The chase is on — let's set the scene.
This is TV's escalating world of real-time, follow-along patrol shows, and one unit is running way out in front: A&E's Live PD. For 200-plus episodes, the series has showcased police forces across the country and put up ratings so big it's nearly criminal.
Now in hot pursuit: First Responders Live, the latest entry into the genre, spearheaded by legendary Law & Order creator Dick Wolf (premieres Wednesday, June 12, 9/8c, Fox). The series will follow EMTs, firefighters, police, and other everyday heroes who run toward the dangers others run from.
"First responders are doing God's work," Wolf tells TV Guide Magazine. "Judging by the popularity of [my dramas] Chicago Fire, P.D., and Med, viewers have a huge appetite for what these heroes do on a daily basis."
That "daily basis" has been the bailiwick of Live PD executive producer Dan Cesareo since the show's October 2016 premiere. Cops may have started the action in 1989 (it's still going strong on Paramount Network), with others — notably truTV's Bait Car and Hot Pursuit — enjoying spirited runs, but it's the "live" element (with a delay ranging from what Cesareo calls "next to nothing" to several minutes) that gives Live PD its star status.
On Friday and Saturday nights (new episodes begin May 31), cameras ride along with deputies and officers, capturing anything from police chases to traffic stops to robberies and worse. "We don't know what will happen, and the viewer doesn't either," says Cesareo of situations that frequently turn more complicated than expected.
For instance, a broken taillight in Williamson County, Texas, recently led to arrests for heroin and crystal meth possession. "You get a feeling for the fabric of America, and a true sense of the good and bad," he adds.
Such a voyeuristic urge goes beyond a simple POV thrill. It also presents the men and women in blue — who face national PR issues through shootings that paint officers as irresponsible at best — as caring humans trying to defuse crises.
Since Live PD's premiere, its audience has nearly tripled and now averages 2.3 million per episode; no surprise that spinoff Live Rescue, featuring EMTs and paramedics, debuted to a whopping 1.4 million viewers in April (Mondays, 9/8c, A&E). Hosted by Ashleigh Banfield, it's one of several spinoffs, such as the highlight show Live PD: Police Patrol.
Then there's the self-dubbed Live PD Nation of faithful fans that's helped nab 16 criminals, including people wanted for murder. "They've also found seven [missing] children," Cesareo says. "Nothing compares to this level of passion."
The makers of First Responders Live also hope to tap into the passion viewers have for the genre. One added element to their series is getting to know the responders on a personal level. "To allow them to be seen and to acknowledge their simple heroism is very important," says the show's host, former Good Morning America news anchor Josh Elliott.
Cesareo isn't worried about the competition. "If you're going to compete against someone, you want it to be the best," he says of Wolf, who plans to mine Responders for fictional inspiration as well. "But imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. It's a hard show to make, and the bar is high."
First Responders Live, Series Premiere, Wednesday, June 12, 9/8c, Fox