ABC’s new reality show “Emergency Call” follows real-life 911 calls — people suffering life-threatening injuries, people being attacked, missing children, car accidents and more.
And, on Monday’s episode (9 p.m., ABC/Ch. 4), there’s a Utah woman choking because she has a spatula stuck in her throat.
The show follows the emergencies without ever going to the scene of the emergencies. It’s filmed primarily in 911 call centers, which now includes Weber Area Dispatch in Ogden.
You might think that sounds somewhat less than exciting. Actor Luke Wilson, who hosts the show, had the same reaction when the idea was pitched to him.
“When I was talking to the producers about it, I was saying, ‘OK, so are you going to show the first responders getting there? Like, what happens?’” he said. “And they said, ‘Nope, this is just about the call takers.’”
And the end result is surprisingly engaging. Gripping, even.
Wilson, whose credits include “Legally Blonde,” “The Royal Tenenbaums,” “The Family Stone” and “Old School,” said he didn’t entirely get how the show would work until he began visiting 911 call centers himself.
“They’re on 12-hour shifts and I’d come out after four hours at the most, just kind of breathing in fresh air and trying to clear my head,” he said. “I definitely found it overwhelming. I would leave just kind of mentally drained from listening to the calls and watching the call takers and how they dealt with the people.”
“Emergency Call” gives you a taste of what it’s like to be on the receiving end of 911 calls. In Monday’s episode, a call taker in Alaska tries to help a man who’s been shot, and another in New Orleans is on the phone with a woman who’s been in an accident when her car is struck again.
Utah dispatcher Justin (first names only for call takers on this show) takes a call from an older woman whose son’s cellphone exploded. And dispatcher Shiloh gets the call from the woman choking on the spatula.
“I was trying to cook and hold my son at the same time and I hit the wall,” says the woman, who is in obvious distress.
“You don’t really understand what this job is until you do this job,” says Shiloh.
Viewers understand it a little better after watching “Emergency Call.” Cameras follow married couple Justin and Shiloh home, and viewers meet their young daughter. Then we see Shiloh take a call from a man whose 2-year-old daughter is missing, and he’s so frantic he can’t even remember his own address.
Shiloh remains calm and reassuring as she talks to the father and dispatches help, but the call clearly takes an emotional toll on her.
“Right when you think, ‘That is the worst thing I’ve ever heard,’ you get another call another day and you think, ‘Nope, that’s the worst thing I’ve ever heard,’” Shiloh says.
Wilson said that, while researching movie and TV roles, he’s talked to a lot of police officers and firefighters, and accompanied them on ride-alongs.
“But I’d never gotten a chance to meet a 911 call taker and I definitely never got to go to a call center until now,” he said. “I’m sure you get used to it. But just the research that I did, I found pretty unbelievable.”
As is “Emergency Call.”