There’s a potential emergency hitting the set of Fox’s 9-1-1 on this blazing August day. “Call 911—someone is stealing a car,” a crew member jokingly shouts as a car alarm sounds near the Altadena, Calif., cemetery location, briefly interrupting production as stars Oliver Stark, Peter Krause, and Angela Bassett look on. But the series—created by American Horror Story’s Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and Tim Minear—rarely deals with cases as mundane as a Honda’s breached security system. 9-1-1’s unique, wild set pieces epitomize “Go big or go home.” Think a bouncy castle flying off a cliff. Or a baby being flushed down a toilet.
Or, in this case, diarrhea vomit. Today’s emergency involves a hate group protesting a soldier’s funeral and the vitriolic leader choking on his clogged colostomy bag. Clearly, this is “not just a straight-ahead procedural, but something a little more viral in its feeling,” says Minear. “That’s really the aesthetic of [9-1-1]—these in-the-moment cases that almost feel like viral videos.” Adds Krause: “One thing that’s also contributed to the success of the show is that [the producers] push boundaries.” A lot of 9-1-1’s drama is found via YouTube and the internet. But not all make the grade; Minear admits one trauma for season 2 involving “penis captivus” was cut by Fox. “It was too sexual,” he explains. “It’s where the vagina clamps down on the penis and it becomes like a Chinese finger trap—you can’t get out.”
Still, that go-for-broke swagger transformed 9-1-1—about the professional and personal lives of cops, firefighters, and 911 dispatchers—into Fox’s biggest hit since Empire (After a special debut on Sept. 23, 9-1-1 will air Mondays at 9 p.m. beginning Sept. 24.). “I was, of course, thrilled, and it’s great to be associated with a network hit,” says showrunner Minear (Wonderfalls, Terriers). “I had a reputation for making limited series before such a thing existed, because my series all got canceled.” The series is returning with a bang…or a rumble. The second and third episodes of season 2 will find L.A. rocked by a 7.1-magnitude earthquake. The epic production, which Minear says is on par with last season’s plane crash, pushed the actors physically, including Bassett. “We had two weekends of [filming] this big opening with the earthquake,” says the Mission: Impossible—Fallout star. “It was draining. You try running up a freeway for a quarter-mile. I felt like Tom Cruise running across Paris.”
Adding some star power this season is Jennifer Love Hewitt (Party of Five) as Maddie, sister of Stark’s Buck and a former nurse fleeing an abusive relationship. “They hide her out as a 911 operator,” says Hewitt. “She’s putting her life back together, figuring out who she is, and really enjoying being in other people’s dramatic situations rather than her own for a while.” Hewitt fills the void left by Connie Britton’s emergency dispatcher Abby, who was last seen leaving boyfriend Buck and flying to Ireland. Britton’s contract was for one season, but Minear hopes she’ll return, if only for an episode. “Buck’s kind of clinging on to [his relationship with Abby],” says Stark. “I know there are rumors that [Connie Britton] is going to come back. They’re still trying to work that out and if that happens, great!” Emergencies do have a way of bringing people together.