Inside '911's' Craziest Rescues: From Freeway Shark Attacks to Rogue Bouncy Houses

Angela Bassett and her co-stars tell The Hollywood Reporter about the show's now-trademark wild emergencies.
Michael Becker/FOX

On the March 18 episode of Fox's 911, the rescue squad is dispatched to one of its craziest emergencies yet: a freeway shark attack. Yes — a shark attacks a man on a Los Angeles freeway, and it's not even the episode's cold open.

Fans of the series won't blink at the seemingly strange turn of events, as odd, high-pressure rescues have become the centerpiece of the show. Other episodes of the season have featured a rogue bouncy house that floats away and lands on the edge of a cliff — with people trapped inside — and a YouTuber who gets his head stuck in a microwave full of cement — and then falls to the bottom of a pool. The other major rescue in the show's midseason return is almost too complicated to describe except to say that a woman goes under anesthesia before a facelift and when she wakes up, her surgery has not been completed.

Every episode of the Ryan Murphy-produced series from showrunner Tim Minear typically has at least one insane moment, star Angela Bassett told The Hollywood Reporter on Sunday during the show's appearance at PaleyFest.

"There was one script like a week ago that it seemed like we're just talking to one another," she said. "We were like, 'Can we just be with one another without all of that?' So we have one of those. And it was actually very, very nicely done. Very, very interesting. I appreciated that. Everyone's always asking, 'When are you going to direct one?' I was like, 'Not on this [show].' They're so crazy."

The cast's reaction to the shark attack, by the way? Business as usual. (Beware: Mild spoiler alert for the fate of the attacking freeway shark.)

"We were looking at the writers like, what is going on? There's a shark in here just tearing people up and we Free Willy him? OK. Cool," Ryan Guzman, who joined the show at the start of season two, told THR.

But that was part of the appeal when he was offered the role.

"Everything from hopping into a burning building to saving an infant is what you dream of as a little kid," Guzman said. "Being a firefighter or a policeman or whatever you decided, that has an excitement toward it. I now get to do it without all the danger."

Oliver Stark, who plays young, sex-crazed firefighter Buck, said the best part of the emergencies the show's first responders deal with is that most of the wildest ones are based on real-life events.

"Everything is rooted in reality, and in fact, the craziest ones that we deal with are the ones that taken from real life," he said. The shark attack? "That did happen, but I think it happened with a dolphin. So sure, we spiced it up a little bit, but more often than not the ones where you watch it and go, 'That could never happen,' are the ones that are taken from real life."

On the panel, creator Tim Minear joked to the crowd, "Interestingly enough, most of our cases either come from China or Florida. A lot of our stories start with Florida Man."

But it wasn't really a joke — the case that kicked off the series, where a newborn baby is stuck in a pipe in an apartment building, actually happened in China, he told the crowd — and there are YouTube videos people can watch of the real-life rescue.

"It's a combination of doing research but also trying to come up with cases that aren't just some spectacle. You need the spectacle," he said on the panel, but "you need something that feels relatable to the audience."

So a bouncy house at a child's birthday party comes untethered, then blows away, then it lands on the edge of a cliff. It's just raising the stakes on everyday things. In episode 14 of the current season, Minear teased, "we do blow up an entire neighborhood."

The emergency services procedural has not officially been ordered for a third season, but it has proven itself to be a steady performer on the network's Monday nights, particularly combined with medical procedural The Resident. The lineup improved 27 percent in adults 18-49 from 2017 to 2018 (1.9 vs. 1.5), with an average of 8 million total viewers (up 51 percent over last season).

Aside from the neighborhood explosion, there are definitely more crazy rescues coming up.

"There was actually a burning building I hopped into not too long ago," Guzman told THR. "It was some kind of Backdraft type stuff, so I enjoyed every bit of it. Actually, I watched Backdraft just for inspiration right before doing my scene. They have the crazy black stuff all over my face, the char, and I'm breathing in all this smoke for, like, three days straight. I couldn't really breathe, but it was all worth it. It looked great."

911 returns from its winter hiatus on Monday, March 18, at 9 p.m. on Fox.