'Emergency!' Kept Focus on Heroism, Not Hedonism

Not too many sirens sounded when WeTV announced it would be re-running episodes of "Emergency!" starting this fall.

Yet this is probably the best medical drama out there – even if it's a tad dated. The show first hit small screens in 1972 and ran until 1977 - with a series of "Emergency!" TV films stretching the run until 1979.

As a young kid, I used to watch this series in reruns, and it was arguably the first favorite show I had. Today, "Grey’s Anatomy" is the big medical drama, following on the heels of "ER." Yet both dramas, as well as "St. Elsewhere," put the focus on the doctors.

"Emergency!" highlighted the then-new paramedic program – and it had much of the authenticity that creator Jack Webb (best-known for his portrayal as Joe Friday in "Dragnet") sought to achieve. The other major medical dramas were, in essence, soap operas with the medicine in the background. "Emergency!" inverted that dynamic, and it's a better show for it.

The series stars were Kevin Tighe as Roy DeSoto and Randolph Mantooth as Johnny Gage, paramedics who are on the cutting edge. The show followed their efforts to deal with the many aspects of a paramedic’s job, from the off beat (one episode featured them helping a woman whose toe was stuck in the faucet) to the dangerous (major fires).

What is also notable is that there is none of the soap-opera elements that are in the current medical dramas. In a sense, this allows the stories to concentrate on the heroes, and the series never hesitates to show that some of them pay a price for their service.

Even the stars get injured and spend time in the hospital.

The doctors are also portrayed very well by Robert Fuller (Kelly Brackett), Bobby Troup (Joe Early), Ron Pinkard (Mike Morton) and Julie London as Dixie McCall. Other than hints of a romance between Dr. Brackett and Dixie early on, there is none of the melodramatic trappings seen on modern medical dramas. This actually heightens the show – portraying the doctors, nurses, paramedics, and firefighters as professionals and close friends. In the sense of the doctors, that was true for Fuller, McCall, and Troup in real life.

Another interesting note is that even as Vietnam was winding down, the series featured a number of characters who were well-adjusted veterans. McCall had served as a nurse in the Korean War, DeSoto had some service in the military, and Morton was a Navy veteran (Pinkard was a Navy Reserve officer who even served as technical advisor to the film versions of "Hunt for Red October" and "Flight of the Intruder").

While "Magnum, P.I." broke the Vietnam veteran stereotype in a huge fashion, "Emergency!" was already giving veterans a positive portrayal.

But most notable in this series is the teamwork that is often used to address the various emergencies. It is never a one-person show – far from it. There is teamwork to rescue the victims and get them treatment. They don’t always succeed, but they give it their best efforts and move on to the next case.

There is none of the one-upsmanship that happens in "Grey’s Anatomy." One such case was featured in the episode “The Hard Hours” – when Joe Early ends up needing heart surgery. Brackett’s handling of the matter is done professionally and with compassion. Yet they still push aside their concern to handle the emergencies that arise.

"Emergency!" remains a popular medical drama. It still holds its own, despite being 40 years old – a very impressive feat considering the subsequent advances in medicine. A reboot that held true to the original series could be a huge hit. But will Hollywood listen?


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