Emergency: Season One
The American television audience has always loved the drama surrounding medical procedures, with shows like Doctor Kildare and Ben Casey pioneering the hospital drama on TV. Collectively, we have also embraced the action of rescues shows, brave men risking their lives to save others. In 1972 Dragnet star and creator Jack Webb came up with a ground breaking new series that combined both of these genres, Emergency. Before this the American public never really saw anything that featured paramedics or EMTs (emergency medical technicians), a segment of the fire department that where trained to work via radio with doctors and nurses in a hospital and provide medical treatment at the scene of an accident. The series followed the exploits of Station 51 of the Los Angeles County Fire Department and Mayfair Rampart General Hospital located in Los Angeles. Paramedics Roy DeSoto (Kevin Tighe) and Johnny Gage (Randolph Mantooth) are typical of their profession, brave, resourceful and well trained in stabilizing a patient so they can live to see the hospital. As part of the fire department they worked closely with the firefighters who would help extract the patient from danger. One such fireman was Chet Kelly (Tim Donnelly) the squad cut-up, always ready with some strange practical joke but when it came to field work he was the consummate professional. My father-in-law was a fire chief and I remember watching this show with him, noticing a little smile on his face on the way they presented the mixture of humor and professionalism that every firehouse fosters. Back at the hospital there was Dr. Kelly Brackett (Robert Fuller), Dr. Joe Early (Bobby Troup) and the head nurse Dixie McCall (Julie London). It was their job to guide the paramedics, approving their on-site treatment plan and preparing the ER for the in coming patients. Together they formed a team, the likes of which television has never seen, devoted to saving lives.
The emergencies the squad responded to ranged from the mundane to the spectacular. There was a woman who was a victim of a traffic accident and was worried about her dog. As the woman is treated in the hospital Gage cares for the animal back at the house. There was a concern here for the patient as a person not just something to keep alive. Other episodes are concerned with everything from an outbreak of botulism on a movie set (I guess this was not a favorite of Craft Services on the lot) to hunting accidents and boy with his hand stuck in a very expensive vase. One of the more intense calls the squad encountered was a wild fire on the out skirts of the city. The paramedics have to dodge flaming debris to reach the victims. Of course the first season had to include the time honored emergency, a woman giving birth where there is no time to get to the hospital.
Each episode showed the balance needed in the firehouse and hospital between the serious mater of saving lives and blowing off some steam just to keep their perspective on their professions. These where fully fleshed out people, they had lives outside of work but always tried their best to not let it affect the job. It is rare even today to see a series blend drama, action and humor the way this one did. There was something for every taste and always entertaining. The plots hold up now as well as they did over thirty years ago. For the younger viewers what kid doesn’t love seeing fire trucks? The adults can get into the action and the way the various characters interact. Now it seems that most television shows target a specific demographic, Emergency was created for the whole family to enjoy together, what a concept!
The cast was excellent here; displaying a natural chemistry that helped to make this show what it was, fantastic. Kevin Tighe and Randolph Mantooth where perfectly cast as the heroic paramedics. With rugged good looks and an air or confidence they took each job the same whether it was routine or a huge disaster. Robert Fuller was the prerequisite young, idealistic doctor, the desire of every nurse on the service. Fuller was comfortable with the medical jargon and had the talent necessary to pull off the role. Juxtaposed to him was Bobby Troup has the older, somewhat wiser Doctor Early. He was in charge but always willing to listen to the input of others. Former recording artist Julie London played head nurse Dixie McCall to the hilt. She was a veteran of almost thirty years of films by the time she capped her acting career with Emergency. Together this cast succeeded in giving natural performances of people who see the worse in life for a living. There was never a forced moment as they presented their characters as fully formed individuals.
This series was the brain child of Jack Webb, star and creator of the famous Dragnet. As with all of his series he strove to show the professions presented in a realistic yet entertaining light. As with Dragnet, Emergency was actually used in training films, due to the eye for realism that Webb had. Webb had respect for the men and women that served the public and this love affair translated to the attention to detail he brought to the screen. When a police officer was needed on Emergency he often crossed over with another series of his, Adam-12. Webb was appalled by the growing drug problem and addresses the issue in each of his series. Here, the squad would respond to people who over dosed, showing the deadly danger of drugs without being preachy about it. Webb wanted others to share his devotion to the uniform services of the city but he never forgot that the main purpose of a television show was to entertain the public. He built a legacy for television that has never been equaled.
Once again Universal Studios brings memories to life. For those of us that remember television some thirty years ago box sets like the first season of Emergency are applauded with glee. While some folks protest the lack of family entertainment on television we can now pop a series like this into our DVD player and not worry about the age of the children in the room. The audio is in a fairly well done Dolby two channel mono. While light on the lower frequencies it does the job of providing clear dialogue. The full screen video did show a little sign of age with some scenes exhibiting muted colors and a few flecks here and there. Over all the treatment was very well done. Buy this set and watch it with your children, kudos to Universal for thinking about the fans and giving us our cherished memories to share with our kids.