ABC's 'Emergency Call': Help! We've Run Out Of Programs!

The fall COVID TV season continues Monday night with a new series on ABC that resists categorization.

Is it a scripted drama? No. Is it a reality series? No. Is it a comedy? Definitely not, even if it inserts a light-hearted moment or two between the stories of life and death that are its bread and butter.

This one-hour series is called “Emergency Call.” It is a show that purports to depict the “real-life” workdays of 911 operators in various locations around the country as they field emergency phone calls from the public.

Movie actor Luke Wilson (pictured above) is on hand to serve as host and narrator. According to him, Americans place 240 million 911 emergency calls every year.

Out of these millions of calls, the producers of “Emergency Call” have chosen to highlight about a half-dozen of them in Monday night’s one-hour premiere.



But it is the calls themselves that are re-created and dramatized here -- not the actual events that the callers are seeking help for.

Thus, you get to hear a woman on the phone telling a 911 operator that she is being threatened by a bear, or a man telling another operator (this one in New Orleans) that floodwaters have trapped him in his car and he is fearful of drowning.

Or, from an emergency-call facility in Wasilla, Alaska, you can hear the agony of a man who broke his leg after driving his SUV into a ditch or body of water in a remote area as night falls and his cell phone uses up the last of its power.

But you will not actually see any of these real-life dramas. Instead, this show consists of people in headsets taking these calls, attempting to calm down the callers and assuring them that help is on the way.

Moreover, it is not made clear whether these “operators” are real people, or actors and actresses playing them.

The same uncertainty surrounds the calls themselves. A disclaimer seen at the beginning of the show indicates that the calls are edited (at the very least) and even re-created.

In fact, one of them -- the man stranded in the Alaska wilderness -- speaks in a voice that is remarkably similar to Luke Wilson’s.

Suffice it to say, but the calls lack that real-life authenticity that a viewer has every reason to expect when watching a show of this kind. 

In the final analysis, an hourlong show consisting of people talking on the phone is pretty thin gruel on which to base a prime-time TV show.

But these days, with production at a standstill or a small trickle, the networks, unfortunately, are in the thin-gruel business.

“Emergency Call” premieres Monday night (Sept. 28) at 10 Eastern on ABC.

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