Here’s the Formula ‘9-1-1’ Uses to Plot Each Episode’s Emergencies

“If it feels like we’ve gone too long without an emergency, it’s time for an emergency,” showrunner Tim Minear tells TheWrap

Jack Zeman / FOX

“9-1-1” prides itself on creating the most out-of-the-box emergencies you’ve ever seen — and for tonight’s midseason finale, the Fox series outdid itself by trapping a man inside a box. Specifically, a giant gift-wrapped Christmas present, heading toward the airport.

Because the Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Tim Minear-created series is about to go on hiatus for the winter, TheWrap asked Minear (the drama’s showrunner) to break down his special formula for balancing the personal dramas of Athena (Angela Bassett), Bobby (Peter Krause), Buck (Oliver Stark), Maddie (Jennifer Love Hewitt), Chimney (Kenneth Choi), Eddie (Ryan Guzman) and Hen (Aisha Hinds), with the insane emergencies they deal with each episode.

It turns out there’s a formula to creating chaos.

“Well, I think you’ve gotten to the crux of how we make the show, which is how do you balance the personal stories with the emergencies?” Minear said. “And we sort of feel our way through it.”

“I mean generally, as a rule of thumb, you can say that there are maybe four or five cases, or emergency 9-1-1 calls, in an episode,” Minear explained. “There’s something that might highlight the 9-1-1 call center, like the guy in the box. So the Maddie call. And then we pick it up after he’s been shipped — it goes into the firefighter response call. So we look for something that is a little ‘WTF?.’ Something that might be body horror, something that might be funny. And then something that feels moving and touching, and something that’s life and death. And often those two things are the same, the moving and touching and the life-and-death story might be the same.”

He added: “If it feels like we’ve gone too long without an emergency, it’s time for an emergency. That’s pretty much how it works.”

The showrunner says the reason for this setup is partly because of the evolution of television.

“You know when I started in television, TV was a teaser and four acts,” Minear said. “Now it’s really a teaser and six acts. So there are a lot more act breaks and a lot more narrative pieces that need to be filled between the act breaks. And you want to make sure you don’t go more than one, maybe two acts, without a case.”

The “9-1-1” Season 2 fall finale airs tonight, Monday, at 9/8c on Fox.