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‘9-1-1’: 6 things to know about the amped-up first responders TV show

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We’ve all seen shows about first responders, whether we hearken back to the days of Rescue 911 or revel in the chaos of the real-life Cops.

Now we have 9-1-1, a highly dramatized close-up look at police officers, paramedics and firefighters, brought to us by Brad Falchuk and Ryan Murphy (the creators of the American Horror Story and Nip/Tuck franchises). With Falchuk and Murphy at the helm, your assumptions about 9-1-1 are probably correct — it’s fast-paced, addictive, colourful and has a powerhouse cast.

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Its American home is on Fox, natch, but it has just been picked up in Canada on Global TV. Already three episodes into its inaugural season, the fourth episode premieres on Global on Jan. 24.

Global News spoke with the cast, which includes Angela Bassett (American Horror Story, BoJack Horseman), Peter Krause (Six Feet Under, Parenthood) and Connie Britton (Nashville, Friday Night Lights), among others. Here are some things to know about 9-1-1 before you jump in.

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Murphy’s M.O. is still to focus on women

If you’ve seen any of Murphy’s shows, you’ll know that he places a high priority on supplying roles for women and people of colour. Horror Story is a great example, where many women with lengthy resumes have resurrected dwindling careers. Among them is Bassett, who was the first actor to be cast on 9-1-1. It’s clear that providing women opportunities to lead shows and dominate the screen is still No. 1 on Murphy’s checklist.

“The thing that I’m most interested in is bringing up new talent, making success available to minorities, to women,” Murphy said. “So that’s what I’m trying to do now. I love coming up with an idea and a concept, then putting people together and creating a family and community to create that show.”

‘9-1-1’ is a procedural, meaning you’ll have ‘cases of the week’

Over the past several years, TV has gotten a lot more complicated. Shows are trying new formats across the board in attempts to be innovative and to stand out from the crowd. Not 9-1-1, which adopts the tried-and-true procedural format.

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“All of the cases on this show are based on true cases, and I hadn’t done that for a while,” Murphy said. “But within that world, I was interested in creating a show where the emergencies at the heart of the show, at the center of the show, were from the lead characters.”

“This show has ‘What’s your emergency?’ and the three or four cases of the week,” he elaborated, comparing its format to his earlier show, Nip/Tuck. “I liked creating that show. I liked those cases. I liked the research. I liked talking to the nurses and the plastic surgeons at the time, and we do the same on this show. Of course, now we have the benefit of YouTube, so we can research and investigate in a way that I couldn’t do in 2003.”

All of the 911 calls featured on the show are based on real stories

Humanity offers a wealth of stories every day, and 9-1-1 was quick to seize on that for authenticity. So imagine anything — getting a boa constrictor wrapped around your neck, a roller-coaster gone awry, or a baby being stuck in a drainage pipe — and you might see it pop up on the show.

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“Honestly, the internet is really helpful,” giggled Falchuk. “Viral videos are the best because it’s actually… even the shots are in there in terms of stuff you’ve seen. We have a lot of writers who spend all day on YouTube… all TV writers spend all day on YouTube anyway, but they’re working, spending all that time on YouTube looking for stuff.”

The actors consulted with their real-life counterparts

To amplify the credibility of 9-1-1, each actor took it upon themselves to meet with real-life paramedics, 911 operators and cops.

“I do have a consultant on set, his name is Chick [sic],” said Bassett, who plays police officer Athena Grant. “He’s very helpful, he makes sure I don’t hold the gun upside down. [Laughs] He also connected me with an African-American lieutenant, actually, who is above my grade, but a sergeant. And it was wonderful to be able to form a friendship with her and sit down with her.”

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Britton takes on the role of Abby Clark, who works at the 911 call centre. She said she spent several “fascinating” and “illuminating” days at the Los Angeles call centre.

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“[Everyone who worked there was] really so grateful that we were doing the show, and particularly that this character was being represented, because the 911 operator is almost never represented in this world,” she said. “And, you know, the 911 operator is truly the first responder, and I just had such immense respect for their intellect and their training, the things that they have to be able to do. The first day we tried to shoot with six computer screens in front of me — they have six computer screens doing completely different things all at the same time, and they’re controlling and monitoring all of them — I was at a loss. I think I announced, ‘I’m not the right actress for this job.’ [Laughs]”

Krause, as firefighter Bobby Nash, works closely with the show’s firefighter consultants.

“I’ve said this before in an interview, but working on the show is sort of like the Nike school of acting,” he said. “You just do it. So in the moment when you’re working on the scene, the consultants are right there with you and helping you throughout these moments. I found that to be the most beneficial aspect of it.”

Murphy was inspired to do the show based on an actual 9-1-1 call

Sometimes personal experience trumps the rest, as happened with Murphy. The showrunner claims a scary real-life incident was the inspiration for 9-1-1. In 2015, Murphy’s then-11-month-old son Ford stopped breathing in the middle of the night. He and his husband called 911 and tried CPR, but were panicking. Four first responders showed up, and the rest is history.

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“They brought him back to life,” he said. “They only allowed one parent to ride with the child in the ambulance, so my husband, David, went because we had another child upstairs. Three of the officers and responders stayed to get a report from me, and I had an experience of sitting with them and talking to them, and they really talked me off a ledge. I was struck by what great people they were and how strong they were. From that moment on, I was interested in the inner lives of these people and how they’re forced to show up and be such a ballast for so many different sorts of people.”

Not every call has a happy ending

Don’t be fooled; not every case on the show will end happily. After all, this is based on real life, and not everything is tied up with a neat little bow by the end of the episode.

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“What I’m interested in doing are cases and situations [that] don’t all have happy endings,” Murphy said. “I think you’ve seen that in the first episode with Peter and the [suicidal individual]. But I’m interested in presenting stories on this show that are uplifting and aspirational, and give you hope and give viewers hope that there is goodness out there. It was a feeling that I was left with in that experience, and that feeling is what we’re trying to put into the case. Some of them are very dark. Some of them are very adult. Some of them are very upsetting. But I would say 90 per cent of them try to resolve in a way that makes you feel good about the people involved, and how they were treated, and how the first responders felt when they left that case.”

‘9-1-1’ premieres on Global TV on Wed., Jan. 24 at 9 p.m. ET/PT. You can catch up on the first three episodes at GlobalTV.com or the GlobalGo app.