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9-1-1's Cast and Creator Preview Season 7, the Biggest Disaster Yet, and Madney's Wedding

The move to ABC has given the show a creative boost

Max Gao
The Cast and EPs of 9-1-1

The Cast and EPs of 9-1-1

Frank Micelotta/ABC

"9-1-1, what's your emergency?"

It's been nearly nine months since 9-1-1 fans last heard Maddie Buckley (Jennifer Love Hewitt) say those six words that would normally strike fear into the hearts of civilians but has instead become a rallying cry for one of the most ambitious procedural dramas on broadcast television. After a six-season run on Fox, 9-1-1 found a new home at ABC, where it will headline Thursday nights this spring alongside Grey's Anatomy (entering its landmark 20th season) and Station 19 (officially ending with its seventh season).

Longtime 9-1-1 fans have already watched Sgt. Athena Grant-Nash (Angela Bassett) and the firefighters of the 118 — Captain Bobby Nash (Peter Krause), Howard "Chimney" Han (Kenneth Choi), Henrietta "Hen" Wilson (Aisha Hinds), Evan "Buck" Buckley (Oliver Stark), Eddie Diaz (Ryan Guzman), and co. — weather some of the worst natural and manmade disasters that could possibly hit Los Angeles. In six seasons, they have responded to plane crashes, train derailments, earthquakes, tsunamis, mudslides, electrical outages, and bridge collapses — just to name a few.

Now, in the transition to ABC, co-creator and showrunner Tim Minear joked that he wanted to "put our worst foot forward" and kick off the new season with a Titanic-style disaster presumably involving Athena and Bobby, who were last seen boarding a cruise ship for their long-delayed honeymoon.

"As we're going to ABC, we've been very cognizant about thinking, 'Well, you know, maybe there are going to be some ABC viewers who aren't familiar with the show.' So we've tried to make a big, exciting [opening] arc that goes for about three episodes, but we're not taking for granted that everybody's going to know who these characters are," Minear told reporters during a Television Critics Association evening set visit in early February, surrounded by the rest of his main cast and seated in the fake backyard of Athena and Bobby's house.

The opening minutes of the premiere are a tribute to Irwin Allen's 1972 disaster film The Poseidon Adventure, which starred Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine, and Red Buttons. Despite having created so many emergencies on land, this season's open-water disaster proved to be particularly difficult to produce, said Minear.

"What's interesting is the tsunami that took out the Santa Monica Pier [in Season 3] was weirdly easier to produce than a capsized cruise ship because we almost had a cruise ship, and then the cruise ship company was like, 'We'll let you use our cruise ship but nothing bad can happen,'" Minear recalled with a laugh. "Like, have you seen the show? And they're like, 'Well, you can capsize it, blow a hole in it, sink it, as long as at the end we see it's fine. And then they sail off.' I'm like, 'No, we're not going to do that.'"

A New Beginning

Although the show is entering its seventh season and approaching its 100th episode, Minear feels like he is launching 9-1-1 all over again. "Fox was great for us for many years. The thing that's exciting about ABC is it feels like the first year of the show in a lot of ways," he said. "The enthusiasm at the network is through the roof. The promotions are fantastic. The artwork is great, and they're just really engaged. They already love the show, so I just think it's a shot in the arm for all of us."

For the last couple of seasons, Minear has shared showrunning duties on 9-1-1 with executive producer Kristen Reidel. But given that 9-1-1: Lone Star has been pushed this fall (a worrying sign in today's TV ecosystem) and won't resume production until early March, Minear has had more time on his hands to write scripts for the original 9-1-1 this season.

"I want them to read the scenes, and I want them to be excited, and I want them to be like, 'Oh, that'll be a fun scene to do," Minear said of his cast. "If I stay excited, hopefully, they'll stay excited because they won't be getting crap."

Much like their onscreen counterparts, the actors have inevitably grown closer. "It's a fascinating thing to see not only in the characters' lives but in our personal lives, which I won't talk about, but the things that happen over time," said Krause, who is also an executive producer. "You get to know each other, and this is a family, and we go through hard things just like the people on the show."

"It's surprising how some of it mimics your life, or you listen to where the stories are going to go and you say, 'Oh, my gosh, Tim, [do] you have a bug in my house somewhere?'" added Bassett, who also serves as executive producer.

The Madney Wedding

After becoming parents to arguably the cutest baby to ever grace 9-1-1, Maddie and Chimney are taking the next step in their relationship, deciding that it was time for them to finally get married. Wedding planning for the happy couple is "going great," Hewitt said. "Maddie and Chimney deserve it, I think. They've been through too much."

"They deserve happiness," Choi added.

Jennifer Love Hewitt and Kenneth Choi, 9-1-1

Jennifer Love Hewitt and Kenneth Choi, 9-1-1

Frank Micelotta/ABC

But it wouldn't be an episode of 9-1-1 if something didn't go terribly wrong before, during, or after the wedding. "On Twitter, you see fans going, 'Why can't they be happy?' It's like, 'Oh, you don't want to see them on the show anymore is what you're saying.' So it's going to be really smooth," Minear said. "It's going to go great." (We all know it won't be smooth sailing.)

"Oh, no. Tim's going to torture them," Bassett said.

"So there will be a tsunami-nado," Guzman hypothesized.

"It's going to go great," Minear reiterated.

Will Buck Ever Break Out of This Cycle of Self-Discovery?

Since the earliest seasons of the show, Stark has insisted that Buck is in varying stages of self-discovery — his preferred term to describe how Buck has been cycling between being single and finding himself in long-term relationships that don't quite stick. (As you may recall, Buck asked out death doula Natalia at the end of last season, but it remains to be seen if they are still together.) This season, the actor insists, things are different for Buck.

"I think over the years, or the last maybe two or three years, Buck has been on this hamster wheel where he thinks he heals from things, and then he finds himself falling into the same old trap again, which I think is very true to life," Stark explained. "We think we take one step forward, but then something drags us right back. I think this season is, truly this time, a season of self-discovery for Buck, and I think he's finding ways to really break that cycle and move forward into the next evolution of himself in a way that feels drastic and truly meaningful to who he is."

Last season, Buck decided to donate sperm to help his old roommate Connor (Colin McCalla) and Connor's wife, Kameron (Chelsea Kane), conceive a child. Buck helped birth the child in his own living room in the final minutes of the Season 6 finale, but that storyline "hasn't necessarily played in any kind of conscious way so far this season," Stark admitted. "We're only four or five episodes in, but it was certainly one of these big hurdles for him to have to jump over that I think was a big addition to that journey of self-discovery that he's really rocketing forward on this year."

Parenting "Too-Cool-for-School" Teens

Viewers will also be eager to see the continued evolution of Buck's fan-favorite relationship with Eddie's son, Christopher (Gavin McHugh), who is now approaching his teen years. Since he was introduced along with Eddie in the show's second season, Christopher, who, like the actor who plays him, lives with cerebral palsy, has become one of the beating hearts of the 9-1-1 franchise. For Guzman, working with McHugh has been an unexpected gift.

"That kid is practically my son," Guzman admitted. "I had met him before I even had kids, so to see his journey has been incredible, and he's actually living kind of similar to his real life. So working with him on this season, and seeing how tall he is now, it's insane. I've just become this joyous, proud, on-screen dad. And his vocabulary has changed. He's becoming more like a teenager, a cool teenager, so, of course, he's got this new slang and everything."

"A too-cool-for-school teenager sometimes," Stark chimed in.

"Exactly. Oh, man, [he's] prepping me for my kids," Guzman said, shaking his head with a smile. "But he is one of the brightest, most shining individuals that walks in a room and just lights [up and] illuminates the whole room. He's that kind of person. So that's never changed."

Meanwhile, Hen and her wife, Karen (Tracie Thoms), have spent the last few seasons looking for ways to give their son, Denny (Declan Pratt), another sibling. They "have gone through many conventional and unconventional ways to do so," Hinds said, "so they'll spend probably another season trying to, hopefully, land that plane."

Familiar Faces — and What's Next

The opening cruise emergency will last multiple episodes, but Minear previewed that there is another "great disaster" in the first episode that was ripped from the headlines. "Recently, you may have read that there was a jet fighter that got lost," he said. "The fighter pilot had to bail out of the plane, and they didn't know where the plane went. We're doing that in the premiere, and it's pretty great. I'm really excited about all the character stories this year. Everybody is going to have something great."

What about the return of some familiar faces? "Ravi's definitely coming back," Minear responded. "We're bringing back faces from even before Ravi, and we're bringing back a couple on the cruise ship that you'll recognize from a previous episode. We like to go back to the fridge and see what the leftovers are and what we can make."

As for a preview of the landmark 100th episode, which just began production, Minear was a little more tight-lipped. "It'll be before the 101st one," he quipped, "but after the 99th."

The actors and producers are well-aware that the groundswell of support that 9-1-1 has received — particularly from fans who are still discovering the show through social media — is part of the reason why the show is still on the air.

"I think that the fan base of the show has been extremely passionate, in a very intense and a very loving way for many, many years, and I think it's communicated to us, and it's well received by us, and I think it's part of the reason that we are all still here," Stark said. "I think, as Tim says with this Poseidon Adventure, the best is yet to come."

9-1-1 premieres March 14 at 8/7c on ABC. Episodes stream the next day on Hulu.