'24 Hours in the ER' debuts today on BBC America

Cinema verite meets the emergency room in “24 Hours in the ER,” which debuts today on BBC America.

The convergence was inevitable. From “Dr. Kildare” in the ’60s to sudser “General Hospital” to today’s “House” and “ER,” medical shows have been a staple of scripted TV and it was only a matter of time before a skein like “24 Hours” would come along and bring the life-and-death stories of a trauma center to reality television.

But how do you film in a real emergency room teeming with fast-moving medical workers and a rapid succession of trauma victims in need of immediate attention?

“24 Hours,” which first aired on Channel 4 in the U.K., solved that problem by borrowing from the playbook of the voyeuristic “Big Brother” — spying not on a home but on the bustling accident and emergency facilities of London’s King’s College Hospital, where screeching ambulances deliver one battered patient after another.

The show used “fixed rig” technology, deploying an array of 70 robotic cameras placed discreetly on the hospital’s walls and ceilings. Each was cabled to a truck in the parking lot where a small army of technicians and operators issued zoom, pan and tilt commands, capturing in sometimes gory detail what happens to patients — stabbed, shot, injured in accidents — as they’re admitted and treated.

Securing the audio was especially challenging because radio microphones had to be attached to patients and loved ones. The producers and hospital worked out a consent protocol everyone had to sign before anything could be shot or broadcast.

“At first it seemed like an unmakeable series,” said producer-director Amy Flanagan. “The logistics, the ethics, 170 people on the production team, hundreds of patients — a nightmare.”

Each of the 48-minute episodes takes place over a 24-hour period. The producers shot for 28 straight days, capturing 4,200 hours of footage.

Flanagan said the remote camera system made possible the program’s intense human drama and intimacy. “They knew they were being shot but they didn’t feel the presence of a camera operator,” she said. “There were no crews running around with boom poles or wires. Once a patient agreed to be filmed someone would put a mic on them and leave.”

The 70 cameras allowed coverage from multiple angles, yielding a look “more like drama than traditional factual TV,” said exec producer Magnus Temple.

Channel 4 shot the show using standard-def and tape, but the network has renewed the series, Temple said. “This time they want it delivered on HD and we’ll probably record onto hard disc. It’s worth the extra investment.”

Temple and his production partner Nick Curwin previously used fixed-rig technology on their U.K. reality skeins “The Family” and “One Born Every Minute” (the U.S. version of “Born” airs on Lifetime), but for “24 Hours” they put the technique on steroids.

Temple wouldn’t discuss the budget of “24 Hours” but said, “Although the infrastructure is quite expensive, because you’re getting 14 episodes out of 28 days of shooting, the per-hour cost is comparable to standard factual TV.”

Bookings & Signings

Montana Artists signed d.p./2nd unit d.p. Jonathan P. Taylor (“Iron Man 2″), production designer Ryan Berg (“The to Do List”), costume designer Karen Malecki (“Take Shelter”) and editor Vikash Patel (“The Story of Luke”). Agency booked exec producers/UPMs Tom Karnowski on John Moore’s “Die Hard 5″ and Richard Sharkey on Brad Parker’s “The Diary of Lawson Oxford”; co-producer Cecilia Roque on Adrien Brody’s “Mud Jumpers”; co-producers/UPMs Darren Demetre on Roman Coppola’s “A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charlie Swan III” and Tim Coddington on Peter Webber’s “The Man Who Saved the Emperor”; UPM JoAnn Perritano on Shane Black’s “Iron Man 3″; producer Anthony Mark as UPM on TNT pilot “The Tin Star”; and basketball coordinator, Michael J. Fisher on John Whitesell’s “Switch.”

Montana also booked d.p.’s Mathias Herndl on David Frazee’s “Borealis,” Christopher Norr on Scott Derrickson’s “Sinister,” Bing Sokolsky on TNT’s “Franklin & Bash,” Philip Robertson on Louis Morneau’s “The Wolfman” and Rick Mcguire on Nickelodeon movie “Big Time Movie”; 1st AD’s Annie Berger on FX’s “Justified,” Jay Tobias on NBC’s “The Playboy Club” and Richard Patrick on CBS’ “Unforgettable”; production designers David Blass on “Justified,” Kara Lindstrom on Malik Bader’s “Crush,” Lara Ballinger on HBO’s “VEEP” and Brandy Alexander on TV Land’s “Retired at 35″; costume designers Pamela Withers Chilton on TBS pilot “Men at Work,” Lynn Falconer on Scott Walker’s “The Frozen Ground” and Simonetta Mariano on David Twohy’s “The Chronicles of Riddick: Dead Man Stalking”; and editors Ken Eluto on NBC’s “30 Rock,” Todd Ramsay on Rustam Branaman’s “The Culling,” Debra Weinfeld on USA’s “Common Law” and Pam Wise on Eddie Chung’s “Condors.”

Filed Under:

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more