‘9-1-1’ Showrunner on Jennifer Love Hewitt’s Big Entrance and if We’ll Be Waiting for Abby Forever

“You can’t replace Connie Britton,” Tim Minear tells TheWrap — before explaining how they replaced Connie Britton

Jennifer Love Hewitt 911
Michael Becker/FOX

You can’t replace Connie Britton. And “9-1-1” showrunner Tim Minear told TheWrap he wouldn’t have dared to try after her character Abby exited the Fox emergency-responder procedural when its first season wrapped back in March.

But he and fellow co-creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk did have to get a new leading lady if they were gonna keep all these crazy emergency calls coming for viewers this fall. So how do you find a worthy replacement for everyone’s favorite operator without replacing her? Enter Jennifer Love Hewitt.

“That was Ryan’s preternatural casting genius sense, which really never takes any time — at all,” Minear told TheWrap, in an interview ahead of the “9-1-1” Season 2 premiere Sunday. “He’ll know exactly the element that is needed for a show and when you say Connie’s replacement — not really Connie’s replacement right? You can’t replace Connie Britton. But what you need is you need certain elements on the show and we absolutely needed a face in the 9-1-1 call center.”

Minear said that with Britton out, they wanted “another great female TV star for that color on the show.” And Hewitt was the “perfect choice” to play new character Maddie, Buck’s (Oliver Stark) sister, who will be getting a job in the emergency dispatcher center come the Season 2 premiere. Yes, Buck’s lover — Abby — is being replaced by his sister. (No, not like that.)

“When we sort of started thinking about Jennifer in that [leading] role, the idea of making her Buck’s sister felt like a wonderful nexus, a personal nexus between that corner of our world and the other corner of our world,” Minear said. “You know, sometimes with Abby’s character, it was difficult to contrive them crossing in the show. It’s easier once you put her with Buck. But the idea that Maddie would be Buck’s sister made a lot of sense. And it has worked out quite wonderfully.”

While we’re excited to watch Hewitt join the gang for some new heart-stopping situations, we do wonder if we’ll ever see Abby again, after she took off on a indefinite trip to Dublin in honor of her late mother, on the Season 1 finale. And we know Buck, who set aside his womanizing ways when he fell head over heels for Abby during “9-1-1″s freshman run, is wondering too.

“We went out on a season where Abby left with a promise to return — or an intention to return — and Buck waiting for her,” Minear said. “So the first handful of episodes of Season 2 are about, you know, Buck waiting. And what that’s like for a guy like him.”

“We’ve seen him in his Casanova phase,” Minear added. “We’ve seen him grow up a lot with Abby. We’ve seen him become a man by being in a monogamous relationship. And what does it mean for a guy like him to remain celibate — at least for a while — while he waits for his true love to come back? So that was a part of the story we wanted to honor and didn’t just want to drop it and pretend like it never happened for Season 2.”

Minear emphasized that, “Buck’s waiting is the next part of the story” and that it would be a disservice to the viewers to “have him be back to his old ways” when they came back. But he’s still not sure how we’re going to get around that whole no-more-Connie problem. (Britton’s contract was just through the first season, with her exit planned from the start.)

“Whether or not I have to play everything sort of off camera or just from his point of view, I don’t know exactly yet,” Minear said. “But you know, Connie was there for the first year and she helped us get on our feet and off the ground and I would have her back in a second for as much as she’d wanna come back for. But that’s not happening yet.”

Minear also said with the entrance of Hewitt’s character fans get something they never got with Abby: a newbie’s look at the 9-1-1 nerve center. The showrunner noted we’ve only “seen the call center through a very experienced point of view.”

“With Maddie, you have a character who starts out as a trainee and we get an entry view into the 9-1-1 dispatch world,” Minear said. “And so the audience gets to experience that with her a little bit. And it gives you a unique perspective on that role.”

In addition to Hewitt and Stark, the “9-1-1” cast includes Angela Bassett, Peter Krause, Aisha Hinds, Kenneth Choi and Rockmond Dunbar and Ryan Guzman, who is another new face for Season 2.

“9-1-1” will return with a two-night Season 2 premiere Sunday, Sept. 23 at 8/7 c and Monday, Sept. 24 at 9/8c (its regular time slot) on Fox.