9-1-1 and 9-1-1: Lone Star creator takes us inside the wild(fire) crossover episode
In Monday night's Lone Star crossover episode, the Los Angeles 118 firehouse crew, including Buck (Oliver Stark), Hen (Aisha Hinds), and Eddie (Ryan Guzman), arrived in Austin to help Captain Owen Strand (Rob Lowe) and the 126 take on a raging wildfire. Of course, things escalated as quickly as, well, wildfire, and soon enough Owen and Hen found themselves trapped in an old mine shaft, confronting some physical and psychological demons.
When we recovered from all the drama and joy at seeing Buck and T.K. (Ronen Rubinstein) compete over who's seen the wildest things on the job, we chatted with Tim Minear, who co-created both series, to find out how challenging it was to combine the shows and whether it's something he'd do again.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Had you always planned to do a crossover episode since you started Lone Star?
TIM MINEAR: Oh, sure. That always seemed like it could be a possibility, and then really when we were figuring out the beginnings of both seasons this year, during our long, extended hiatus because of COVID, that's when… The network was interested in that idea. I loved the idea of doing it, so it was just a matter of if we could come up an idea that fit where the shows were in their story and something we could actually accomplish in the middle of a worldwide pandemic. It was challenging, but we did it!
Were there other concepts you played around with, or did you always have the L.A. crew going to Texas?
Yeah, we considered it both ways. We haven't really tackled a big wildfire on 9-1-1, really because the show takes place in California and we generally premiere in September and so that's really around fire season here, so it's always been a very sensitive topic for us that we didn't want to be making entertainment out of the devastation of what was happening here. So the idea of making it in Texas and the fact that we were airing in a different time this year, we felt like this was something we could maybe do. Also, it's a very organic, non-contrived way of getting out-of-state firefighters to work with each other, because that is a real thing.
Right, that makes a lot of sense. When you were deciding which characters to pair up for the episode, how much did you base it on the story lines and how much did you base it on the characters you thought would have good chemistry together?
It's all those things. It's who's available to come play in this sandbox. Remember, I'm making both shows at the same time, so all these people are already employed. So I have to come up with a way to checkerboard the storytelling so that I can pair off these two over here, these two over here, and these two over here. That way I'm not taking everybody out of my other show and putting them into Lone Star and absenting 9-1-1 of any cast members. Those are the practical considerations, but I know that when we first started talking about it, we were like, "Well, Eddie's from Texas, so that might be interesting to send him." Then we just all thought that seeing Buck and T.K. together would be super-fun. For me, I'm also telling a story of Owen, who's going through his story arc this year about his survivor's guilt and about his cancer being in remission. He needed to have some kind of cathartic moment where he was almost given permission to live again, and he needed to have it with somebody with some authority, who can help him with that. Suddenly, when we realized that Aisha would be available for this, the idea of pairing Owen and Hen just seemed like the thing you wouldn't expect and a really interesting pairing of two really interesting characters. Aisha's character, Hen, being in Owen's story at this point suddenly just felt like it was always meant to be. We needed somebody in that mine shaft with him who gives him permission to leave his ghosts behind. When he's talking about his survivor's guilt, she just trumps it. She's like, "Yeah, not only do I have survivor's guilt, I killed somebody with my ambulance." It's thrilling when you're writing and putting it together and you're realizing that this is not a gimmick; we're not doing a gimmicky crossover. This is an episode that is earning all of its emotional beats. Also, who can argue with the fun of T.K., Buck and Mateo [Julian Works] comparing the craziest things they've seen?
I'd watch a whole crossover episode where T.K. goes to L.A. and just hangs out with Buck. The ending was hilarious when T.K. assumed Buck was into him —
T.K. assuming facts that are not necessarily in evidence. But it was a great way for us to tip our hats to the Tarlos relationship. I couldn't get everybody into the 45-minute episode, and also it makes no sense to bring a police officer to a wildfire 200 miles away.
Production-wise, how much of a challenge was it to merge the two shows, especially during a pandemic?
It was incredibly challenging. The pandemic makes making the show at all challenging. The other reason that that's something like this is challenging is because we have standing sets. That's for characters' homes, we have a firehouse, we have the call center. So none of my standing sets that I built for my show could I use in this episode. There was a brief moment in Tommy's office, and there's a brief moment where Owen wakes up in the bunk room and then he's in the bathroom at the firehouse. Otherwise everything was on a location, and so that makes it more challenging, certainly.
So in terms of Owen and his newfound invincibility, is this something we should be worried about him testing going forward?
I don't think he thinks that anymore. In a weird way, him feeling invincible was kind of a downer for him. It didn't make him reckless, but I think after his experience with Hen and after her suggesting that he leaves some of those ghosts behind, I think he will now be choosing living life as opposed to surviving it — and he's going to have a lot of reasons to.
We also got a glimpse into Judd's [Jim Parrack] past — it seems like maybe he had a troubled upbringing. Is that something we're going to explore more this season?
Without a doubt. I'm not saying how quickly that's going to happen, but there is definitely a story.
It seems like Tommy [Gina Torres] and Owen are growing closer, and maybe she's going to be someone who can be there for him?
You're right. We're setting up Owen being able to take a step into the future. I wanted to make sure that everybody's character got service in this what's a big event episode. If any of the characters' arcs got moved forward, it would definitely be Owen's story got moved down the field. Coming up, you're going to see a lot more exploration and deeper dives into the other characters. We'll find out about Marjan [Natacha Karam] coming up quite soon. No pieces will be left on the game board.
Do you plan to do more crossover episodes going forward?
I think it would be great to do it again, but I don't want to just repeat myself.
Maybe Austin comes to L.A. and they all just go to Disneyland and nothing goes wrong. It'd just be one really nice episode.
[Laughs] That'll be one thrilling hour of television. "Let's go ride that ride one more time."
9-1-1 airs Mondays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Fox, with 9-1-1: Lone Star following at 9 p.m. ET/PT.