Freak accidents, injuries and other mishaps both scary and funny are in the mix for season five of the Discovery Fit & Health series “Bizarre ER,” premiering July 6 with an episode involving chainsaw injuries, people crushed by cars and collapsed walls, and a child who swallowed a penny. Now narrated by Jon Barrowman (“Dr. Who,” Torchwood”), the series expands a bit more globally this season with Lawrence General Hospital in Massachusetts joining England’s Bradford Royal Infirmary as a featured ER, and additional stories from America, Poland, Mexico and Australia.
Camera crews were embedded in both hospitals from August to October last year to capture crises in real time. People are out and having accidents more in summertime, explains Jon Sechrist, Vice President, Lifestyle Production and Development, TLC International, who oversees the series. “We have a boy who stuck a Lego up his nose, a man who accidentally cut off his hand and got a woman’s hand attached, and a woman who was electrocuted by a bolt of lightning when her crucifix acted like a conductor when the lightning hit her. But at the same time she feels like her faith is what saved her and kept her strong,” Sechrist says.
Besides the real-time cases, each episode includes a compelling patient’s story, telling what happened to them and how they are now. “We cast a wide net and reached out to medical professionals and researched on the Internet as well to find crazy surgeries and other stories,” says Sechrist. After verifying their veracity, the producers tracked down the patients, such as the boy who had a wall collapse on him while playing basketball, severing three of his limbs. Subjects sometimes didn’t want to participate. “A gentleman was camping and urinated in a stream. A tiny little fish swam up his urine stream and got caught in his urethra. He was too embarrassed to go on camera,” Sechrist says, understanding fully.
In general, however, he finds that “Most people are pretty open to being on camera. The stories we pick for the show are not life threatening. We really want to highlight stories with a sense of humor,” he emphasizes. “We don’t want to scare people.” Sechrist adds that care is taken at the hospitals “to be respectful and not get in anyone’s way or put anyone’s life or health at risk. We follow their lead and ask where can we set up, we work hand in hand with them, it’s a collaboration.” The result, he says, is an authentic, positive portrayal of the medical profession.”
He believes there’s a certain amount of schadenfreude behind the popularity of “Bizarre ER.” “I think viewers love to watch shows they can look at and say, ‘That’s fascinating, that’s unbelievable. But I’m glad it’s not me.’ It has that rubbernecking appeal. In the comfort of their living room they’re given permission to gawk and stare in fascination. I think the main takeaway is there is a sense of comfort after watching these shows, a sense of knowing everything will be OK because these people are professionals and know what they’re doing.”
Sechrist hopes that the show will maintain its popularity to merit a sixth season. “I personally would love to, and I know the doctors and hospitals would be willing to work with us again,” he says. “Fingers crossed!”