...it's extremely interesting to watch emergency workers do their jobs during the infancy of the profession.

William D. Lee's picture

"Emergency!" holds an important place in history and not just because it was an incredibly successful and popular television series. The show debuted as a midseason replacement in 1972 and at the time paramedics, like the ones "Emergency!" centered on, were a brand new concept. The series was credited with popularizing the idea and cities across the American began initiating their own paramedical programs. Many fans have made it known that the show inspired them as well to become paramedics. In fact, teen idol Bobby Sherman became a trained EMT following a guest appearance on one episode. Sherman eventually went on to teach CPR and first-aid techniques to trainees of the LAPD and San Bernadino Sheriff Department. You can chalk this up to the attention to details that producer/co-creator Jack Webb strived for. Webb is best known as the creator and star of cop show "Dragnet" ("Just the facts, ma'am."). Webb hoped to pay tribute to real-life police officers through a realistic portrayal of the LAPD. He followed up "Dragnet" with another cop show, "Adam-12", with co-creator Robert A. Cinader. Together, the duo succeeded in replicating that same type of realism and compelling stories with "Emergency!" The series was so beloved that it even spawned an animated spin-off called "Emergency +4."

The lead characters of "Emergency!" were two firefighters for the Los Angeles County Fire Department out of Fire Station 51. The first is Roy DeSoto, played by Kevin Tighe who most folks might know as Locke's father on "Lost." DeSoto is a veteran fireman and a devoted family man. This is in stark contrast to his younger partner Johnny Gage, played by the awesomely named Randolph Mantooth. Gage is more impulsive and a bit of a hound dog when it comes to the ladies. DeSoto and Gage have received emergency medical training as first-responders to wherever they're needed. The pair coordinates their life-saving efforts with the staff working out of Rampart General Hospital's emergency room. They include Dr. Kelly Brackett (Robert Fuller), a stoic doctor instrumental in the training of DeSoto and Gage; Dr. Joe Early (Bobby Troup who wrote the song "Route 66"), a kindly neurosurgeon with a warm bedside manner; and Dixie McCall (Julie London), the beautiful, no-nonsense head nurse. Interestingly enough, at the time of filming the series, London was married to Troup. Prior to "Emergency!", she was married to producer Jack Webb. In a semi-recurring role was Ron Pinkard as Dr. Mike Morton, an African-American intern. Rounding out Fire Station 51 were Chet Kelly (Tim Donnelly), noted for his practical jokes and wisecracks; Marco Lopez (Marco Lopez), the token minority; Mike Stoker, a real-life firefighter who drove the station's fire engine; and Captain Hank Stanley (Michael Norrell).

Before "Emergency!", audiences were used to medical dramas such as "Ben Casey", "Dr. Kildare", and "Marcus Welby, M.D." which showed the ins and outs of the hospital staff and patients. Here, audiences were made aware of what happens before patients arrive at the hospital. The series popularized CPR techniques. Some viewers actually utilized procedures they saw on the show to save others. Webb's insistence on details pops up again with the medical speak that many of the characters use ("…start lactate ringers…defibrillate…"). This was long before "ER." The characters were never portrayed as superheroes either. While most episodes would include a spectacular emergency in its third act (such as a plane crashing into a school bus), many of the calls the paramedics answered ranged from serious to mundane. There are the typical car accidents, kids trapped in sewer pipes, and heart attacks. Some emergencies are just plain silly, like when DeSoto and Gage help a woman trapped in her doggie door. Or when they try to assist a stock boy from removing the wedding ring of his boss before her jealous, short-tempered husband arrives for work. In one of the funnier moments of the series, the firefighters arrive at the home of a man suffering from a herniated disk and stuck in his waterbed. He refuses to allow any of the emergency workers from touching the expensive waterbed to move him off. Fed up, his wife just stabs the thing with a long, kitchen knife.

The formula of each episode followed DeSoto and Gage answering an emergency call in the cold opening, radioing the hospital staff on the victim's conditions and the proper treatment to use, the patient being taken care of in the emergency room, and a few other calls unrelated to the main plot. Mixed in with the rescue scenes is the hospital drama focusing on the lives of the staff and patients.

Season four is spread out among five discs and the episodes included are as follows:

-Disc 1-
"The Screenwriter" – The firehouse's usual routine is disrupted by an intrusive writing doing research for his latest film.

"I'll Fix It" – An oil well erupts right underneath a suburban home, a teenager who's read plenty of medical books tries to tell the doctors how to treat him and Chet vows to repair a boy's mini-bike. Bond villain, Richard Kiel, guest-stars as a jealous husband.

"Gossip" – Gage and DeSoto attempt to get to an unconscious guard trapped inside an armored car and Nurse McCall tries to stem rampant gossip in the ER.

"Nagging Suspicion" – Gage and DeSoto deal with problems large and small from a man pricked by a cactus to a girl attacked by a lion.

-Disc 2-
"Communication Gaffe" – Arriving at the aftermath of a police shootout, Gage and DeSoto are pressured to give priority treatment to a wounded officer rather than the more seriously injured perpetrator.

"Surprise" – While planning a surprise birthday party for Nurse McCall, the hospital staff realizes just how important she is when she's knocked out of commission due to a twisted ankle and concussion.

"Daisy's Pick" – The firefighters compete for the chance to go out with a beautiful, new nurse at the same time they must put out a theater fire and rescue a man frozen inside a refrigeration plant.

"Quicker Than the Eye" – The emergency staff do their best to save a pregnant woman who was accidentally shot and the boys at the firehouse try to get revenge on Chet and his practical jokes.

"Foreign Trade" – While the paramedics attempt to save a woman dangling over the edge of a drawbridge, Nurse McCall does her best with budget cuts that have hampered her staff. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar guest-stars as a basketball player injured in an auto accident.

-Disc 3-
"Camera Bug" – Nurse McCall and Dr. Brackett try to deliver a woman's baby in the middle of a restaurant and Johnny takes on a new hobby, photography.

"The Firehouse Four" – Gage and DeSoto rescue the same man four times when his various attempts to exercise land him in severe trouble.

"Details" – Growing tired of the bachelor life, Johnny falls for a woman he helps only to discover she's the mother of three hellacious kids. An overweight nightclub dancer is brought to the ER after fainting.

"Parade" - Gage and DeSoto restore an old fire engine from the 1920's for a parade, but must rely on the outdated equipment to handle a big blaze.

-Disc 4-
"The Bash" – Gage and DeSoto are invited to a fancy Hollywood shindig after rescuing a movie star (played by Adam West) from an angry bear.

"Transition" – A former football player and old friend of Gage finds his new career as a paramedic very daunting while DeSoto is sprayed with cobra venom on a rescue.

"Smoke Eater" – When Captain Stanley goes on vacation, he's temporarily replaced by an old-fashioned captain who disapproves of the paramedic program. Sid Haig guest-stars as a rowdy biker who gives the hospital staff some trouble.

"Kidding" – Gage has his hands full when he's asked to conduct a hospital tour for school children as the firefighters deal with a hostage situation, a suicide attempt and a plane crash.

"Prestidigitation" – The paramedics try to rescue a magician attempting a dangerous escape act and the ER staff operates on Dr. Brackett's father.

-Disc 5-
"It's How You Play the Game" – It's up to Kelly to win the ball game at the Fireman's Picnic and a man gets trapped with a tiger.

"The Mouse" - The boys from Station 51 have a real mess on their hands when a plane crashes into the side of an apartment building. Kelly tries to rid the firehouse of a pesky mouse problem.

"Back-Up" – Keenan Wynn guest-stars as an aging cowboy who fakes his injuries to gain attention and Gage complains about the ridiculous calls they answer that take away from the real emergencies.

"905-WILD" – The firefighters team up with the city's Animal Control Department when a canyon fire endangers numerous animals.

The video is presented in fullscreen. The picture looks pretty good considering the age of the show. There is some substantial print damage in certain sections. Really bad scratches, dirt, and splotches spring up from time to time. There are also a couple instances where the picture jumps about.

The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono.

None, except a few previews that play before the menu on Disc 1.

This is my first exposure to "Emergency!", but I was able to jump right in without any previous knowledge. It does feel dated and there are moments of melodrama that go a little too over-the-top. I'm talking about points where the characters turn dramatically to face the camera as the music swells up behind them. Still, it's extremely interesting to watch emergency workers do their jobs during the infancy of the profession, long before cell phones and other modern devices we take for granted.


Film Value