The debut episode of “Nightwatch” ends as it begins, with an unidentified woman’s chilling chant: “I have yet to see the rain fall on just one man’s house, and I will say a prayer for my city, because one day this rain will have to stop falling on New Orleans.”
Her battle cry against the deadly violence bookends “Nightwatch’s” 60 minutes, filled with shootings, fires, wrecks and various medical emergencies — all calls answered by the city’s first responders, all within one 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. time frame. As many as 1,000 such calls are responded to each night by the city’s EMS, police and firefighting units.
“A lot of scary things happen at night,” EMT Holly Monteleone says succinctly.
“We’ve seen everything: shootings and stabbings, bar fights, car accidents, tanker fires,” “Nightwatch” executive producer Rasha Drachkovitch says. “In New Orleans — the city of extremes — we were blown away at the volume of calls and cases. It’s non-stop action. Just when you think you can take a break and change a camera battery, or grab a sandwich, another high-level 911 call comes in and we’re off again …”
At the helm of the eight-episode, nonfiction series are Dick Wolf and Wolf Reality (“Law & Order”), along with 44 Blue Productions (“Wahlburgers”).
“Once my partner Dick Wolf and I met with Mayor (Mitch) Landrieu and the three chiefs, we were able to get unprecedented access to filming with EMS, NOPD and NOFD. The result — this is the first non-scripted, docu-series ever to follow all three first responders at the same time to get a complete perspective on what it’s like to protect a city at night,” Drachkovitch says.
Shot beginning in July 2014, “Nightwatch” crews continued filming almost every weekend through New Year’s Eve, more than five months. On all shoots, the cameras’ all-access perspective puts viewers up close to the intense, life-or-death situations. It’s not all blood and guts, though.
“We try and balance the dramatic nature of the job with some humor and heart,” Drachkovitch explains. “The first responders are dealing with life and death all the time. They’re human and have feelings so we tried to get to the core of their emotions during some of the most difficult circumstances imaginable.”
Meanwhile, those on the other side of the calls — often victims or police suspects — might not appreciate being filmed.
“Our crews kept a low profile so as not to draw attention to ourselves,” Drachkovitch says. “Most of the calls we filmed were serious in nature, so we really tried to be a fly on the wall. That verite camera coverage gives viewers a true sense of what it’s like to perform the job.”
Shadowing all three branches of first responders also affords the chance to see how one, two or all three may work together on the same case. As EMS are en route to the hospital with a multiple gunshot victim, police are back at the shooting scene gathering evidence and talking to possible witnesses. As firefighters search for signs of arson inside a burned, vacant house, another is outside giving oxygen to a cat overcome by the smoke.
All of this unfolds while most of New Orleans sleeps, he says.
“There are courageous professionals out there rushing into fires, catching bad guys, savings lives without us having a clue. Bad things happen at night. Fortunately, there are good people out there to protect us.”
Drachkovitch also has been producing Animal Planet’s “Pit Bulls & Parolees,” another series set in New Orleans, for the past three years. That show follows the workings of the Villalobos Rescue Center and Tia Torres and her family, who operate the facility.
“That experience has been incredible. I’m totally in love with the city. The friendly people, amazing food and overall cool vibe makes it unlike any city in the world,” he says. “Plus the high level of local production support is truly impressive. Seventy percent of our production crew is local, which goes to show you the quality of producers, shooters and support in New Orleans.”