A tribute today to a favorite TV show of my youth, Emergency! (1972-1977). Emergency! was a Jack Webb show (co-produced by others) that transplanted the successful “partners” motif he’d employed in Dragnet and Adam-12 to a firehouse milieu. Of even greater interest was the that the show’s two stars, Randolph Mantooth and Kevin Tighe, portrayed paramedics, which was a completely novel concept at the time.
Each episode typically shifted back and forth between three settings: down time in the station-house, full of boredom and and banter; exciting rescues; and interaction with hospital staff, played by the husband wife team of songwriter Bobby Troup and singer Julie London (old friends of Webb’s from his jazz days; London was actually Webb’s ex-wife); and Robert Fuller (best known from western TV shows like Laramie and Wagon Train).
But as I say paramedics were a brand new thing at the time. When the show launched, there were just six paramedic units in three pilot programs in all of America. It was this TV show that helped popularize the idea, which consisted of training some rescue workers to stabilize accident victims in situ so they’d have a better chance of making it to the emergency room.
It’s funny to watch the show after all these years. Considered the height of heart-pounding procedural realism at the time, it’s been superseded in all kinds of ways from a story telling point of view since then. Modern television captures something of the chaos and mess of emergency care. In Emergency! which is set in Los Angeles, a city of several million people, the accident victims have the good manners to suffer their mishaps one at time, before being treated by two paramedics, and then transported to a hospital that seems to have a staff of three (who always seem to be just conveniently waiting around for a patient, never constantly juggling dozens like real emergency room doctors and nurses). And you never see blood, injuries, or unsettling symptoms. Standards and Practices, you know. So the actors playing accident victims just kind of lie down and groan a lot.
Mantooth has to have been the goofiest action hero/ sex symbol ever to enjoy mass popularity. Come to think of it, gap-toothed Tighe, presented as the more solid of the pair, seems just about as goofy. Then there was one Chet (Tim Donnelly), the station-house cutup, who was somehow supposed to be goofier than these two goofy guys! The whole show was like Archie comics with no Archie and no Reggie: only Jughead. Everyone at LA County FD 51 was Jughead!
But the show did its work. In ensuing decades “first response” at accidents and disasters became incredibly sophisticated and it continues to evolve. This show absolutely helped muster political will to allocate resources for such a thing. Countless lives have been saved as a result.
After Emergency!, producer Jack Webb set his sights even higher: the heavens. His next show was Project U.F.O.
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