Case Number 21013: Small Claims Court


Universal // 1978 // 540 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron (Retired) // March 30th, 2011

The Charge

Rampart...we've got some questionable series left-overs...STAT!

The Case

When it finally left the air in 1977, Emergency! was a Top 30 TV viewer favorite. Conceived by Jack Webb and produced by his company, Mark VII Limited, it was a companion piece of sorts to the famed Dragnet star's other civil servant showcases (including the equally popular Adam-12). Using Southern California as a backdrop and the danger-filled lives of firefighters, paramedics, and triage medical staff as his catalyst, the series centered on LA County Fire Station 51 and two of its manly members -- John Gage (Randolph Mantooth) and Roy DeSoto (Kevin Tighe) -- and their interactions with the doctors and nurses -- Dr. Kelly Brackett (Robert Fuller), Nurse Dixie McCall (Julie London), and Dr. Joe Early (Bobby Troup) -- of the local Rampart Hospital. Typically dealing with two to three traumas per episode, the hour long drama delved deep into search and rescue techniques, current scientific breakthroughs, and the plentiful personality issues of the players. At the conclusion of its five year run, the desire for more Emergency! (and money) led to a series of special one-off Movies of the Week. It is those six extended episodes that are features on this DVD.

Spread out over two discs and using differing locales and an larger production palette, here are the storylines covered by these titles:

Disc One

* "The Steel Inferno"
A high rise office building catches fire, and it is up to Gage and DeSoto to save the day.

* "Survival on Charter #220"
Two planes collide over a Los Angeles neighborhood, testing the limits of resolve for Gage, DeSoto and the off-duty "C" Shift.

* "Most Deadly Passage"
While in Seattle, Gage and Desoto must deal with a ferry fire, a daredevil with a death wish, and a man trapped atop the King Dome.

Disc Two

* "Greatest Rescues of Emergency!"
After being promoted, Gage and DeSoto reminisce about some of their greatest accomplishments.

* "What's a Nice Girl Like You Doing..."
An educational seminar in San Francisco turns into business as usual as Gage and DeSoto must rescue someone from the Golden Gate bridge.

* "The Convention"
Gage and DeSoto are in San Francisco again, dealing with a lab fire, a choking victim, a sniper, and a newborn baby.

Emergency! could have easily been subtitled Earnest! Jack Webb, ever the vigilant conservative conformist, wanted to make sure that no one said a bad thing about the men and women in civil uniform and used showcases like Adam-12 and this to make his Establishment case. Kids loved the shows because they were clandestine Westerns, cops and robbers, good guys and bad guys pitted against each other in formulaic morality plays where the wicked weren't allowed to even think of prospering. Gurneys took the places of horses and will was the weapon of choice. In the case of Emergency!, the risks taken by those who would thwart danger and save lives were highlighted and turned super-heroic, limited by a '70s standards and practices production value, but little else. While not quite propaganda, shows like this tended to take all the depth out of the job of saving lives, allowing minor character elements such as love and lifestyle to flitter in and out before once again retreating to the narrative back burner.

The six shows here walk the fine line between Irwin Allen disaster epic and standard boob tube boredom. Action has sure come a long way in the three-plus decades since these shows were produced. Even on the small screen circa 2011, the rudimentary nuts and bolts blandness of Emergency! is hard to get a handle on. Even with a bigger scope, it's still a couple of actors playing pseudo-savior. Mantooth and Tighe are good, but they don't bring a lot of swagger to the mix. Instead, they are routine and right-minded, something Webb would have wanted. As for the rest of the cast, they make limited appearances here. Indeed, at least one of the shows -- "Most Deadly Passage" -- was an attempt to get a Pacific Northwest version of the series off the ground with a whole new company. Overall, the quality is standard '70s TV series -- flat, formulaic, and filled with recognizable (if not wholly name) guest stars. Sure, it's fun to see the guys outside the confines of Rampart, but for the most part, that's all Emergency! really was: these guys. Even a bigger and more expensive canvas doesn't mean a more compelling experience.

As for the DVD, Universal does a decent job with both the sound and image. The picture looks pretty good for something ranging in age from 34 to 31 years old. Only the commercial fade-ins/outs show any real color loss wear and tear. There are scratches and dirt defects, but for the most part, the 1.33:1 full screen transfer is just fine. Similarly, the Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 Mono means we get the same aural elements coming out of both speakers. No separation or significance -- just dialogue and the occasional sound effects. As for added content, apparently nine hours of past broadcast entertainment is more than enough for the Emergency! die hard, meaning there are no extras included here.

While there's no doubting that it's wholesome throwback entertainment, something like Emergency! doesn't translate well to an ADD-addled nu-media constituency. Heck, YouTube features more harrowing footage than some of the stuff found here. If you like your TV old fashioned and flaccid, this is the series for you. Even in TV movie form, Emergency! is unexceptional.

The Verdict

Guilty. For the confirmed series fan only.

Review content copyright © 2011 Bill Gibron; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Judgment: 70

Perp Profile
Studio: Universal
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)

* English (SDH)

Running Time: 540 Minutes
Release Year: 1978
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks
* None

* IMDb