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Smoke Gets In Their Eyes

June 16, 1996|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Before production began last April on the Fox series "L.A. Firefighters," which premiered earlier this month, the cast spent time with real Los Angeles-area firefighters to get an up-close and personal look at their heroic, often dangerous, lives.

One of the stars, though, got more than he bargained for when he rode along with members of Station No. 8 in West Hollywood.

"I went out on four runs and the last one got pretty intense," recalls Jarrod Emick, who plays the show's moral center, Jack Malloy. "A kid got hit by a Jaguar and it killed him. He went into full arrest. We were there and we followed up at Cedar-Sinai. They cracked him open and they were giving him a heart massage. So it was wild."

Christine Elise, late of "ER" and who plays the force's newest female recruit, Erin Coffey, had a "pretty dry run" when she visited station 164 in Huntington Beach. "It's what they call a hot station because it gets a lot of action," she explains. "It's in a neighborhood where they have a lot of gang activity, and I think their action happens generally at night. I was there in the morning and frankly, I was glad. I had one or two calls but they were minor. My feeling was, if the writers and directors did their homework well enough, the reality should be there without my standing around and watching somebody die."

Originally, "L.A. Firefighters" was strictly a six-week summer series on Monday nights. So when Fox announced last month that it had been picked up for the fall, the news was a pleasant surprise for executive producer and creator Gordon Greisman.

"Sort of at the 11th hour we were finishing our first episode," Greisman says. "The studio called and said, 'How quickly can you get it done? The network would love to see it for consideration for the fall.' We sort of busted our behinds and we got them a three-quarters finished first episode and they ordered off of that. We were very pleased and very stunned."

"L.A. Firefighters" is the first series for Emick, who won a Tony Award two years ago for his performance as Joe Hardy in the Broadway revival of "Damn Yankees."

"I haven't done anything like this before," he says, adding that he feels "extremely blessed" that the series has been picked up for the fall, when it will air Sundays at 7 p.m. opposite the stalwart "60 Minutes."

"I think it will be interesting and such a great opportunity to venture into the next 13 and see what we get and really start molding out some really great characters."

Emick acknowledges that doing a series is far different than appearing in a Broadway musical. "I don't find the craft changes much," he says, "but how it is done. You put on a play, but you make a movie or a TV series."

"L.A Firefighters," which boasts a young, attractive cast plus such veterans as Miguel Sandoval ("Murder One), chronicles what Fox calls the "humanity, bravery and unsung heroism of a team of Los Angeles firefighters" and examines their somewhat fiery private lives. In other words, "ER" meets "Melrose Place" at a fire station.

Greisman doesn't seem too phased by the inevitable comparisons. "We should only have the audiences that both of those have," Greisman says, laughing. "We are not at all reinventing the wheel here. I could think, particularly when it comes to 'ER,' of worse things you could be derivative of. I think it certainly will be more like 'ER' than 'Melrose Place.' With full respect to the commercialism of 'Melrose Place,' we are not doing a soap opera. We follow the lives of firefighters, I think, much in the same way an 'ER' or an 'NYPD Blue' follows personal lives."

Having appeared in "ER" as intern Harper Tracy (Noah Wylie's TV girlfriend), Elise found a lot of similarities between the two when she read the pilot script. "It was well-written and character-driven with elements of heightened intensity and action. But now that we are doing it, the dynamic of the cast is much different. It is an incredibly exciting, action-stunt show, huge in the stunt and action elements."

And a bear to shoot, Greisman says. Unlike "ER," where the action comes to the hospital, "L.A. Firefighters" goes to the action. "So, as a result, compared to the emergency room in 'ER' or the magical confession room in 'NYPD Blue,' we will probably be out on location more often than those shows. Fortunately, the fire department has a panoply of things that it does, so we won't have the 'fire of the week.' "

Both Emick and Elise have been utterly fearless about working in and around fire. "We love it," Emick says with enthusiasm. "Everybody is jazzed."

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