Many TV shows, both fictional and documentary, have saluted the bravery of police officers, but the courage and skill of fire fighters are rarely acknowledged on television. The main reason for this, I suspect, is that the profession is tough to dramatize: Much of the job consists of waiting for a fire to occur, and when one does, its danger and spectacle overwhelm any chance for narrative or character development.
This is the kindest explanation I can muster for the tediousness of Fire! Trapped on the 37th Floor, a docudrama about a 1988 fire in a Los Angeles office building. The opening half hour of Fire! introduces us to occupants of the building, including Peter Scolari (Newhart) as a shy office worker and Lisa Hartman (Knots Landing) as a nice office worker. If ”shy” and ”nice” seem vague, so are these characters. They’re just stick figures in Jeffrey Bloom’s teleplay: ”composite characters,” the credits inform us, based on the real-life employees trapped inside when this rampaging fire began.
Fire! is two hours of flame, smoke, stuck elevators, and feeble water sprinklers. Midway through, Lee Majors (The Fall Guy) shows up as a Los Angeles Fire Department captain. Majors spends most of his time out on the sidewalk, looking up at the fire on the 37th floor and muttering, ”God help us all.” When a fireman suggests that someone rescue the trapped office workers by ascending the outside of the building in a window washers’ rig, Majors tells him no. ”We don’t need any more drama than we already got,” says Capt. Majors. Oh, yes you do, Lee.