The core cast of Emergency!note From left to right, Dr. Joe Early (Bobby Troup), FF/PM Roy DeSoto (Kevin Tighe), FF/PM John Gage (Randolph Mantooth), Dr. Kelly Brackett (Robert Fuller), Nurse Dixie McCall (Julie London)
Emergency! is the first TV show to show the lives of paramedics. This was a very well-done and medically accurate show which inspired countless children to want to be in Squad 51, and supposedly many communities to get their own paramedics. An hour-long drama, it had elements of comedy, drama, angst, and many other things in its episodes, and though it had a shorter run, could be said to be a domestic version of one of the best shows ever in the field, M*A*S*H. It was also responsible for popularizing nationwide the concept of paramedics.The origin of the show was when TV producer Robert A. Cinader came to Los Angeles to look into creating a standard Medical Drama. Once there, he learned of the paramedic program, which was just getting started, and realized it was a dynamite idea to create a show based around brave firefighters going about their duties. Executive producer Jack Webb of Dragnet fame added his trademark strict attention to accuracy and the first and most famous live-action Rescue TV show was born.Even today, the show inspires many, many people to become EMTs and paramedics. It's a fair bet that any EMT/paramedic in the U.S. who started work between 1979 and 1995 was inspired by this show either in its first run or reruns.Followed/accompanied — as was virtually standard practice in the 1970s — by a comic book series and an animated Saturday morning series, Emergency +4, in which the Emergency paramedics were saddled with the requisite four kids and dog. After the live-action show ended, six made-for-TV movies aired in the late '70s; Gage and DeSoto were the only regular characters to appear in all six films.Currently airing reruns on MeTV, an over-the-air network that is usually on the .2 signal of a network affiliate (Example: KAKE Ch. 10.2 in Wichita, Kansas.). It's also available on Netflix and Hulu, as well as NBC's classic television webpage.
Emergency! provides examples of the following tropes:
'70s Hair: The show is a veritable time capsule of '70s hair styles: sideburns (Dr. Brackett and DeSoto), feathered mullets (Gage), Pornstache (Kelly and Marco), and the Afro (Dr. Morton). Gage starts with a fairly conservative haircut in the pilot, but you'd swear he never had another haircut for the entire rest of the show's run as he grows out that feathered mullet.
All for Nothing: In the Pilot Movie, the thing that convinces John Gage to become a paramedic is when he rescues an electrocuted line man and because the lineman didn't get any life saving treatment before transport to the hospital, he was hopelessly terminal by the time he arrived. As John remarks, "Rescue, Hell. All we rescued was a corpse."
Always on Duty: Carefully averted. The engine and squad get called out separately quite often, and the paramedics usually stop active involvement in cases at the hospital doors.
As Himself: Chief Houtz in one episode, and real "original sixteen" paramedic Bob Bellveau in a couple of other cameos.
As Long as It Sounds Foreign: Firefighter Marco Lopez (played by Marco Lopez) would sometimes be called upon to translate for a Spanish-speaking victim or witness. However, for some inexplicable reason, some of these conversations consisted of nothing but meaningless babbling between Lopez and the extra, even if the extra obviously could speak Spanish.
Author Avatar: In the pilot - which was directed by Jack Webb - DeSoto gives Gage a very Joe Fridayish dressing down on the importance of the Paramedic training program.
Battleaxe Nurse: The older nurse whom Gage, and later Roy and Marco, get stuck with in "The Nuisance". She was a mild case, but was generally grumpy and disagreeable. She tended to yell at John a lot, and seemed to think she had to be tough due to her background in wartime Korea.
Bloodless Carnage: Although there wasn't a lot of messy injuries to begin with due to '70s TV standards, even injuries that normally would be expected have a degree of blood had little to none, due to the "no bloody injuries" stipulation the censors made the producers abide by.
Board Game: The show had one, the object to get your color firetruck to the most completed rescues on the map/ playing board.
Busman's Holiday: Several of the movies. Also occasionally happens during the show, including one instance where a man had a heart attack on a plane they were flying in. Conveniently, they have all their equipment with them on the plane.
Butt Monkey: Gage always seems to come out on the wrong end of anything that's going to go wrong. During the series, he was hit by a car, infected with a monkey-transmitted flu,snakebit...it's a miracle he's alive by the series' end. Add to that his lack of luck with women and frequent failures of his ideas for whatever...
In season 1, Johnny promises to take care of a patient's prize-winning dog while she's hospitalized and she promises him a puppy from the dog's first litter in return. In season 3, the girl shows up with the puppy. On both occasions Hilarity Ensues.
In season 3 Roy and Johnny buy a junked antique fire engine with the idea of restoring it. In season 4, the restoration is finished. In season 5, they try to sell it.
The Captain: Captain Hammer (first season) and Captain Stanley (seasons 2-6). Captain Hochrader was a character of the week, and Gage and Desoto become captains in one of the films. Various other captains pop up when other stations are assisting on fires, and they are identified by the white stripe on the helmet.
A former one was training to be a paramedic in one episode, yet failed because he kept trying to rely on his army medical skills, without waiting for the hospital to advise on what to do. He kept arguing with the paramedics and eventually learned a hard lesson when he thought a diabetic was on an acid trip and could have died without advice from the hospital to give him glucose.
In the pilot movie, Dixie is cited as being an ex-Army nurse, formerly stationed in Korea, who has experience with trained medics and medical corpsmen, which is why she's a strong proponent of the paramedic program.
Comic Book Adaptation: Charlton Comics published both a color comic and a black-and-white illustrated magazine aimed at older readers based on the series.
Cordon Bleugh Chef: Chet. The time he combined a bunch of health food leftovers into a steak sauce, it was so bad, the guys chased after him to make him eat it.
Cousin Oliver: In Emergency +4, the paramedics and fire-fighters are saddled with four kids who get to chase the grown-ups around in a van/ambulance labelled "+4".
Cowboy Be Bop At His Computer: Gage and DeSoto aren't Squad 51. The truck is. Whenever they needed something from the truck, they'd refer to it as "The Squad." This is often highlighted when we see a second group of paramedics using Squad 51 during a shift change.
They could have just asked Reed and Malloy, since the officers had a guest appearance in the series pilot, "The Wedsworth-Townsend Act."
AND Gage and DeSoto help the officers deal with a lost diabetic boy who wandered off from Rampart on one Adam-12 episode.
Also with a short-lived series called Sierra.
Crying Wolf: Two instances in the season three episode, "Messin' Around." First, there's the case of "Old Bill" who likes to hang around the ER because he's lonely. He complains of false symptoms but he's harmless and usually entertains children. One night, his back gives him problems and Dr. Brackett sees what happens. Brackett says he wants to examine Bill when he has a moment but Bill leaves. DeSoto and Gage are later called to his house, where they find him struggling to breathe. By the time he gets to the hospital, he's in a coma. Dr. Early muses that Bill had complained of the same symptoms many times over the past few weeks, but given his history and how vague his descriptions of his discomfort were, there was no way to be sure he actually had a problem. Later in the same episode, Squad 51 is called to a house to look at a child who's swallowed ant poison. The mother stops them from entering the house because the boy has called the gas company to report a false gas leak and the sheriff to make a false report of a python in the house. A sheriff's officer comes by and advises the woman to let the paramedics enter. Turns out this time, the boy really is in trouble.
Doom It Yourself: One episode had the paramedics try to fix their malfunctioning truck themselves. The regular Fire Department mechanic is annoyed at them doing his job and the truck keeps breaking down even more. Eventually, the mechanic fixes the problem and the station captain tells the paramedics to leave vehicle maintenance to the professionals.
Dixie and Dr. Brackett kiss in the pilot, and there are a couple of scenes in early episodes where he goes to her apartment to angst about his job; he also begins to change his opinion of paramedics after Gage and De Soto save her life. After season one their romantic relationship is never referenced again.
The pilot and early episodes are noticeably different in style than the rest of the series; this is because executive producer Jack Webb directed the pilot and his influence lingered until the crew decided to do things their own way.
In the pilot, Gage is initially seen serving with Station 10. It just doesn't feel right until he is transferred to Station (and Squad) 51.
The pilot is one of the few episodes in which No Antagonist does not apply, with (of all people) Dr. Brackett depicted as the "villain" given his initial reluctance to support the paramedic program.
Firemen Are Hot: Played with and subverted with paramedic Johnny Gage, a Casanova Wannabe who continually struck out with the ladies despite being a young, good-looking single fireman. In one episode he's even asked to be in a calendar shoot with sexy models, but at the end of the episode the photographer decides to go with his comparatively dull, married partner Roy DeSoto instead.
Harpo Does Something Funny: It's obvious that many of the scenes involving Gage and DeSoto working on a victim were simply the director setting up the scene and telling the actors to do what paramedics would do in that situation. This is especially noticeable when they're talking quietly and one reminds the other of an overlooked (or about to be overlooked) step in a procedure or requests assistance in doing something that needs an extra set of hands. Given that the actors actually underwent paramedic training for their roles, this adds realism to the sequences.
Hate Sink: A few eps had these, due to there often being No Antagonist, but Brice was the most obvious. He seemed written just to make us want Johnny back on the job as soon as possible, at least in his first appearance.
Heroes Gone Fishing: Done literally in "Welcome to Santa Rosa County". Naturally, trouble follows them.
Heroic Fire Rescue: Quite a bit, not surprisingly. Some of the rescues were solely medical, but as they were also firefighters, this was very common as well.
Hilarious Outtakes: An outtake reel exists which is full of bloopers and general goofing off by cast and crew, including a bit where Kent McCord (in character as Jim Reed) "accidentally" wanders onto the Emergency! set.
Hollywood Healing: Not as bad as some series, but no matter how the main characters got hurt, they'd be back at work the next episode. (Granted, more time could have passed on screen than in Real Life)
Hospital Hottie: Julie London as Dixie McCall. Cool, compassionate, professional...and yet still as sexy as she was in her torch singing days.
House Fire: Most episodes had at least one of these – and sometimes this was the most climatic segment.
A couple of episodes had patients like this. Usually, one of their complaints would end up being real.
Captain Stanley in the appropriately-titled "Hypochondri-Cap". He is convinced he has some sort of career-ending condition, but it turns out he only has arthritis.
Improbably Cool Car: Someone explain how Roy can afford a Porsche on a fire department salary, even if it is an older model and probably used.
In-Series Nickname: "Johnny" for John Gage, "Chet" for Chester Kelly, "Hank" or "Cap" for Captain Henry Stanley (the latter applies to any captain who appears on the show), "Dix" for Dixie McCall, "Kel" for Dr. Kelly Brackett. Roy also likes to call Johnny "Junior", while Gage sometimes calls him "Pally" ("Pal" diminutive.)
Craig "the walking rulebook" Brice, and "Captain Hook" Hochrader. But no one directly calls them by their nicknames.
Insomnia Episode: The aptly titled episode "Insomnia", where John just can't get to sleep during a run of night shifts, and becomes convinced he'll be able to sleep after they get a nighttime call. At the end of the episode, the station does get a nighttime call, but not for the rescue squad. Not to be discouraged, John grabs onto the rear handhold of the leaving fire engine and falls asleep on his feet.
The Inspector Is Coming: The Chief, in this case. Stanley goes nuts fearing McConnikee will pull a surprise inspection. Nothing bad happens when he does, but Hank still thinks the Chief is trying to psych him out. There's also another episode where John is told to cut his hair.
Instant Emergency Response: While response times were narrowed for obvious dramatic and show-length reasons, the show did generally avert instant response by indicating several minutes or more had passed between alarm and arrival (in fact, every dispatch would end with the time in 24-hour clock style; when Squad 51 radioed their arrival at scene the dispatcher would again note the time - often ten or more minutes had passed). One episode which had a subplot of paramedics being pissed off because they were being called out to dinky non-emergencies had them commenting about the length of time it was taking units to arrive on a scene because the closest unit that should have responded was off on one of the the crap calls. This is, unfortunately, Truth in Television. People call 911 (or their equivalent emergency number) for non-emergency medical situations. The consequence is that fewer fire/EMS units are left available for other true emergencies, such as car accidents, heart attacks, etc, and have to respond from a greater distance, increasing response times.
Ironic Echo: In Season 2 Episode 1, "Problem", Roy is put on the spot by a doctor who tells him that the patient he brought in would have been better off being "in an ideal hospital setting" instead of treating him en route to it; the patient died four hours later. Later, said doctor tries to resuscitate a patient that collapses in said ideal hospital setting and dies after throwing in every effort to revive him.
Irony: The occasional instances where they set something on fire in the station, especially the time they were trying to come up with firefighting inventions. Lampshaded by Johnny the first time it happens, when Chet sets his skis on fire: "Cap, we've got a fire in the station! Call dispatch!"
In the first episode of season 4, "The Screenwriter," a man comes to the station to prepare for a film he wants to make about the paramedic program. He's seated in the middle in the squad as the paramedics answer a call. He exclaims, "This is fantastic! This is dynamite! We could mount the camera right on the hood of the truck!" Of course, you're looking at this scene through the viewpoint of the camera mounted on the hood of the truck. Heck, pretty much the entire episode is Leaning on the Fourth Wall or Lampshade Hanging of one sort or another.
The last episode of the live-action series, "All Night Long," has a subplot in which Johnny is trying to write a pitch for a game show. He eventually gives up when his idea turns out to be unoriginal. Roy offers the idea of writing a show about paramedics; Johnny replies, distractedly, "Story of my life." To top it all off, the episode was written by Kevin Tighe, who plays Roy.
The guys try to convince Chief Houtz Mike is one in an episode, but that may have been an attempt to scare the chief out of staying for dinner. It doesn't work, either.
Limited Advancement Opportunities: Dealt with when Roy passes the engineer's exam. He can't take the promotion without giving up being a paramedic, and he decides he likes being a paramedic too much to give it up. In the "Best Rescues" movie, when they finally get promoted to captain, they mention having given the department years to change the rules about paramedics holding rank, implying that the reason they stayed one of the lowest ranks in the department the whole show really was for love of the work. There's a bit of possible contradiction with Captain Stone, who still had his certification in an earlier episode. It's possible that they could maintain certification, but just couldn't man a squad anymore.
Magical Defibrillator: Usually averted — the portable defibrillator was used primarily when it would have worked in real life.
Magical Native American: Averted/subverted. Johnny's Native American heritage comes up, but he never displays any magic powers, and when he decides he's going to get into a rodeo and use his Native American riding skills, he winds up so sore he can barely walk the next day.
The Main Characters Do Everything: Averted, except for the doctors, who rarely seemed to call in anyone with a specialty for help. Also, no matter what time of the day or night the firemen get a run, it's always the same doctors who are at the ER.
Men Are Uncultured: Played with when the personnel of Station 51 are visited by a female TV reporter who assumes they are not cultured. Indignant, Roy sets out to prove her wrong by showing all the sophisticated hobbies they indulge in. Unfortunately, he does too well as she switches out the football game tickets she promised them, and which they were eagerly anticipating, for opera tickets on the assumption that they would prefer them.
Mess On A Plate: In one episode the heroes save the life of a celebrity chef, who rewards them with an autographed copy of his latest book. When they later try to put together a dinner for the rest of the crew at their station using the book, they swiftly realize that they did something wrong and that dinner is ruined. They dump everything they were cooking into a single pot in order to hide the evidence. Just as they're taking it out back to dump it, the fire crew comes back and assumes dinner is ready. Despite having an odd gray color and the consistency of paper mache paste, the "stew" is universally deemed fantastically delicious by the other fire fighters, and the crew expects it to be made again in the future.
Mission Control: Rampart has a radio desk and, eventually, a separate communications room for the doctors and nurses to communicate with the paramedics to hear their description and vitals about the patient and give instructions to deal with the medical situation before they are transported.
Mr. Fanservice: Hey there Johnny. You should take your shirt off more often.
Neat Freak: Brice, Brice, Brice. He insists that everything be done by the rulebook and that everything be organized. His partner says in one ep that he checked the drug box three times between runs. Sometimes he's almost into Super OCD territory, though usually staying just out of it.
Nephewism: One of the few tidbits about John's backstory was that he lived with an aunt for a time.
Since it was a Medical Drama, and Jack Webb stayed mostly clear of personal life drama, a large portion of the eps were like this. Led to a few Hate Sink characters in some episodes.
The pilot film actually casts Dr. Brackett in the antagonist role, as he spends much of the film opposing the idea of creating paramedic units until he eventually begins to see their value (especially after his girlfriend Dixie is saved by them).
No Social Skills: Brice, again. He functions well enough to do his job, but has no patient skills in the field. He insists on being literal and telling it like it is, even if telling his heart attack patient what's likely happening only makes it worse. Roy calls him on it later. Bryce just says they look at things differently and there's no point in discussing it.
Johnny is hit by a car, infected with a virus, quarantined with Roy for radiation exposure, and bitten by a snake at different times.
Cap, Roy and Marco are all electrocuted in different eps.
Roy also has to get what's left of his tonsils out in one episode, and is injured in a building fire along with Marco another time.
Chet is injured in an explosion in one episode and breaks his shoulder in another.
Dr. Early needs heart bypass surgery.
Dr. Brackett is a car accident victim.
Dixie is seriously hurt at least twice.
Only Sane Man: Among the fire station crew, Roy frequently comes off as one.
Patient of the Week: There were usually 2 or 3 of these per episode, with the Rampart segments rotating in between rescue scenes, and the storylines being tied up before the week's big, climactic rescue.
Pilot Movie: "The Wedsworth-Townsend Act," a two-hour made-for-TV movie which focuses on the effort to train L. A. County firefighters as paramedics and get the legal backing necessary for them to use their training. Though the after-series movies get split in two for re-airing, this has sometimes been severely edited to fit the usual one-hour slot. The edited version is done as late series Roy and Gage reminiscing on the start of the program, which allows the very different story to be inserted into the random episode rotation of syndication.
Plucky Comic Relief: Chet, quite often. He is always the one joking around and playing pranks on the other guys. He does have a few decent moments, though. When the chips are down, he is a consummate professional.
A Season 4 episode titled 905-Wild was intended as a spinoff involving a White Dude, Black Dude duo of Animal Control officers played by Dirty Harry co-star Albert Popwell and future St. Elsewhere (and much later, NCIS) star Mark Harmon. It wasn't picked up.
The later TV movie, Most Deadly Passage, was intended as a pilot for a series about the Medic One fire department paramedic unit in Seattle, Washington, reputed to be one of the finest (as noted in a 1974 segment of a 60 Minutes episode) and well-known of that time period.
The Prankster: Chet Kelly. AKA The Phantom. His colleagues aren't amused. Gage, his "Pigeon", is his most frequent target, but others have gotten hit as well.
Rank Up: Gage and Desoto, along with at least one recurring character, become Captains in one of the movies.
Red Alert: The distinctive Quick Call system where each station has its own series of tones to indicate it is being called up and a klaxon that sounds to confirm that Station 51 is being deployed. The announcer would then, along with destination info, specify "Squad" for the medics, "Engine" for the fire engine, or "Station" for both. Other units were specifically referred to as "Truck (number)" for ladder apparatus, "Battalion (number)" for chiefs, or even "Foam (number)" for the rigs that carried the smothering foam. Once, a very tired John Gage mixed them up when awakened and climbed on the engine rear by mistake, with DeSoto yelling behind him "IT'S NOT FOR US!"
Reverse Polarity: There is a factory worker with his arm caught in a feeding hopper of a machine and Dr. Brackett rushes over to amputate it to save his life. However, Gage comes up with a better idea: they work with the factory's engineers and rewire the machine to make the hopper work in reverse to free the worker instead. The modification is successful and they are able to free him instantly.
Ripped from the Headlines: Some of the episodes dealt with real issues being faced by the still-new paramedic program such as distrust and second-guessing of paramedics by doctors, and response delays due to units responding to non-emergency situations. Inevitably, Gage and DeSoto end up impressing the doubters and they are the first to sing praises of the emergency service.
Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right: Gage shutting off the radio and treating the patient and Dixie in the pilot, even though the bill authorizing the paramedic program hadn't been passed yet.
Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: In the season five episode "The Girl on the Balance Beam," the engineer of a train that's on fire refuses to move it because one of the tanks contains ammonium nitrate. He just walks away from the scene leaving it up to firefighter Kelly to move the train. (How bad would that explosion be? Captain Stanley says, "Like Texas City," a reference to a 1947 explosion of 2,300 tons of ammonium nitrate that's one of the largest disasters in U.S. history. Said explosion killed all but one member of the Texas City Fire Department and destroyed all four TCFD fire engines.)
Shout-Out: In a reversal of the usual, LA County Fire Station 127 (the real-life fire station that played the part of Station 51) was renamed the Robert A. Cinader Memorial Fire Station in honor of one of the show's producers.
Shown Their Work: Aside from when the demands of the plot required a change, the vast majority of the procedures carried out by the firefighters and paramedics were faithful to what real firefighters and paramedics did at the time. This is mainly due to Tighe and Mantooth having actually trained as paramedics, a paramedic advisor being on set, and, in many of the larger incident scenes, actual firefighters acting as extras. In addition, for the first few years, every rescue was cribbed from some real world paramedic logbook, at Cinader's insistence.
Stock Sound Effect: Watch episodes one after another on DVD and you'll quickly notice that the show uses the exact same "sound of equipment and people shouting" background during major emergency scenes. Even worse, if the scene goes on long enough you'll notice that it's looped, so that one man's indistinct (but recognizable) shout is the show's Wilhelm Scream. And the call alarm sound (two short tones, then a loud buzzer), was used in the Monk episode "Mr. Monk Can't See a Thing".
Stuff Blowing Up: Sometimes, the larger fires had this as part of them. Usually, anything involving combustive chemicals was at risk for this, and any fire can experience another variant called flashover, when everything in a fire just explodes in flames. John also blew up the station's TV once on accident.
Taxman Takes The Winnings: There was one episode where a wealthy woman left John and Roy a fortune after they rescued her, but after other bequests, various expenses, and, especially, taxes, the paramedics have a few bucks left and that's it.
Averted most of the time since Station 51 is a one-story building, but occasionally the paramedics are assigned to other stations (such as Station 10 in the pilot) that have multiple floors with firepoles.
Played straight in the cartoon.
Trapped in a Sinking Car: A couple. Roy and John have to use the Jaws of Life underwater in "Seance" and another has a teenage boy trapped in his submerged car.
Vacation Episode: "Welcome to Santa Rosa County". The boys try to go on a fishing trip, but it turns into a Busman's Holiday when a climber gets hurt and later, a boat engine explodes and burns another fisherman.
The Voice: Real-life LA County Fire Dispatcher Sam Lanier, who filled this role for all of the show's six regular seasons, plus the various TV Movies which were actually set in LA. Eventually averted when, in a few later season episodes, Sam actually appeared on screen during the dispatch scenes.
Women Drivers: Comes up in "To Buy or Not to Buy," during a collision between two driving school vehicles. In the aftermath, it comes out that one of the women needs glasses to see anything, absolutely shocking the driving instructor — which implies she's such a ditz that she didn't realize driving requires sight.
You Did Everything You Could: John deals with a police officer friend of his dying in one episode. He struggles with whether or not the radio being jammed with several squads working at once wasted seconds that could have saved his friend. Roy and Brackett both assure him that he and Roy did everything they could, and that the few seconds would not have made a difference.
In the Dragnet/Adam-12/Emergency!Shared Universe, Tim Donnelly appeared in 5 different roles in Dragnet and 2 roles in Adam-12 before landing his regular role as Firefighter Chet Kelly in Emergency.
Randolph Mantooth appeared as a ranch hand in an episode of Adam-12.
Bobby Troup appeared in several different roles on Dragnet and Adam-12.
Another actor, Gary Crosby, was a part-time regular as Officer Ed Wells on Adam-12 and appeared in two different roles (the first time as a firefighter, the second time as a publicity-happy paramedic, the third as an animal control officer) in seasons one and four of 'Emergency!''
The actor who played paramedic Brice also appeared in Jack Webb's Sierra series - including one ep where Gage and DeSoto came to visit.
The actress who appeared briefly as Roy's wife in the pilot popped up in another role later on.
Don Mantooth, Randolph's brother, was a paramedic, a background firefighter, and a character of the week in various eps.