9-1-1 executive producer talks the show's epic return and teases chaos to come
In a way, it feels like we've been living through an extended episode of 9-1-1 since last March. Luckily though, the much-more-entertaining Fox drama is back tonight.
We won't be escaping the pandemic entirely when the crew over at Station 118 returns though, as executive producer Tim Minear made the decision to incorporate COVID-19 into the show's narrative. "While I don't want to have the shows subsumed in the pandemic, — because I don't think people watch this franchise to do anything except escape the real world— when you're doing a show about first responders, I think to ignore it would have made the show a little bit too quaint," Minear tells EW. "With 9-1-1, our whole mission statement is to push things, to make things bigger and louder, and more extreme, and something happened after March of last year, which is the world became more pushed than my show." Minear says he had to figure out how to raise the stakes on a show that's about raising the stakes, when people are "living through stakes that are so much higher than they're used to existing?"
Well you could take out a Hollywood landmark? Yup, that's exactly what Minear does in the show's season 4 premiere when a dam breaks and causes a landslip that wipes out the Hollywood sign. "We talked about iconic images and obviously the Hollywood sign has always been one," he says. "Last year, we talked about doing a wildfire that was coming up over the Hollywood Hills and endangering the sign and then we just thought it would be more fun if it fell down."
So a pretty routine day at work for police sergeant, Athena (Angela Bassett) as she gets back to the job after being brutally attacked by a serial rapist at the end of last season. "She's not at all fine," says Minear. "She's a woman who's been self-sufficient her whole life and now she's going through this trauma and thinks she's past it. What she will discover throughout the season is that it's going to be a thing that doesn't just go away. It will return."
9-1-1 will also continue to dig into stories concerning institutional racism, with the Black Lives Matter movement inspiring Minear to further those plot points. "We'd been exploring those themes even before any of this happened and we were planning on continuing to explore those ideas," says Minear. "So it's not like the world blew up and then we just started doing the things that were happening in the news. In a way, we were a little bit ahead of the curve. It's an ugly curve to be ahead of, but there you have it." To help with those story lines, Minear brought on retired Los Angeles police sergeant and author Cheryl Dorsey (Black and Blue). "She kind of is Athena Grant," says Minear. "She started as a patrol officer on the LAPD in the nineties, just like our character did, and she ended up becoming a Field Sergeant just like Athena. When I saw her being interviewed after the unrest this summer, I immediately reached out to her and started talking to her and she was like, 'What took you so long? I just assumed that you based Angela's character on me.' The similarities are just so, so striking."
Elsewhere, Minear says Buck (Oliver Stark) will be moving on, now that he has some closure on his relationship with Abby (Connie Britton), but that he's also going to discover something about his past that he didn't know. "It will be a missing piece that will bring the definition of who Buck is into some sharp focus," teases Minear. "And this story will happen when we meet Buck and Maddie's (Jennifer Love Hewitt) parents."
Seems like the show's not slowing down much at all then, despite the global pandemic. For Minear, there is at least one upswing of being stuck at home. "I've been able to run two shows from my house and I don't have to wear pants," he says.
9-1-1 returns Monday, Jan. 18 at 8 p.m. ET on Fox. Watch the exclusive clip above.
Sign up for Entertainment Weekly's free daily newsletter to get breaking TV news, exclusive first looks, recaps, reviews, interviews with your favorite stars, and more.