TV & Showbiz

Is Canceling Cop Shows the Right Move After Protests?


Two popular reality cop shows received their respective pink slips amid protests over the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.

Fans of the reality cop shows LivePD and Cops received bad news over the past few days. Makers of both shows announced the cancellation of the programs.

Cops enjoyed the longer run of the two by far. The show premiered back in 1989, and it gave viewers the chance to ride along and see what police actually face. “It was thrilling. It was visceral. And it was a hit,” The Guardian report said.

On Wednesday night, A&E, which airs LivePD, announced its decision to “cease production” on the series.

“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,” the network said, in part, in a statement to Deadline.

Fans of the shows, naturally enough, took the news hard. They want their regular shows. I find nothing surprising there.

If anything, I find it surprising that the shows got pulled at all. It’s always a surprise when a hit show gets the proverbial axe. That’s usually not the way television works.

But LivePD’s host, Dan Abrams, may have been the most surprised. Just a day before the cancellation, he tweeted the show would be back. He has since said he genuinely thought it would be.

I’ve heard mixed reviews about the decision.

Some — mostly fans of the shows — say that reality shows about the police show the real-life situations police go through. Some even argue it provides “transparency” in terms of how law enforcement deals with civilians.

Maybe that’s true. Maybe the shows do actually perform a service by giving the public that glimpse.

But let’s be realistic for a second.

The people who regularly tuned in to see the latest adventures of law enforcement and the “bad boys” mentioned in Cops’ catchy theme song weren’t really that interested in transparency with respect to law enforcement operations.

They wanted to watch the train wrecks. They wanted to see the most outrageous traffic stops, chases, takedowns and arrests.

It was the law enforcement equivalent of The Jerry Springer Show. You tune in — whether you admit it or not — because you hope to see the druggies, the prostitutes, the speeders, the thieves and anything other lawbreakers they can squeeze into their timeslot.

Let me stop for just a moment and point out an important detail: I never regularly watched either show. I’ve seen bits and pieces of both. But to be fair, I will say I never considered either to be “appointment TV.”

But what I saw of either suggests this: it was all about the crazy. The “positive” aspect was law enforcement waging a valiant fight against the lawbreakers.

The show certainly mentioned the people arrested are “innocent until proven guilty.”

But I suspect the average viewer forgets that little fact of our legal system far too easily. They really find it easy to forget when they see people flee — for whatever reason — from law enforcement on such cop shows.

And The Guardian reported problems with the way Cops portrayed law enforcement and the “real world.” Some of the findings are very disturbing.

Destruction of footage could have played a role

Abrams made valid points about the shows displaying the dangers law enforcement officers face. At the same time, he acknowledged the show contained moments in which police did things people “didn’t approve of.”

I have to question, though, how much of that content got framed with proper context when law enforcement took actions some might call “questionable.”

If the show is truly shown “live,” or close to “live,” I’d wonder how much that context could actually be included…at least in the same episode in which the act itself airs.

Abrams acknowledged on Fox News that camera crews recorded a March 2019 incident in which an African American man named Javier Ambler died in police custody in Texas. The camera crew that shot the footage later destroyed it based on the show’s policy on how long it maintains such footage.

Abrams told Fox News’ Bill Hemmer that he believes the destruction of the footage may have played a part in A&E’s decision to kill the show.

Police body cameras recorded the incident and that footage still exists.

Despite the show having a specific policy that after a certain amount of time, all raw footage is destroyed, some likely argued it was a coverup. I don’t think it was: shows having archival video policies for raw footage is pretty common. Over time, you run out of space to store all that stuff and having a set timetable at which footage is dumped is the easiest way to deal with that problem.

But given the furor about the Floyd case, the appearance of impropriety might well have played a role as Abrams suggested.

Do cop shows show positive stories about police and the community?

I’d bet one thing might have saved the shows. If the shows showed more positive interactions of police working with their communities, that might have made the difference.

I’d also bet that’s the kind of programming A&E might well be considering for the future.

Unfortunately, if I had to place a bet, it’d be that that type of show wouldn’t bring in near the numbers.

That says plenty about our society, doesn’t it?

Do you think canceling the shows was the right move? Why or why not?

Patrick is a Christian with more than 30 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.