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Spelling and WB Reignite a Popular Program Theme by Lou Angeli, Battalion Chief

(Hollywood, March 9, 1999) - Fire-Rescue TV fans rejoice. The wail of the Federal Q is emerging once again from the speakers inside your Magnavox.

Aaron Spelling, the King of Entertainment television, has added fire and rescue to his list of successful program themes. But don't expect another Melrose Place or 90210. This new series shouts red-hot action!

Beginning Monday, March 15th, the 9 o'clock hour, and the WB Network, are now reserved for the millions of TV viewers who've been waiting for a first class series about America's most respected profession. Spelling Television and the WB Network have responded to the call by presenting Rescue 77, the first fire-rescue drama since the ill-fated Fox series LA Firefighters. Many real firefighters referred to LAF as Baywatch in bunkers, and even die-hard fire TV fans like me allowed the series to die a quick, silent death.

But Spelling and his command staff have rescued the once popular firefighting theme with a fresh, new program - one that picks up where the NBC classic Emergency left off. Rescue 77 offers plenty of dramatic action, and with Gregory Widen (Backdraft) as its Chief, the series is boosted with an IV injection of stark reality, tempered with an ample dose of firehouse antics and humor.

As Co-Executive Producer, Widen, whose list of successes include The Prophecy and The Highlander, brings honor to the fire-rescue theme. As a former Southern California firefighter and medic, he is to the fire-rescue services what Joseph Wambaugh was to law enforcement. He is the firefighter's storyteller.

But walking our walk and talking our talk has been a tough sell in Hollywood, especially following the failure of LA Firefighters. For years, Widen says, "the Fire Department was a cold idea for Hollywood, because they couldn't get a firm hold on the concept." So Widen went to work educating programming executives about the diverse roles that firefighters play, including EMS, rescue, haz-mat, wildfire, as well as structural firefighting.

It's interesting to note that Widen, whose 1991 blockbuster Backdraft remains the consumate firefighting motion picture, seems to prefer the look and feel of his new project, Rescue 77. "As fun as Backdraft was," he says, "Rescue 77 is much more personal to me." Personal because 77's stories come from Widen's early years as an EMT-P, practicing the art of street medicine.

The show is based around a three-person medic team, assigned to Station 77, and commanded by a salty Captain Durfee, played by veteran actor Richard Roundtree. Oddly enough, Roundtree's first starring television role was as a probationary firefighter in ABC's 1973 series Firehouse. In 77, Roundtree is everyone's Captain, and he plays the role with convincing realism, revealing a character whose command is unshaking, even during the most demanding of incidents.

77's firefighter/medics are a true to life mix, representative of this nation's 1.5 million first responders -- one third professional, one third compassionate, one third undaunted. Led by Kathleen Ryan, played by Marjorie Monaghan (Law and Order, Babylon 5), Rescue 77's crew finds themselves in the thick of the action, whether it's a child drowning, a newlywed couple trapped in their car, or working house fire with fatalities. Ryan is partnered with firefighter/medic Michael Bell (Victor Browne) and probie Wick Lobo (Christian Kane), whose youthful vigor sometimes finds him in deeper than he should be.

Be forewarned. Rescue 77 is not borne of the traditional Spelling mold, although his golden touch is evident. This program represents a radical departure for the popular programming group. "People have a preconceived notion of Spelling shows," says Widen, "but Aaron has given us free reign in terms of the dramatic element." It's what Widen calls New Spelling. He adds, "The great thing with Aaron is that he understands what the show is about, and has embraced the drama and realism." It's rumored that Spelling and his partner E. Duke Vincent, love to hang out with the cast at the firehouse turned studio in Glendale.

Realism is the keyword when describing 77. Unlike previous fire-rescue programs, where heroic rescues and dramatic saves were the norm, Rescue 77 provides the viewer with a first hand account of the darker side of our job. People die in this show, just as they do on the mean streets. It's a fact of life that's tough on many firefighters and medics, but a reality of the job that we all must learn to deal with. And so has the cast.

Legendary producer Jack Webb once said, "It's easier to teach emergency personnel to be actors, than to teach actors to be emergency personnel." Someone at Spelling must have been in that class, because the production team has gone to great lengths to make character portrayals extremely convincing. Even the technical advisors, who usually serve in advisory roles, are seen on camera, and at times deliver an occasional line of dialog.

Although Rescue 77 resembles LAFD in tactics and look, Widen and the writing staff have actually created this nation's largest department, The Los Angeles Fire Authority, a mythical consolidation of city, county and state agencies. In short, a management nightmare, and the fire buff's dream.

Speaking of buffs, there are a few million out there who've managed to keep the home fires burning for the generation-old Emergency. But you won't see any comparisons between the two programs here. Emergency was a very successful series, which applied Jack Webb's tried and true cop-shop formula to firefighting. But our job as fire rescue personnel has changed considerably since Emergency first aired in the 1970's, and suffice it to say, that E-fans won't be disappointed in Rescue 77.

Rescue 77 is real life fire and rescue, a carbon copy of North America's 35,000 departments. Spelling Television has created a program with substance, that portrays the men and women who devote their lives to fire, rescue and EMS in their true light, and at long last, does them justice.


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