seems OK so he can go to a smaller emergency room that is closer. Of course, with Quincy being a coroner and all, you can probably guess that this doesn’t end so well for the patient. Rampart would have been the obvious better choice!

All of that, just to say Emergency is streaming on Netflix and airing weekdays on Me-TV. It’s well worth checking out or rediscovering.



Barbara said...

Johnny and ROY, not Ray. I loved it too.

Amanda By Night said...

Fixed. Thanks! I did put Roy in one spot, so I was 33% OK. I'm not sure how I did that. :P

W.B. Kelso said...

Engine 51, Squad 51, 10-4, KMJ-365.

I admit, I tend to get a little too excited whenever they have to break out the foam.