Question: I remember you writing about how the stars of The Dukes of Hazzard fought their bosses for more money. If memory serves, didn't the stars of Emergency! do the same thing? David G., Asbury Park, N.J.
Televisionary: That they did, David. After their show, seen as a risky mid-season replacement at first, launched on NBC in January 1972 and developed a loyal following over the next two years, co-stars Kevin Tighe (paramedic Roy DeSoto) and Randolph Mantooth (his partner, John Gage) demanded producer Jack Webb (Dragnet) and company pony up a 600-percent increase, to $7500 an episode (laughable by today's standards, but real money back then). And frankly, I think they made a pretty good case for a sizable raise.
From Webb's point of view, of course, he'd made these two nobodies into stars and got a faceful of greedy demands for his troubles. And he had a point, too. Tighe, for example, had been making the rounds of casting agents since the age of 10, boasting only a shower scene in The Graduate (his face wasn't shown) and an appearance in Yours, Mine and Ours (his voice was never heard) as résumé highlights when Webb cast him. He was broke, not working, and living in an apartment owned by his mom. For Mantooth's part, he'd done some guest work on such shows as Marcus Welby and Webb's Adam-12 before landing Emergency!, but that was about it.
But that's the way the game works. Sure, Webb was paying the two stars more than they'd ever earned before, but they were helping him rake in a lot more than that via the show, the Saturday-morning series Emergency + 4 (which paid them nothing), and a whole host of merchandise (which also netted them zip). So some adjustment was called for.
"[T]he important point is that this show may be it for me," Tighe told TV Guide in 1974, correctly foreseeing a future in which he and Mantooth would never land roles to equal those. "After Emergency! is finished, I might not have public appeal anymore. Who knows whether I'll be working again?"
Mantooth sure wasn't working while the pay battle raged: He reportedly was hospitalized and couldn't make it to the set. And even though industry types suspected he was faking it to pressure Webb (another common industry ploy), the very real pain he and Tighe did endure, and the hours they put in, warranted a compensation bump.
Remember, Emergency! was largely an action show with trademark flat, sparing Webb dialogue and very little emoting needed (or allowed). While shooting the show's first 13 episodes, the actors put in 18-hour days performing very physical work (climbing cranes, jumping off trucks, etc.). Tighe injured his back and had to wear a brace for six weeks. He was knocked to the ground by a jolt of electricity. Both actors suffered through frequent colds, and were given vitamin B-12 shots to fight the flu and lots and lots of pills to keep them going. And with overtime, the crew made more than they did. "We really earned our money," Tighe said of that time. "There was never a show in which so much was done in so little time."
By the time the money fight ended, they were earning more. Webb finally agreed to pay them $4500 a week not a fortune, to be sure, but certainly enough to ease the aches and pains.
It's also worth noting, by the way, that while Mantooth and Tighe did all the he-man physical work on the show, the guy who'd have loved to be in their shoes in his younger years was Robert Fuller, who, as Dr. Kelly Brackett, hung back at Rampart and gave the paramedics medical advice via radio. A former stunt man who'd enjoyed starring roles in Laramie and Wagon Train, Fuller had come up as a bar-brawling tough guy with pal Burt Reynolds. "Wilder 'n a March hare," Reynolds said when asked about him. "The studio wouldn't give him a door between dressing rooms so he knocked the wall down. A beautiful guy, a little on the crazy side."
By the time Emergency! came along, Fuller had turned down leading roles on such shows as Run for Your Life, which made Ben Gazzara a TV star, and The Rat Patrol because he was holding out for another Western. ("If I had my choice, I'd live in 1850," the actor said in 1973. "Either I'd be the sheriff, or the worst outlaw who ever lived.") Accordingly, when Webb convinced him to do the doctoring, Fuller had to add some more contemporary clothing to his wardrobe of "32 pairs of Levi's, 28 Western shirts, 14 pairs of boots and a beat-up sports jacket."
Good thing, too. He would've come off mighty silly ordering up an IV and an EKG looking like Yosemite Sam.