11 Mar: COPS Hits TV

Producer John Langley had been pitching a no-frills, fly-on-the-wall documentary series following US Police Officers for six years when, in the midst of a writer’s strike, Fox finally bit. COPS made its debut on 11th March, 1989, becoming one of the longest-running shows in TV history.

Langley called it ‘video vérité’; the New York Times called it ‘tabloid TV’. From the beginning, concerns about its depiction of race relations in America led to criticism that eventually brought about its cancellation – before it was reinstated on a different TV network.

In this episode, Arion, Rebecca and Olly explain how various Police departments across the States went from being resistant to being featured in COPS to actually nominating themselves for filming; consider why participants were so keen to sign release forms when they were being depicted in such a vulnerable position; and ask if the first series still seems as ‘tabloid’ as it was considered at the time… 

Further Reading:

• ‘Episode One: Broward County Florida – Part 2’ (Fox, 1989):

• ‘Review/Television; ‘Cops’ Camera Shows the Real Thing’ (The New York Times, 1989): https://www.nytimes.com/1989/01/07/arts/review-television-cops-camera-shows-the-real-thing.html

• ‘John Langley: Producer who turned police work into prime reality TV’ (The Independent, 2021): https://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/john-langley-cops-reality-tv-obituary-b1875648.html