The shift is more than just geographic for Ryan Murphy-produced "Lone Star" (premieres after the NFC Championship game, approximately 10 EST/7 PST, then moves to Mondays at 8 EST/PST). The new series follows Owen Strand (Rob Lowe), a New York firefighter who rebuilt a Manhattan fire company after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and now tries to do the same at an Austin unit decimated by a fertilizer plant explosion.
Strand, facing the kind of illness common to many 9/11 first responders, and his firefighter son, T.K. (Ronen Rubinstein), who has addiction troubles, both view Austin as the chance to start anew.
"The first episode is very much a New York stranger in a strange land," says Lowe, explaining the contrast to "9-1-1" is by design.
While viewers were flung into the action of a busy Los Angeles firehouse in "9-1-1," the Austin station at the center of "Lone Star" is shut down after a tragedy. The premiere takes its time, as Strand makes hires and reopens the firehouse, before delivering the action. Aside from the initial explosion, the first emergency requiring a response comes more than halfway through the episode.
"'9-1-1' was built from the incident and the spectacle. And we sort of found the characters as we went along," says executive producer Tim Minear, contrasting the two shows. "'Lone Star' began as more of an origin concept based on this tragedy in Austin. It's about the healing of that particular wound."
To rebuild the firehouse, Strand recruits a talented and diverse team from around the country, including a Muslim woman from Miami (Natacha Karam) whose heroic exploits earn her a YouTube fan base; a black transgender man (Brian Michael Smith) who bravely broke barriers in Chicago; and a dedicated but underutilized rookie (Julian Works).
The lone survivor of the explosion (Jim Parrack) wants to return to work, but Strand doesn't believe the man, who's still angry and bitter, is ready. At one critical point in the premiere, "it's those two guys squaring off across the table," Minear says. "That's really what the show is about."
"Lone Star" features another potential flashpoint: A division of authority that's likely to lead to clashes. Unlike California, where the original "9-1-1" is set, in Texas EMTs and paramedics are under a different chain of command from the firefighters. That means Strand sometimes defer to the chief paramedic, the headstrong Michelle Blake (Liv Tyler).
Blake, obsessively searching for answers about a long-missing sister and frequently bailed out of trouble by a police officer friend (Rafael Silva), is the picture of complexity, Tyler says.
"She's angry. She's frustrated. She's emotional. She's a little bit nutty in a lot of ways in her personal life," she says. "And then there's the other side, which is her professionalism and (skill at) her work. I like that."
Tyler credits Murphy for the diverse world of "Lone Star." "It's amazing to have the platform to show people (from) different walks of life and see them in their professional world, who they are on the job and who they are at home," she says.
Lowe says "there was the notion of putting a '9-1-1' in a red state/blue state area where you could tell stories about people's perceptions and misperceptions and have that be a different flavor in the '9-1-1' universe."
That contrast is on display in the second episode. "We start with a massive sequence where people are inexplicably hurling themselves off the top of a building at a high-tech firm. And it could just as easily be taking place in Silicon Valley. You can have that and drive your car five miles and have a traditional American Western (scene). That's the beauty of Austin." (However, the series is almost entirely filmed in Los Angeles.)
Along those lines, "Lone Star" has no tsunami, as "9-1-1" did this season, but will suffer the consequences of a tornado, Minear says. "And we have something you can only do in Texas. There's a fire at a bull semen factory and the canisters that have the seed in them become mortars because the gas expands in the heat, so they're being bombed by bull semen. You can't go wrong there."
As that description suggests, there's an element of "random humor," as Lowe puts it, to the series that's also evident in his character, a firefighter with a deep interest – shared by the actor – in men's skincare.
But fans looking for a "9-1-1"-style action fix needn't worry about the spinoff veering too far from the original, he says. "'Lone Star' has the same great (emergency) calls, the 'Oh my God, I-can't-believe-this-is-happening' television moments. I think if you like '9-1-1,' you're going to love this."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Rob Lowe Liv Tyler star in Ryan Murphy's '9-1-1: Lone Star' spinoff