Sunday, September 6, 2009

'And you've spent the last 10 years of your life in this Emergency!' - Stiff Little Fingers

Firefighter Johnny Gage. Firefighter Roy DeSoto. "Squad 51/Squad 51, overturned tanker truck at 512 Cornell Avenue, cross street Evans - Time Out 10:52." Nurse Dixie McCall, Dr. Kelly Brackett, Dr. Joe Early. Goofy Firefighter Chet Kelly. The Captain. Firehouse antics, the jovial kidding around with the ER staff, the medical back-and-forth on the state-of-the-art mobile communications equipment. I'm referring of course to Emergency!

This show was, as much as any other, the 1970s to me. More than disco, as much as Watergate. It was another show ripped from the headlines as the role of paramedic started to take hold in major cities across America. It was also a show ripped from the mind of Jack Webb and set in the same universe as his Adam 12 (in fact there was the occasional cross over of characters between the two). Adam 12 of course came from the loins of the granddaddy of the genre, Dragnet.

Emergency! shared the same unintentionally comical seriousness and staccato procedural dialog as Jack's other works but had some intentional humor as well. Webb was only one of many creators here and some of the others apparently did not have that same long stick up their ass that had long since severed Jack's funny bone.

Why bring this up? I caught Kevin Tighe (Roy DeSoto) in a bit part on some show last night (I think it was a Law and Order SVU) and it got me to thinking about how Emergency! affected me in my formative years. After the usual little kid cowboy/fireman/astronaut phase, I've only wanted to be three things growing up: veterinarian, paramedic and writer/journalist. Emergency! made me want to become a paramedic.

I can't exactly say what it was about paramedics that fascinated me. It could be that I was on the career dreams rebound, having just had my veterinarian aspirations crushed by the realization it would require eight years of college. My disdain for the hard sciences at the time and the lack of a family nest egg for higher education sort of drove a stake into that. But I was still intrigued by medicine and, gee, those guys didn't have to go to college and study biology but they got to do all kinds of cool doctor-like stuff. Plus they were out and about in the California sun and could hang at the firehouse but didn't have to run into burning buildings (at least not all that often).

And they always seemed to be having fun. More fun than I was having in the 70s anyway. Johnny Gage was hitting on the young Rampart nurses (and getting shot down). Roy was the family man. Yet we never saw their life outside of the firehouse, the field and Rampart General. And they only very briefly talked (or thought) about such things. Typical Jack Webb, all business. Yet lots of laughs and general feeling of happiness permeated the show, except when in the actual act of rescuing folks (sometimes even then).

Geez, they even had Hot Wheels Emergency vehicles and a board game, so you knew it was cool!

It was strangely both a microcosm of the 70s and yet completely out of phase with that decade. Running from 1972 - '77 with regular movies of the week through '79, it was filled with the clothes, hairstyles and technologies of the day, but the scripts themselves could be produced as is for a completely contemporary show come the 2009 fall season.

"Rampart, this is Squad 51. We have a male, early 20s, unconscious, pupils are fixed and dilated." "51, this is Rampart. Start an IV with D5W and transport stat." It was invariably D5W, regardless of the problem. I guess that was because it was an innocuous substance (essentially saline). Occasionally Lactated Ringer's (saline with a glass of milk). Can't trust these firefighters with administering anything stronger - sure they have this newfangled paramedic certificate but any bozo can get one of those. That's what I imagined was going through the minds of Doctors Brackett and Early during each communication with the boys out in the field. As Dixie McCall adjusted her starched nurse's cap in the background and shook her head, chuckling.

I never did become a paramedic (or a veterinarian or a print journalist, or a cowboy/astronaut/fireman for that matter).

Still, for a short time, thanks to this show, it seemed to be an honorable, fun and most of all, attainable profession.

I'm still waiting for the series about the lives of software developers in a large corporate setting. See the hapless bunch as they attempt to bend time, space, budgets and people while the Contractual Obligation clock ticks down to zero hour. How fast can this merry band of code slingers churn that software out? Okay, now how fast with sixteen tons of dead weight and six truckloads of red tape tied to their backs? How much will the resulting software suck? How expensive will it be to maintain going forward? Stay tuned - same bat time, same bat channel.

Ahh, yes. Hot Wheels action mobile mouse and board game coming for Christmas!