Fox’s first responder drama 9-1-1, which airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m., is a big hit for the network both in its live viewing and its time-shifted numbers.
It’s highly cinematic storytelling courtesy of American Horror Story‘s Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and Tim Minear and it’s getting even more epic tonight with a terrifying rollercoaster accident previewed in the series’ ad campaign.
EW talked to co-creator Murphy about staging the dramatic theme park accident and a new romantic twist for Connie Britton’s Abby, teased in the above exclusive clip.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: It’s harder to make an impact with network [television]. Why do you think 9-1-1 broke through?
RYAN MURPHY: It’s a couple reasons. The main reason is Dana Walden is very smart about how she runs that network. I first met Dana when I first started doing a deal with her back in 2005. The reason she wanted to hire me and meet with me was because she loved Nip/Tuck. We bonded on how much we loved those unusual, bizarro cases that are sorta plucked from the headlines.
About a year ago, she said, “Would you ever consider try doing a procedural that had that plucked from the headlines, adrenaline rush, bizarro element to it but really at its core was about the bravery of first responders?” I said, “Okay, let’s try it.” So Brad and I and Tim wrote the pilot and we have a murderer’s row of a cast and I think that cast also helped it break through in a big way. People love Angela [Bassett], Peter [Krause], and Connie [Britton]. The show is doing really well with women but I think the Connie/Angela duo and doing a series about women over 40 is interesting to people.
And lastly, Shannon Ryan at Fox did the marketing campaign and she and I spent a long time talking about it. I think the thing that happens a lot of times with network shows now is like five stars on a poster. So when we came up with that idea of that roller coaster poster, which is the case of episode two, I think that sort of broke through. Those are the main things.
It’s very positive too. But will they lose people? Will there be a mix of tragedy and joy?
Yeah. Huge tragedy. I do think the core of a show is a blue sky show with the episodes showing off the life-saving skills of first responders which is a heroic idea. But when you talk to first responders, there’s always that one case, the one life that was lost that they never got over that was their darkest moment. Sometimes their lightest moments spring from the fact that they’re haunted by the memory of the people that did die and have vowed to let that never happen again. So I thought that was an interesting conceit: it’s the people you lose that you never get over so the show has an obligation to that. We will be showing that, particularly, we have a really big episode for Buck [in tonight’s episode]. We have a really big episode in episode four which is a huge plane crash episode where that sort of happens to Peter Krause.
So tonight is the infamous roller coaster episode. Is someone legit hanging upside down from a roller coaster?
Yeah. All of our cases are plucked from the headlines. It seems to happen every summer where there’s a malfunction at a state fair and people are thrown from out of these roller coasters that aren’t regulated. In the case of many of them, they die tragic deaths. So we wanted to show that. It was a really difficult thing where it was like good on paper and then a nightmare of an episode to film.
We had to shoot it three times. We had to shoot a real rollercoaster. Then we had to build the roller coaster in a soundstage against a green screen. So we had all of these actors on our roller coaster we made hang upside down for hours and we had to take breaks. Then, we had to shoot the stunts of what happens when you’re tossed out of a roller coaster. What does that feel like? What does that look like? So we had to do three different components and it was very tricky but truly adrenalized filmmaking and that was exciting to do.
Angela’s and Peter’s characters know each other on the show. But will we see Angela and Connie having a glass of wine one night? Will they all intersect?
Yeah, I mean the show was designed for that. I don’t know about you but I want to see Peter and Connie and Angela sharing a salad at a fire station. I want to see it. I need it to happen. A lot of times in these firehouses, it’s many hours they’re staying there and many of them become these like gourmand chefs and Peter is that. Because Angela and Peter are stationed in the same district, Angela is friends with Aisha and comes over. There’s a really great sexy subplot that begins to happen with Buck and Abby.
How does she date with her sick mom there?
It’s tricky [laughs]. Connie and I talk about that all the time. But the thing about that situation is you gotta have a life. So yes, Connie then gets involved in the world and Peter makes them these big honkin’ meals. I also thought that’s interesting if Connie meets Peter but she’s dating the Buck character.
And will Angela’s on the down-low husband still be a continuing storyline? Like will she date?
I think five years ago if you would have done that story, it would have been a pure tragedy. I think the way the world is working and with all the work everybody has been doing in pop culture with truly great gay characters, it was important for me we don’t punish the gay character. It’s obviously a complication. He’s obviously lied to his wife. So we’re handling it in an interesting, complicated, non-tragic way. Now that the secret’s out, do you date? Or do you decide to stay in a sexless marriage because you have young children? For Angela, I want to see her out in that dating pool and meeting Mr. Right and that’s a really great storyline for Angela. It’s sort of like whatever happened to all of the characters after Waiting to Exhale. Make no mistake, it’s very rocky and tumultuous and fireworks but I think it’s great TV. I’m also excited to show Connie and Angela as two women out in the world being sexualized, romantic, full-dimensional figures.
With really cute eyewear and fishtail braids!
People have an obsession with Connie’s hair and, for this one, we were like let’s just lean into it. Why does Connie Britton not have a big L’Oreal campaign and Winona Ryder does?