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10-4, SQUAD 51

Written By Hannah Louise Shearer


My heart clutched when I saw the big rig and paramedic ambulance in front of my condo--never a good sign, especially considering the average age of my neighbors.  I felt enormous relief when everything was okay, then my eyes filled with tears of pride.

My first job, coordinating research between NBC's drama Emergency!, the Los Angeles County Departments of Fire and Health, and the Harbor General doctors who ran the Paramedic Program, ensured the show was authentic in essence and procedure.   Eventually I worked my way from research assistant to producer to writer.  Emergency! was as accurate as possible, creating, as Robert A. Cinader called it, the "illusion of reality," while still entertaining people for an hour.

Sid Sheinberg first came to Bob and Jack Webb with an idea for a show along the lines of an international Rescue 8.  Bob was a research nut who absorbed the atmosphere around him as easily as others breathe in and out.  He discovered something closer to home:  a pilot "paramedic" program, originated in Northern Ireland and mandated by the California State Legislature for a probationary period in L.A. County.  The first gleaming red squad was housed at Station 8, or "8's" in West Hollywood, where the County Paramedic Program was born, and was then struggling for life.

Bob created a show around it, his theory being you could educate people if they didn't realize you were doing it.  He believed if you presented them with something noble in an entertaining, humorous way, the audience would then demand it in their own lives.  He was right.  All over the country people began to demand "that paramedic thing" they saw on NBC every Saturday night for six years.  They eventually got it.

Bob easily handled the pressure of executive producing 22 hour-shows a season, with only two producers and 15-or-so freelance writers.  But his creative process was his own.  For an hour every afternoon, the fire department light he'd installed over his office door glowed red--no entry--while he played gin with production cronies and his subconscious worked on the day's script problems.

He started writing around seven at night, just when panic was setting in.  His first drafts were letter perfect.  He taught, sometimes none too gently:  that there was no room for ego, the show's vision always came first; that events and character had to make sense within the world you created; that the integrity of a character is much more important than a cheap sight gag; that you can write heroes whom the audiences like an respected, rather then envy.

He demanded that all writers ride with the paramedics before doing a script so they'd be steeped in the reality, and translate it into responsible entertainment.

I was a young girl when I went on my first ride-along at 127's in Carson.  It was exciting to hang around the firehouse, cook chili with the guys, wait for the alarm tones to blare--then we got our first call, an old woman with chest pains.  We drove through red signals, lights flashing, dodging idiots who didn't pull over.  I was sure I'd throw up. 

When we got there I stayed out of the way, watching and learning.  Someone real was hurting.  It wasn't sanitized, it wasn't pretty, and these guys were pros.  I was hooked:  I wanted the audience to understand what firefighters did, day in, day out--to know they were flawed human beings; big-hearted, overgrown kids who did good work.

I couldn't appreciate then how much the show would mean, to me personally, and to the public.  Bob Cinader appreciated it, though.  He was a visionary who died, much too young, 14 years ago last month.  Whenever I think of him, I remember the Talmudic quote, "Whoever saves one life, it is as if he saved the entire world."   There's no doubt about Bob's karma--his extraordinary legacy goes far beyond those who were lucky enough to work with him.

Emergency! didn't win Emmys, but it was the finest television has to offer.  It not only held up a mirror to society, it stimulated a profound, positive force for change.  We delivered a 29-33 share opposite All in the Family.   The show was on time, under budget, and our stars generally behaved themselves, but the industry dismissed its success because the show wasn't deemed "serious" drama.

NBC canceled Emergency! with a 28 share.  The don't-blink-you'll-miss-him boss of NBC, Irwin Segelstein, decided vignette-style shows didn't work.  I don't know where Mr. Segelstein is, but the vignette is alive and well.  If you don't believe me, you can watch Emergency!'s sophisticated brilliant grandchild, ER.

Emergency! and Bob Cinader received hundreds of awards for meritorious achievement in advancing the evolution of emergency care by ten years.  For Bob, the growth was synergistic:  He became one of the country's foremost experts on paramedics, advising politicians and fire departments how to make the system better.

In 1985, Station 127 was renamed the Robert A. Cinader memorial Fire Station.   In the middle of the ceremony, the refinery across the street started to explode, fireballs visible fromm our folding chairs.  Half the county rigs in the area attended the dedication--which emptied out rather quickly as the firefighters ran to save lives, leaving us with only a small audience.  I could sense Bob looking down, chortling in between gin hands.

It gratifies me to know the show still lives in the spirit of the people who were influenced by Emergency! to become paramedics, nurses, firefighters, and in the lives of the grandparent, sister, mother or father who was injured in an accident or suffered a heartattack, and was saved by a  paramedic.

The physician's credo is "First Do No Harm."  I believe this should be the credo for all human beings.  What I learned from Bob was not only to do no harm, but to try to do good--the audience is listening.

Reprinted by permission of Ms. Shearer.  Originally run as a column for Muse-ings (a monthly feature), in the premiere issue of the Writers' Guild of America, West magazine, the award-winning Written By.

 

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