ABC Orders 911 Unscripted Series 'Emergency Call'

Ricky Middlesworth/ABC

ABC is wading into the enduringly popular subgenre of the 911 call. The network announced Thursday that it's given a series order for Emergency Call. The hour-long unscripted series, hosted by Luke Wilson, documents the first minutes of a 911 calls by focusing on the 911 operators who pick up the phone.

“An estimated 240 million calls are made every year to 911 call centers across the country,” said ABC Entertainment president Karey Burke. “While we often hear about some of these stories on the news, we rarely hear about the heroes that are the first point of contact and, at times, essential to saving a life. Emergency Call shines a light on these mysterious and brave voices who are driven by their desire to help; and Luke Wilson is the consummate host, navigating us through these extraordinary situations which will have you on the edge of your seat.”

Premiering Monday, Sept. 28, the project will help fill scheduling holes left by the gutted fall schedules. Scripted shows are slowly looking to resume production as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic still makes most sets impossible to reopen, and unscripted and reality fare have proven far more feasible to film.

“Since I was a kid, I have always been interested in people who help. People who save people,” said Wilson. “When you’re younger, you might be drawn toward superheroes or fictional characters, but as you get older you come to realize that people who help, real-life heroes, are just regular people who do extraordinary things. 911 call takers don’t just save people; they calm and console people until they are safe. They are the first link in the chain of first responders. For that, I feel very lucky to be a part of this project.”

Emergency Call comes at a time when there is incredible scrutiny placed on the ways law enforcement is depicted on television. Amidst ongoing calls for police reform and racial justice in America, unscripted series such as Cops and Live PD were promptly canceled. From the synopsis and the looks of the first trailer, Emergency Call is sidestepping the action of when firefighters, police or emergency medical teams actually arrive at the site of the crises depicted. The show also comes on the heels of lingering success on Fox for Ryan Murphy drama 9-1-1, spinoff 9-1-1: Lone Star.

In success, Emergency Call would be something of an anomaly on the ABC line-up. The reality-heavy network has kept away from docu-dramas in recent years, instead focusing on its successful slate of game shows, the Bachelor franchise and shiny floor shows such as American Idol and Dancing With the Stars.

The series is produced by 8Hours Television's Adeline Ramage Rooney and Jonny Slow, showrunner Grant Kahler and Wilson. It's based on an original format by De Chinezen and licensed by Lineup Industries.