How do television showrunners capture the experiences of firefighters, police officers, and
9-1-1 dispatchers? Ryan Murphy’s New Show ‘9-1-1’ Draws From Real
Emergency Management Teams
First Responders do important work. Firefighters, police officers, paramedics, and 9-1-1 dispatchers must manage a variety of emergency situations, and their experiences have long been a subject of fascination for television creators. In January, Fox will premiere a new television series titled 9-1-1 that focuses on the experiences of Los Angeles first responders. The show was created by Ryan Murphy (Glee, American Horror Story), and is inspired by the people who put their own lives on the line to help others. Police procedural dramas have been a staple of cable programming for years, but this show will offer a broader, more inclusive look at emergency personnel who respond to crises.
The responders in the show struggle to balance the intensity of their profession with the tumult of their own personal lives, addressing the emotional impact of high-stress emergency management. A day on the job for any firefighter, policeman, paramedic, or dispatch authority can be unpredictable, and the events depicted in the new 9-1-1 TV show will be based on real-life stories. Capturing these experiences accurately requires that the cast and crew have a deeper understanding of the lives and careers of first responders who handle these high-pressure scenarios to serve their communities.
What is "9-1-1" About?
The first preview of 9-1-1 aired during the World Series in late October. In the snippet, a 9-1-1 dispatcher at a public-safety answering point takes an emergency call. It’s not clear what the emergency is, but the trailer then cuts to several examples of urgent situations a first responder might encounter. “There are two types of emergency,” the dispatcher in the preview says in the voiceover. “The first kind is the kind we all have every day. Then there’s the second kind of emergency. The kind which comes without warning.”
According to the Hollywood Reporter, the show will primarily focus on 911 operators and the various emergency calls that come through the line. The series will portray the unpredictability of the job and might offer some insight on how emergency personnel can prepare for a variety of disasters or crises. The stories will be based off real-life recollections from 9-1-1 dispatchers, but few other details have been revealed about the show.
In the short clip that is available, a police team responds to a woman who is being suffocated by a boa constrictor. It appears to be a pet, but it's slowly tangled itself around the woman and is starting to cut off her air supply. The officers argue over how best to detach the creature while causing the least harm. It’s a ridiculous situation, but it makes a good point. First responders must be prepared for any scenario, no matter how unexpected. There is a whole scope of situations that first-responders can potentially find themselves in, from routine calls to high-risk, life-saving scenarios, and this series recognizes that reality.
The Research Process
Murphy cast actors in 9-1-1 with prior experience on procedural dramas. Angela Bassett, who is also an executive producer, will star as one of the responders on the law enforcement end. Peter Krause, who is best known for the drama Six Feet Under, and Connie Britton of Nashville fame will appear opposite. Their characters are not yet specified, but Oliver Stark, Aisha Hinds, Kenneth Choi, and Rockmand Dunbar will also play recurring characters. Choi most recently appeared on The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story. These stars have all appeared in dramas, and even other shows about the emergency response process or law enforcement, in the past, and they will be able to capture the high-stakes lifestyle of a first responder.
In another short preview of the show, Krause’s character, who is also a first responder, talks to a citizen about the pressure he faces in his profession. “The only way to survive the job is to find a way to cope with the ones you lose,” he says. “But in those moments where you actually save someone, there is no better feeling in the world.” It’s clear that the show isn’t going to shy away from the difficult situations that real-life teams face, and viewers can expect to see some tense moments on screen. Even in the brief trailer, the characters make explicit that the work is equally rewarding and challenging.
It’s obvious why a producer would want to mine the high-pressure career of first responders for a drama series, but it takes a lot of research to produce a show about emergency response. 9-1-1 isn’t the first show to focus on the experience of emergency managers, and other recent series have brought on consultants. For example, FX’s comedic hit Brooklyn 99, which follows the exploits of a New York City police precinct. These officers and detectives often end up in funny shenanigans, but they are competent detectives and the show does ultimately reveal some realities of the profession. The show gets into the nitty–gritty of police work and, for this reason, the showrunners regularly consult with law enforcement.
“We have two sets of technical advisers. We have a couple of guys who are fantastic who were in the Glendale police in California and who now do this, and they’re also private security consultants, and they work with police consultants all over the country, they’re really fantastic. And they’re really valuable, they actually have a lot of dealings with the NYPD, so they’re pretty useful for NYPD information,” Brooklyn 99 creator Michael Schur told The Washington Post. “But mostly they’re valuable for actual tactical expertise. Like, you would use this tool to go into that door, you would hold the gun this way, you would ask a perp this question, or you wouldn’t do this, or you wouldn’t do that.”
While this television series might present a dramatization of real-life events, or in the case of Brooklyn 99 compromise verisimilitude for comedy, showrunners still do their best to capture the reality of the profession at stake. Wisdom of the Crowd, a procedural drama that recently premiered on CBS, follows a team of detectives who use real-life crowdsourcing technology to solve crimes. Production companies and audiences have a long-held fascination with the work of emergency management teams, and by paying attention to trends in security safety, these shows capture real strategies that teams across the country are implementing.
9-1-1 will premiere on January 3rd, at 9-10PM ET/PST on Fox. The series will provide a close-up look at the important work that law enforcement, paramedics, and firefighters do on a daily basis, and audiences will have to tune in to learn more.
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