As two of the highest-rated shows of the 2020-21 broadcast season, 9-1-1 and 9-1-1: Lone Star have become staples of network television, with both primetime first-responder dramas being renewed for another season last week at FOX. While a sniper put the entire LAFD in jeopardy on the season finale of 9-1-1, a giant dust storm swept through the Texas-set spinoff, leaving, in its wake, plenty of unanswered questions as both shows enter an extended hiatus. (9-1-1 will return with Season 5 this fall, while 9-1-1: Lone Star is slated to return with Season 3 in the midseason.)
In a phone interview with Observer from earlier today, showrunner Tim Minear breaks down both finales, talks about the major storylines that left the fates of multiple characters—and the actors who play them—in jeopardy and discusses his upcoming plans for both shows as the world moves out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Observer: Let’s start with the biggest storyline going into “Survivors,” the Season 4 finale of 9-1-1: Eddie (Ryan Guzman) being shot by a sniper in broad daylight in Los Angeles. Why did you decide to go with that storyline for Eddie in particular, and was there ever any doubt in your mind that he would survive the shooting?
Tim Minear: Well, I think the reason to go with it was—and not to sound cynical—you need a big moment there to kind of drive you into a finale. Things have been going pretty well for Eddie this season, and it just felt like the right flashpoint to bring the team together, to put all of our people into some kind of jeopardy, and for Buck (Oliver Stark) to learn a little more about himself.
It was never any question for me that Eddie was gonna survive; it was a question for Ryan Guzman, who I forgot to call to tell him what was coming up. (Laughs.) The scripts went out and I got a call from him: “Are you firing me?” I was like, “No, no, no!” And then I started getting texts from the cast too: “You’re not killing Eddie, are you?” So, it was a question for Ryan, but not for me. Ryan is too pretty to die.
[Eddie getting killed] was a question for Ryan, but not for me. Ryan is too pretty to die.
By the end of the episode, Eddie doesn’t have a sling and seems to have physically recovered. But will you really dig more into the psychological aftermath of that traumatic event? What does this mean for him and the people around him going forward?
I think Eddie’s been through war. He’s been through a lot. I don’t know that he’s gonna be scarred in the way another firefighter might be scarred, but Eddie has his own unresolved issues—most of them are around Christopher (Gavin McHugh) and whether or not he’s been a good dad [since] he lost Shannon. There definitely will be things to explore with Eddie, but I don’t know if he’s gonna be particularly traumatized by what he went through in that moment, although that’s not to say that it couldn’t happen because it could.
We can’t talk about the important people in Eddie’s life without talking about Buck. It was heart-wrenching to see Buck’s reaction to Eddie’s shooting, but it was moving to see his reaction when Eddie told him about potentially becoming Christopher’s legal guardian if he dies. Can you talk about the decision to go with that ending? How does that strengthen the relationship that they already have?
It’s interesting. The reason I decided to go with that particular story was there’s always been something about how Eddie sees how protective Buck is for his kid. Eddie is always going to do the thing that he thinks is gonna protect Christopher the most, and just like at the end of the tsunami when he tells Buck, “There’s no one I trust with my son more than you,” that’s something he meant even then. The thing that I found fascinating about that scene is not that Eddie decides [after the shooting], “I want to put in my will that you would be Christopher’s guardian.” It’s that he has done it six or eight months before and he just hadn’t said anything to Buck, and I don’t think he would have ever said anything to Buck if he didn’t feel like Buck needed to hear it. He trusted he was doing the right thing, but he just didn’t want to burden Buck with it. He’s not planning on being killed in the line of duty or something and not being there to raise his son; he’s just doing the responsible thing and planning for worst-case scenarios.
It’s no secret that Buck and Eddie’s relationship has become a cornerstone of the entire 9-1-1 franchise, and a lot of people have fallen in love with the idea of them together. Oliver has even said that he doesn’t think that Buck could survive without his relationship to Eddie and Christopher, and we certainly saw evidence of that in the finale, and it’s unlike any relationship that I have ever seen on television. Has there been an evolving dialogue in the writers’ room to define the kind of love that is clearly there?
Yeah, it’s come up specifically and continuously. I always get bagged on by the fans for stuff like this, but all the conversations that the fans have are conversations that happen in the writers’ room. It’s interesting because we had Eddie’s character in Season 2 and from basically the moment that Buck laid eyes on him—and it’s mostly in the way that we introduced him, with a particular song and putting his clothes on in slow motion—that may have started it from jump street. But you can’t plan when actors have chemistry together, and I think that Ryan and Oliver have a ton of chemistry together.
Now, how you want to define that chemistry, I think, is its own kind of evolving thing, which is almost why I don’t want to define it because the show’s not over. So, I’m not even really sure how to answer that question. I know that there’s a contingent of fans that would like a certain outcome and the [relationship] has a life of its own in fandom in that respect. But I do think that, look, at the very least, these are two guys who have a deep spiritual bond with each other. And by the way, I have seen it on television before—I’ve seen it in Band of Brothers. It’s that kind of out there, on the front lines. Hen (Aisha Hinds) and Chimney (Kenneth Choi) have it as well, so if there’s more than just that kind of chemistry between Buck and Eddie and a lot of people see that, I’m not gonna deny what they’re seeing. But I know that’s not a satisfying answer to your question.
Well, let me ask you this then: Because of the way that the show has been written and the fact that there have been so many nods to Buck and Eddie’s dynamic, this show has been accused of—and I don’t use this word lightly—queerbaiting the viewers.
Yeah, I’m aware of that.
What do you have to say to the viewers of this show who feel that way and who feel like they’re being strung along by the writers?
I’m actually not sure how to respond to that, to be honest with you. The show is not deliberately queerbaiting the audience, but what I also don’t want to do is to not keep writing these characters the way I see them, and whatever it is they’re taking out of the portrayals of these characters is being generated somehow on the page and the way that the scenes are being performed. Like I said before, it’s almost got a little bit of a life of its own, and I don’t want to strangle that because I think there’s something that’s kind of alive about it, and in a way, I don’t apologize for it either.
One of the other surprising storylines was the decision to put Bobby (Peter Krause) and Athena (Angela Bassett)’s seemingly rock-solid relationship under the microscope, and things got pretty heated by the end of the penultimate episode. Things were resolved extremely quickly, which seems to be a trademark of this franchise, but what was the biggest thing that you wanted people to take away from that storyline?
To me, that was also a very realistic thing. When you’re comfortable in a relationship, you take the other person for granted sometimes. I’m not saying that Athena was particularly taking Bobby for granted, or Bobby was taking Athena for granted, but it was an interesting way to explore the idea that Athena and Bobby are grown people who have kind of [already] formed who they are. They don’t need the other person to complete them necessarily, and they’re coming into these kinds of second relationships at a point in their lives where they’re kind of already fully cooked. You have to sort of accept the person for who they are; you’re not gonna change that person at that stage of their life. You have to learn how to navigate and understand them a little bit, or hopefully they can navigate and understand you a little bit too.
I don’t think that there was a real crack in the foundation; I think it was a slight fissure. Pressure builds up in every relationship. The things that make you attracted to the other person are also the things that frustrate you. I just think it’s a truism, and it’s true for them too, and sometimes, whatever pressure is building or whatever the thing that is causing the frustration is, all it really needs to be is brought out into the light. It just needs to be acknowledged, the other person needs to feel like they’ve been seen and heard, and eventually, you’ll end up fighting about the same thing down the line. (Laughs.) It makes you understand that this is who you’re dealing with, and you’re not projecting onto them expectations that they should be somebody that they’re not.
This finale, like the three preceding ones, ends on another hopeful note but leaves a few unanswered questions for this fall. We have Albert (John Harlan Kim) becoming a firefighter, Maddie (Jennifer Love Hewitt) quitting her job and dealing with what seems to be postpartum depression, and Hen’s journey to becoming a doctor while also looking to expand her family with Karen (Tracie Thoms). What can you preview about those three storylines as we move into Season 5?
Albert is finding his own place in the world and he’s taking inspiration from those around him, so he’s not just gonna be a satellite to this life. He wants to be a part of this life, so that’s gonna be a story.
Maddie is suffering from postpartum depression, and sometimes, there are physical and medical reasons for this sort of thing, and it’s a story that we want to tell. With an actor like Jennifer Love Hewitt, you can tell these kinds of stories and do right by them. I was worried when we were doing the domestic violence story with Maddie on a show like 9-1-1 that’s sometimes like a cartoon. Is it going to seem exploitative? Is it going to seem trivial? And I don’t think it did. I think we managed to tell that story in a way that is still [like] the show that we were making and not being exploitative with the subject matter, and I wanted to try to accomplish the same thing with the issue of postpartum depression. So, that will definitely throw a wrench into the beginning of Season 5 for Maddie’s story and the show as a whole.
Hen just has a lot going on. (Laughs.) The thing I love about Hen is that she is a character that is aspirational. She’s always looking to expand her horizons. She’s not willing to settle and feel like she’s done growing, she’s done learning, she’s done becoming. She’s never finished with the future, and I think that family is the last word for the whole show, but certainly for Hen. I love the way that her family is expanding, with the foster kids, her bringing her mother into the picture.
It was an extremely emotional experience to go from Eddie being shot straight to Tommy (Gina Torres)’s husband, Charles (Derek Webster), dying of an undetectable aneurysm last week on Lone Star. We see a little bit of this in the finale, but how will navigating life as a widow and a single mother change Tommy going forward?
The “how” is the question. That was the whole reason, I think, to do the story, and also the fact that Derek Webster got another job. It didn’t mean that I couldn’t bring him back, but to me, this opened up an opportunity to tell an interesting story for Gina Torres. A young widow, somebody who’s just gotten back into the workforce, she’s got two young girls that she has to raise. So, what does that mean for her entire future that she had seen in front of her and was suddenly taken away, and the road is no longer clear? So, that just opened up a lot of prospects for future stories for Gina so that I’m not just doing the same thing, where it’s like, “And here’s your supportive husband who cooks a great meal.” There’s only so many of those stories that you can tell before it gets dull.
It was absolutely gutting to see Grace (Sierra McClain) and Judd (Jim Parrack) listen to that 9-1-1 call in the second-last episode. How will they continue to support Tommy while also preparing to expand their own family?
I think one of the things that I’ve loved about this season is kind of expanding the story of Grace and Judd and having Tommy being a part of that. There’s a whole past; there’s a whole relationship there with those characters. They’ll be there for each other, and I think the thing that makes both 9-1-1 and Lone Star appealing is this idea of an extended and found family, not just biological family, but people that you decide are your family. Tommy’s family and Judd and Grace’s family are examples of that inside and also outside the workplace.
There’s a big story I want to do in New York that would be a backstory that I tried to do this year, but I couldn’t quite pull it off, so I’d like to do that next year. And I think that if the stars align, I would absolutely love to do another crossover between the two shows.
Much to the delight of a lot of fans, we have seen a little bit of T.K. (Ronen Rubinstein) and Carlos (Rafael Silva)’s courtship in Season 2. They had moved in together when Carlos’ house burned down, so what can you preview about the future of that relationship? Could a proposal be in the cards?
I don’t know if there will be a proposal next season. I’m not saying there will be; I’m not saying there won’t be. I think we sort of hinted at the fact that they’re probably staying with Owen (Rob Lowe), along with Mateo (Julian Works) right now. For a minute, Owen had nobody that he was living with, and suddenly, it’s like a frat house over there probably. When we come back in, Carlos and T.K. will have found a new place or will be looking for a new place.
It’s interesting because now that the show has been scheduled to come back in January, as opposed to the fall. I have to decide exactly what the timeline is going to be when we come back in January to pick up Lone Star, but I don’t think it should be too far from when we ended the season. We can’t jump ahead too far, so I think it’ll be interesting to see T.K. and Carlos figuring out where their life is and what their life is going to be.
One of the reasons I burned down that house was a) I thought it would be awesome, and b) that set always bugged me. It was always so dark, and it always felt like we were shooting into a black hole. It was a very cool set in a lot of ways, but it was just hard to stage things in there. I want to see them in a different kind of environment, and I haven’t quite decided what that is yet.
As we move out of this not-quite-post-COVID era, what can you tease about the direction of both shows next season? Will we see any origin episodes for the characters in Lone Star or maybe another crossover episode with the original cast?
I think we’re going to see all those things. I think we’ve been very successful with our origin stories. Possibly, my story this year was the origin of the Judd-Grace love story. It wasn’t exactly the kind of “begins” story that we would do on 9-1-1 where it’s always been about how a character ended up in the fire department, how they decided to become a first-responder. There was a little bit of that in the Judd-Grace story, but really, it was the origin of their love story, and I thought that was really interesting.
There’s a big story I want to do in New York that would be a backstory that I tried to do this year, but I couldn’t quite pull it off, so I’d like to do that next year. And I think that if the stars align, I would absolutely love to do another crossover between the two shows. I loved seeing the different combinations of characters meeting and interacting in episode 3 of Lone Star this year, in the wildfire episode, but I would like it to feel as organic as that did and not just gimmicky.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.