When Me-TV announced its fall line-up and announced they’d be showing Emergency! I was excited. A 70’s show that I had vague knowledge of, but had never seen! Yes!
Emergency focused on two paramedic fire fighters, John Gage (Randolph Mantooth) and Roy DeSoto (Kevin Tighe), in the fledgling paramedic program and the doctors and head nurse in the emergency department at Rampart General Hospital, Dr. Kelly “Kel” Brackett (Robert Fuller), Dr. Joe Early (Bobby Fuller), and Nurse Dixie McCall (Julie London). Gage and DeSoto were usually joined by their fellow firefighters at Station 51: Captain Henry “Hank” Stanley (Mike Norell), Chet Kelly (Tim Donnelly), Marco Lopez (Marco Lopez), and Mike Stoker (Mike Stoker). Many times they were joined at the scene by Officer Vince (Vince Howard). The emergency room staff were also aided by the capable, but sometimes harsh Dr. Joe Morton (Ron Pinkard).
The show was a real ensemble and the episodes did a good job with that concept, following pretty much the same formula. The opening established the story line for the show and was usually followed pretty quickly by the firefighters responding to their first call of the show. From there, between calls and patients at the hospitals (some more comical than others), the story line was worked out until a resolution at the end, usually following a big rescue of some kind. Some episodes focused more on the paramedics/firefighters and some focused more on the emergency room staff, but the overall show maintained a pretty good balance of both.
Being the 70’s, there was no shortage of familiar faces popping up on the show, including Adam West, Jo Anne Worley, Ruth Buzzi, Dick Van Patten, Grant Goodeve, Mark Harmon (as an animal control officer in a possible pilot), Jamie Farr, Robert Alda, Marion Ross, Sharon Gless, Tony Dow (Wally turned to crime in this ep), Larry Manetti, Joyce Jameson, Dabbs Greer, Melissa Gilbert, Nick Nolte, Ron Masak, John Travolta, Yvonne Craig (Batgirl, to you), Linda Gray, Linda Dano, and Jack DeLeon (Marty Morrison from Barney Miller).
One really cool thing about the show was the use of real firefighters in the cast. In the first season real LACoFD Captain Dick Hammer (as himself) headed Engine 51 (he was followed by John Smith as Captain Hammer before Mike Newell took over as Captain Stanley). LACoFD Mike Stoker was with the show for its run. And the oft-heard, rarely-seen dispatcher was LACoFD dispatcher Sam Lanier.
The inclusion of the real firefighters in the show lent to the realism of the whole shebang. I realize there are mistakes in the rescue, response, and ER scenes. But as someone who is not an authority on 1970’s paramedic/firefighter/doctor/nurse procedures, those scenes look legit (except for the lack of blood in some scenes; they are a bit clean on this show). I find some of the big rescues at the end of the episodes pretty spectacular to watch because they feel real. I don’t feel like I’m looking at multiple takes of something. I’m watching two paramedics jumping into the ocean to get a guy out of a sinking helicopter. I’m watching two doctors examine a guy with internal injuries. There’s nothing forced or staged-feeling about it (usually).
And if you’re viewing this like a bit of film from a time capsule (as I like to do with my reruns), it’s wild to basically watch the infancy of the paramedic program that we’ve all grown very used to today. It’s also pretty wicked to see the ginormous walkie talkies the firemen use and the box of phone (bio-phone) that the paramedics use to call Rampart Hospital.
When I first started watching the show, I admit that I found John Gage to be a little annoying and I had doubts that I was going to be able to put up with him. But after a few episodes, he grew on me and the interaction between him and Roy DeSoto is wonderful. There’s a great chemistry there. Also, Chet Kelly has one of the greatest mustaches ever to grace a fire department and he holds a special place in my heart now. Watching Nurse McCall keep Dr. Brackett and Dr. Early in line is great fun.
If you’re looking to be hips deep in personal drama like on Grey’s Anatomy or ER, look elsewhere. The characters do have their stories, but nothing soap opera-ish. Which I appreciate. There seem to be streaks of characters getting injured. Obviously, that’s part of the risk of being a firefighter, but I swear Gage got hurt three times in one week during the big rescue at the end. Of course, anyone injured is usually back the next episode feeling fine.
Some of the most believable calls/rescues/patients are the most ridiculous ones. The family that thinks their mother is dead but she’s only napping, the guy who thinks he’s been cursed, the guy who accidentally glues his hands to a model ship, but doesn’t want the ship destroyed to unglue his hands, the girl that gets her head stuck in a chair (okay, that wasn’t on the show; I really did that when I was a kid). You have no idea how many calls first responders get that are really like this. The truth is stranger than fiction and this show definitely captures that with some of the absurd incidents. But, like I said, the way those scenes are done, you go right along with it.
It’s the big, dramatic incidents that I sometimes have trouble with. I’ll read the episode summaries and be like, “A plane crashes into an apartment building? Come on!” And then I’ll watch the episode and be like, “A plane crashed into an apartment building! Help! Help!” It’s all in the delivery, I suppose.
I could be easily impressed, too. Always a possibility.
Either way, this show became a quick favorite and I hope it sticks around on my TV for a long time. I need the opportunity to watch these episodes a few times.