Way back when I was young, there was one think I looked forward to on Saturday nights, and that was the show Emergency!. This was a heroic show for kids at the time, and was probably the reason a lot of people around my age went into the rescue profession. It’s something that always made me think about doing it myself, and now when I watch this show with my kids, I do sometimes still think that I should have done just that.
Created by Jack Webb, known for television shows such as Dragnet and Adam-12, Emergency! was about a fire station in Los Angeles with a paramedic squad. Paramedics were just being introduced in various cities around the country at the time, and this show probably helped those programs along. The other setting was Rampart Hospital. Most rescues in the series followed it from the call to the firehouse to the rescue scene to the ambulance ride and into the Emergency Room.
The two main characters were Paramedic John Gage, portrayed by Randolph Mantooth, and Paramedic Roy DeSoto, portrayed by Kevin Tighe. Gage was single while DeSoto was a family man. Although Mantooth was more popular at the time it was Tighe who went on to have a bigger acting career following this series. Other actors were used to round out the firestation, and a real firefighter with an SAG card was used to drive the trucks.
At Rampart, there were three doctors and a nurse in the lead cast, Dr. Kelly Brackett was portrayed by Robert Fuller, Dr. Joe Early was portrayed by Bobby Troup (who wrote the song Route 66), and nurse Dixie McCall was portrayed by Julie London. Although Brackett and McCall were romantic interests on the show, in real life it was London and Troup who were husband and wife. There was also an African-American doctor (complete with 70’s afro) in the hospital emergency room. Dr. Mike Morton was portrayed by Ron Pinkard and it was something unusual to see, although he didn’t get in the opening credits and was sometimes missing from an episode.
Episodes of Emergency! usually combined some humor, usually about what was going on at the fire-station during the down time between calls, with drama surrounding the rescue and treatment. Before Emergency! aired, most of the medical dramas on television tended to be melodramatic and sometimes had more in common with the afternoon soap operas than what happened in real hospitals.
Emergency! didn’t &”dumb down” to the audience, neither when the crews were battling blazes or other emergencies, nor when medical care was being administered. The characters talked the way they would have talked for real. In many ways, this was the precursor to shows such as ER which has featured both Mantooth and Tighe is guest spots, albeit separately. However, a lot of the graphic nature of injuries shown on ER is missing from Emergency!. It’s something that the entire family can view together and learn from.
The camera work is great, especially for its time. It seems as if a lot of hand-held cameras are used (not easy considering the size of cameras at the time), giving it the realistic feel many drama shows aim for today with similar techniques. The theme music and soundtrack is by Nelson Riddle. It’s got that sort of build up to peril with loud brass horns, especially when it accompanies the squad truck racing down the street on a call.
This first season lays the groundwork, having Paramedics Gage and DeSoto meet during the inception of the paramedic program in Los Angeles County. The audience sees personalities, although they are not as fleshed-out as they become in later seasons. Dr. Brackett, who seems infallible later on, is downright curmudgeonly in Season One. He intimidates nurses and at times is belligerent to both the patients and the paramedics. It’s Dixie who reels him in and shuts him down when he’s acting like this, and it’s Dr. Early who really sets the calm, reasoned tone at the hospital.
Some of the episodes were remarkably prophetic, such as the story of a girl trapped in a well in the episode Publicity Hound. It was just a few years later I would see similar footage of little Jessica McClure being taken out of a much deeper well in similar fashion to what’s shown here.
The DVDs contain no special features, my one major complaint. It would have been nice to have commentary from some of the stars that are still alive (Julie London and Bobby Troup are no longer with us). The transfer itself is pretty good. It’s not as crisp and clean as more recent television shows, but I didn’t notice problems with the picture suddenly getting fuzzy or out of focus. The quality was pretty consistent all the way through.
Emergency! is not like many of the other shows from the 1970’s, except for those clothes! Although in later seasons it seemed to become a bit predictable (every show had to have a fire, usually the last call they went out on) when it’s fresh and new it has a great impact. The characters aren’t as fleshed out as they are later in the series, but I didn’t mind it as I felt like I was getting to know them as they were getting to know each other.
Disc 1, Side A
The Wedsworth-Townsend Act Original TV Movie – The television movie that started the series introduces the concept of paramedics, something that was brand-new at the time of the series. It introduces the recurring characters in the series and shows how and why Dr. Brackett opposed the program, but finally relents in the end. For the first and only time in the series, Roy’s often-talked-about wife Joanna is seen.
John Gage is with a rescue squad battling a fire when another fireman is injured. His Captain urges him to enter the new paramedic program, but Gage resists until he rescues a man electrocuted on a pole and sees the good that could be done with the program. Dr. Brackett battles the implementation of the program because he sees it as putting amateurs in the field doing what doctors should be doing.
Kent McCord and Martin Milner from Adam-12 make a guest appearance in the movie. Bobby Troup is seen playing the piano here, as an homage to his career as a songwriter/composer. There’s also the case of a baby rabbit stuck in a French horn, and Gage and DeSoto must deal with having to stop by the hospital for a registered nurse (Dixie) whenever they go out on a call with injuries.
The Mascot – Johnny and Roy respond to an auto accident where a woman has been injured, and Johnny promises her that he’ll take care of her dog for her. Meanwhile they go out on calls for a practical joker who appears is having a heart attack, although his friends don’t believe him, and the difficult rescue of an injured hunter. Rampart General deals with a woman with breathing difficulties and a man who initially appears to be drunk.
Botulism – After being the target of repeated practical jokes, Johnny wants revenge. The squad rescues a man on a smokestack with a broken back, a woman who fakes an illness every time she quarrels with her husband, a building collapse with a child trapped, and a case of botulism from a pot-luck luncheon. At Rampart General Hospital, Dixie and Dr. Brackett quarrel over his treatment of the student nurses and part of Dr. Early’s stethoscope gets stuck in his ear.
Disc 1, Side B
Cook’s Tour – Johnny delivers a baby that’s cyanotic from Rh factor, a kid who lost the keys to a set of handcuffs his friend is wearing, a sixteen year old kid who is having cardiac problems as the result of drugs, a man who gets electrocuted while working on a washing machine, and a man trapped on a crane when he changes his mind after attempting suicide. Rampart General Hospital deals with a boy with his hand stuck in a priceless vase
Brush Fire – While the station is dispatched to help fight a fairly large brush fire, Johnny and Roy help an elderly lady with a broken ankle, an injured fireman, help an injured man, deliver a baby, respond to a motorcycle accident and inadvertently uncover a looter, and find a boy’s lost dog.
Dealer’s Wild – Tired of always losing at cards and getting stuck with dish detail, Johnny creates his own card game. Roy talks down a kid stuck in a private airplane after his father who was piloting has an apparent heart attack. The squad also responds to an attempted suicide, a tanker-truck accident at a chemical plant with injuries, an apparent overdose while tripping,
Disc 2, Side A
Nurse’s Wild – While Johnny pursues a nurse who has rejected him, the squad responds to a shooting at a liquor store, an unconscious woman whose dog prevents her being taken care of, and a pipe fitter who’s taken a fall at a chemical plant. The hospital treats an alcoholic going through withdrawal and a hippie who has apparently overdosed.
Publicity Hound – Johnny is jealous of a fellow paramedic who has become the darling of the local media. Meanwhile, they rescue a main trapped in a sailboat’s rigging after taking a fall and Johnny subsequently becomes seasick. They also rescue a horse trapped in a ditch on the way back from a false alarm and a child stuck in a well. Doctor Brackett deals with a rich man who has tried to cover up his son’s illness and then blames Doctor Brackett for his treatment. Dr. Early trains other doctors on the use of new equipment.
Weird Wednesday – As if to prove Johnny right, the squad responds to a series of strange rescues. A woman with a parachute is stuck in a tree, an overweight man collapses while jogging, a man trapped in a freezer after he tried to cryogenically freeze himself, a woman golfer who has been bitten by a snake, and a drunk-driving accident rescue where Johnny gets hurt. Roy also snaps the key off in the ignition of the rescue truck.
At the hospital an 80 year old woman breaks her ankle while dancing at her birthday party and wants to refuse treatment, a man can’t stop hiccupping, and a man with chest pains brought in by a hooker.
A very young William Katt (Greatest American Hero) is in this episode.
Disc 2, Side B
Dilemma – While the squad attends to a man is stuck inside an elevator which is trapped between floors, a man who is injured in an accident at his junkyard, and two men exposed to toxic fumes while cleaning railroad tank cars. Johnny deals with the affections of a fireman-groupie.
At the hospital, Dr. Brackett intimidates a student nurse.
Hang Up – The squad gets a call right at the end of a good episode of a television show, and Johnny is frantic to find out what happened. They respond to a burglar stuck in an air conditioning duct, and a laboratory explosion where they are exposed to radiation.
Rampart General Hospital deals with two men involved in a fight who start it up again when they meet at the hospital, an obnoxious man whose ruined the cast for his broken leg by going surfing, and someone they think is faking and illness for the drugs only to find out she’s really sick.
Crash – A boy who was tackled too hard playing football is brought into the hospital. Dr. Early also must treat a hypochondriac who he’s seen before and a child who has swallowed medication is brought in by his babysitter.
Meanwhile, something seems to be upsetting Johnny that he won’t talk about. The squad responds to a man with a heart attack whose wife seems evasive when questioned, and a small plane crash in a remote part of the county that they must get to by helicopter and walk in. When they get there, they find the plane and passengers stuck up near the top of a tall tree.
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