‘9-1-1’ Creator Breaks Down Show’s ABC Premiere and the Scene That Was ‘Too Risky for Fox’

“They’re really treating it like a first-year show,” Tim Minear tells TheWrap

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Angela Bassett and Peter Krause in "9-1-1." (Disney/Chris Willard)

Note: This story contains spoilers from the “9-1-1” Season 7 premiere.

The Season 7 premiere of “9-1-1” opened in a therapist’s office. In hushed tones, LAPD patrol sergeant Athena Grant (Angela Bassett) explained that she’s scared to go on a cruise with her husband for a very “9-1-1” reason: She was traumatized as a child by the 1972 ABC disaster thriller “The Poseidon Adventure.” As the flashback unfolds, scenes from the Irwin Allen disaster movie flash on screen along with a vintage ABC logo.

It’s a silly, so-on-the-nose-it’s-brilliant moment that’s perfect for one of television’s wildest shows. “9-1-1” is back, and it’s found a new home on ABC.

“That was so important to me,” series creator, writer and executive producer Tim Minear told TheWrap about the film nod. Dubbed the “Master of Disaster,” Allen defined the disaster film genre through movies such as “The Towering Inferno” and “The Swarm.”

“Irwin Allen’s disaster movies are what I’m often referencing when I do these two- and three-part natural disasters. We joke that I’m the Irwin Allen of network TV,” Minear said.

With the blessing of Allen’s estate, “The Poseidon’s Adventure” nod served as a way for Minear to “tip his hat” to the film legend, while also communicating a bigger change for his hit network show.

“I remember, back in the day, it would be like, ‘Tonight, an ABC World television event,’” Minear recalled. “I wanted to see that and I wanted to hear that because it’s a world television premiere for ‘9-1-1’ moving to ABC.”

In May of 2023 “9-1-1” was canceled by Fox despite being one of the highest-rated scripted shows on network television. Shortly after its axing, the series was saved like a smart-mouthed firefighter coming to the rescue. Despite all the reports and hand-wringing about the drama’s future, Minear was never too worried about his show.

“It was entirely the cost. I think Fox would have loved for us to continue over there, but it’s a very expensive show to produce. I’ve had to find ways to make it more inexpensive as we’ve gone along,” Minear said. “ABC was waiting in the wings to pick us up… There was never any question that the show was going to come back.”

In part to celebrate its new network home, “9-1-1” opened Season 7 with what it does best: a grand multi-part disaster. Season 2 had the earthquake. Season 3 had the tidal wave. And now Season 7 chronicles a hijacked-turned-sinking cruise ship complete with two of the drama’s most beloved characters, newlyweds Athena and Bobby (Peter Krause), trapped onboard.

Minear noted that these multi-part episodes require a great deal of heavy lifting. “Particularly since we were coming to ABC, I wanted to give everybody a moment in the first episode,” Minear explained. “Once a ship capsizes or something, the events kind of overtake the narrative. So you really need a first episode that just sets the table for the characters.”

That’s the purpose “Abandon Ships” served. As Hen (Aisha Hinds) navigated the pressures of being interim captain during Bobby’s honeymoon, Buck (Oliver Stark) and Eddie re-established their friendship. The premiere also left room for romance, diving into Athena’s fear of being alone with Bobby (“Her trepidation is ‘I don’t know what I’m going to say to him once we’re not talking about murder, mayhem and natural disasters’”) as well as Chimney (Kenneth Choi) and Maddie’s attempts to keep their far-from-stale relationship fresh. It’s a premiere that works both as a return to form for diehard fans and a place-setter for new viewers.

“I’m a big believer in making sure that any episode I write has enough internal exposition that you will understand the story had you not seen another episode,” Minear said.

Threading that needle came with an interesting wrinkle: a scene that was originally removed in Season 2 by Fox for being “too risky” made it into Season 7’s premiere. The scene in question involves a man and a woman having sex in a hot tub. While they’re going at it, he passes out and she becomes stuck. That sentence means exactly what you think it does.

“Fox said we can’t do it, it’s too risky,” Minear recalled. Not to be deterred from a good emergency story, the EP found that another network drama had done something similar (“I think it was ‘Code Black,’ funnily enough with Rob Lowe”) and asked Fox to reconsider.

“I could never get it past the standards and practices of Fox. So then when we went to ABC, I just tried it again. It’s a different time, it’s six years later and ABC said, ‘We’re good with it,’” Minear said. “It was too risky for Fox, but not too risky for ABC.”

ABC did have a couple of notes for the “9-1-1” team. The word “limp” could only be used once. Also, the flavor of Jell-O referenced in the scene had to be swapped from cherry to lime. In order to free the couple, Eddie coached the woman through her anxiety by asking her to imagine her body becoming Jell-O, a reference to the work Eddie recently did to combat his own panic attacks.

“In the original version of that scene, it was Buck who was doing the relaxation techniques, but it didn’t have any resonance to it as a character thing,” Minear said.

There was also one joke that was cut. “I think originally I had in there, ‘Every time I tried to get free, it’s like a Chinese finger trap.’ So they wouldn’t let me say that,” Minear said.

But more than slipping funny emergency calls by the censors, Minear is ultimately happy for this switch in network homes for what it means for his show. Though the budgets for “9-1-1” have been reduced, ABC’s marketing for this season has “never been better.” Part of the reason for that is because some of the “brilliant minds in marketing,” who created the iconic “9-1-1” billboards for Season 1, have now moved to ABC. Those billboards included arresting visuals like a woman hanging off a building and a man dangling from a roller coaster.

“They’re really treating it like a first-year show, and we couldn’t be happier. It’s given us a little new life, just their enthusiasm. It’s reciprocal,” Minear said.

That renewed passion is a good thing because Minear believes “9-1-1” has “a lot of life left in it.”

“I’m shocked that we’re still making it. I remember in the first year when we were doing like three and four cases an episode,” Minear said. “Then I started doing ‘Lone Star’ at the same time. Now I’m coming up with eight of these a week. It’s like, I’m going to run out of stuff, but we still keep finding new ways to traumatize the audience.”

“9-1-1” airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on ABC. Episodes are available to stream the day after premiere on Hulu.

Comments

2 responses to “‘9-1-1’ Creator Breaks Down Show’s ABC Premiere and the Scene That Was ‘Too Risky for Fox’”

  1. Godziĺla Avatar
    Godziĺla

    We didn’t need buck to be gay! That made no sense! It’s disgusting to watch the two of them. I fast forward when they show the two of them. Why are we made to except crap like this?

  2. Queer and Proud Avatar
    Queer and Proud

    Why do we have to endure hetero couples shoved in our faces? If we’re forced to tolerate you, then fair is fair.

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