“Emergency Call,” a 10-episode alternative series described by one of its executive producers as “a very raw and very real show” about emergency call takers, premieres at 10 p.m. Monday evening on ABC.
“The truth is certainly stranger than fiction in the real world of emergency calls,” Adeline Ramage Rooney told City News Service. “What these heroes deal with can have you laughing out loud and weeping in the same act of television.”
“Emergency Call” follows the moments leading up to the arrival of help, rather than the events after paramedics, firefighters and police officers arrive. It is based on the Flemish series “De Noodcentrale” (“The Emergency Center”).
“We were researching for a show on all the emergency services — police, ambulance, fire, 911 — that were on alert at night,” said Mikhael Cops, a co-founder of the production company De Chinezen, which produces “De Noodcentrale.”
“We wanted to make a broad program, with `the night’ as the uniting factor. When we finally were allowed in to the 911 department, one of seven we were researching, after signing all the waivers, we started listening to calls and were immediately hooked.”
The American version was pitched to several networks in 2018 “and got multiple offers,” said Rooney, who has been an executive producer of the Gordon Ramsay-hosted Fox series, “MasterChef,” “MasterChef Junior” and “Kitchen Nightmares.”
“We chose to go with ABC because they really believed in it and we felt they were committed to getting it right by making a pilot first,” Rooney said.
The pilot was shot in Austin, Texas in spring 2019.
Rooney said she and showrunner Grant Kahler then spent “a lot of time figuring out how to then adapt the show further for series.”
“We knew we wanted to add more cities to represent more of the whole country, the very diverse geography and people,” Rooney said.
“One of the biggest challenges for a show like this is persuading multiple local government-controlled agencies and departments that you will treat them fairly and be accurate in the representation of their processes and people and also be highly aware of protecting identities of the citizen callers. Once we got that all figured out, we got the series order in early 2020.”
Agreements were later reached to record the actions of call takers in New Orleans, Ogden, Utah, Waukesha, Wisconsin and Wasilla, Alaska, where former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin was mayor from 1996-2002.
The series was ordered earlier this year, with shooting beginning in June.
Monday’s episode includes segments on a woman whose car was stolen with her child in the back seat; a 9-year-old performing CPR on her grandfather; teenage hikers fending off a potential bear attack; and a man lost in the woods for hours with barely any battery life left on his cellphone.
Next Monday’s episode includes segments on a mother of three choking on a spatula; a teenager attack at a bonfire party in the wilderness; the disappearance of a 2-year-old girl; and two women stranded on a highway after their car was involved in back-to-back hit-and runs.
Episodes will be available on demand and on Hulu they day after they air.
“Emergency Call” is hosted by actor Luke Wilson, who is also one of its executive producers.
“Since I was a kid, I have always been interested in people who help, people who save people,” said Wilson, best known for his roles in “Idiocracy,” “My Super Ex-Girlfriend,” “The Ridiculous 6,” “Old School,” “Bottle Rocket,” “The Royal Tenenbaums,” “Blue Streak,” “Bongwater” and “Legally Blonde.”
“When you’re younger, you might be drawn toward superheroes or fictional characters, but as you get older you come to realize that people who help, real-life heroes, are just regular people who do extraordinary things. 911 call takers don’t just save people, they calm and console people until they are safe. They are the first link in the chain of first responders.”
Wilson “brings an innate curiosity and fascination to this world and its people which translates really well onto screen,” Rooney said.
“He helps break down calls and processes for the viewer,” Rooney said. “He has spent time in 911 call centers researching the skill set required of the call takers and technology involved in 911 and getting to know call takers and dispatchers. He helps the viewer navigate the stories and also lends a little levity at times to a show that, by default, has some very sad and heavy storylines.”
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