Fallout from George Floyd murder key decision in cancellation
Cops ends run after 31 years; reruns pulled as well
Two reality shows have bit the dust as police brutality protests across the globe after the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police have forced networks to re-examine their programming.
On Monday, the little-known Paramount Network (the former Spike TV, National Network, Nashville Network, etc.) canceled Cops, bringing the curtains down on the show after 31 years, and pulled all off-network episodes as well. The news was followed Wednesday by the cancellation of A&E’s Live PD, which is like Cops, but airs “live” as it happens.
Since its premiere in 2016, Live PD had been one of the highest-rated series on television on Friday and Saturday nights and spawned several spin-offs, including Live PD: Police Patrol, whose reruns were sold into syndication in 2018 by Sony Pictures Television.
“This is a critical time in our nation’s history and we have made the decision to cease production on Live PD,” the network said in a press release. “Going forward, we will determine if there is a clear pathway to tell the stories of both the community and the police officers whose role it is to serve them. And with that, we will be meeting with community and civil rights leaders as well as police departments.”
This comes as both programs have had numerous controversial incidents over the years. Cops last aired a new episode on May 11; Live PD last aired May 24 before being pulled indefinitely due to the George Floyd protests and Minneapolis riots.
Cops was originally created by Fox Television Stations group and after a test run on the station group (including WFLD here), the series was called up to the big leagues on March 11, 1989, premiering on the main Fox network. After being tested as an off-network strip in a few markets, Cops reruns went into syndication where it’s been ever since. In 2013, the show was re-branded in off-network as Cops Reloaded, with many segments re-mastered in HD with new wraparounds, but reverted to the old Cops name in 2017.
Cops inspired numerous reality first responder shows in the 1990s, including Emergency Call, Real Stories Of The Highway Patrol, Rescue 911, LAPD: Life On The Beat, and others. Cops was a Saturday night staple on Fox until 2013 when the show moved to Spike TV, who changed its name to Paramount Network in 2018.
Live PD premiered on October 28, 2016, drawing viewers on little-watched Friday and Saturday nights and created a loyal following. In addition to the aforementioned Police Patrol, Live PD also spun off several series, including Live PD: Wanted and Live Rescue.
Both series have had its share of controversies over the years.
Cops was the subject of a podcast series last year from Dan Taberski called Running From Cops – where it was revealed cops on the show coerced suspects into signing releases, while crew members have carried guns and assisted in making arrests (one Cops crew member was killed in a shootout in 2014) – and gave police departments the power to edit anything they didn’t like (a similar charge was levied at Life On The Beat.) His crew watched and documented 846 episodes of the show.
Several studies released over the years also showed Cops had a disproportionate amount of suspects who were minorities and police officers who were white, and accused of overly targeting low-income people – the same issues Taberski discussed on his podcasts. In addition, the Chicago Police Department has never been featured on Cops, rejecting the series long ago saying police work shouldn’t be viewed as entertainment (though a few episodes did feature Cook County Sheriff Deputies.) Other departments turning down the show include Honolulu, Washington D.C., St. Louis (City), and Fairfax County, Va.
Live PD has had it share of controversies as well.
After being one of the first police departments featured on the show, the city of Bridgeport, Conn. pulled the plug with many officials dissatisfied on how the city was portrayed on the show, fearing it would hurt economic recruitment. Tulsa also recently ended their association with the show as part of a larger pact on police reform, for the same reasons as many leaders felt the show was racist.
A two-year-old arm was broken in July 2017 after a Live PD police chased a subject who was holding the child in an incident just outside Columbia, S.C.
It was revealed a few days ago footage from a March 2019 show was destroyed relating to the killing of Javier Ambler by Austin, Tex. police after he was pulled over for failing to dim his headlights.
Even though Paramount has yanked Cops and A&E has dropped Live PD, both shows still air in off-network syndication as of this writing. Currently, there is a whole Internet channel from ViacomCBS’ Pluto TV devoted to streaming Cops, as there have been calls to delete it. WGN America also airs Cops reruns in late-night, but the deal with the network expires at the end of June and is not being renewed, as the cable network is shifting resources to its new NewsNation effort.
Off-net episodes of Cops and Live PD: Police Patrol still air in broadcast syndication on local TV stations, largely on CW and My Network TV affiliates and independents in daytime and late-night time periods. In Chicago, both shows air on Weigel’s The U (WCUU/WMEU ch.s 26.2/48.1, respectively) in a 5-7 p.m. prime access block. Since most local stations make changes only in September at the start of the new TV season, both are expected to stay on The U throughout the summer. Even though ViacomCBS held most of the cable and streaming rights to Cops, it’s Walt Disney’s Direct-to-Consumer and International unit who holds the syndication rights as part of the company’s $71.3 billion acquisition of 20th Century Fox’s film assets in 2017.
In the last syndication ratings report, Police Patrol earned a 0.9 household rating, while the ratings for Cops were not available. Both shows’ status beyond September on local stations are unknown.
The cancellation of both Cops and Live PD shows certainly were a longtime coming. While Cops can be credited (or blamed) for ushering in the reality TV era, the way the show and its copycats looked into policing was too controversial to continue as the issues of police brutality is now in the forefront like we’ve never seen before. The behind-the-scenes manipulation on many of the shows were clearly an issue.
The killing of George Floyd by police has shook up almost everything in media and entertainment, including the call for more diversity in front of and behind the camera. The decision to pull these shows were the right call as given current events, these programs would have a hard time attracting and/or keeping advertising no matter what the ratings were. These shows were built around a simple premise: so-called “good guys” nabbing the “bad guys”, like the old Cowboys versus Indians tropes we saw in the movies back in the 1950s. But society changed and rendered it obsolete – the same thing we’re seeing now with these reality cop shows as retiring this concept was long overdue.