The Creator of ‘Cops’ Discusses Show’s 30-Year Anniversary

The longest-running cinema verite TV show is now a father-son operation.

February 5, 2018 5:00 am

“Bad Boys, bad boys….” Sing this little ditty and ask people on the street what it means to them. An exceptionally large percentage of them will reveal that they know this to be the theme song of the television show Cops.

With over 10,000 produced episodes and a staggering 30 years on the air, this show is in a category all its own.

“I watched Candid Camera, Dragnet, and Highway Patrol growing up and I’m sure all of those things filtered into my mind and I morphed that information into coming up with Cops,” explains John Langley, creator of the show.

Elaborating, Langley goes on to say, “I liked documentaries and I thought it was a perfect format to present something that’s exciting and full of energized action. But, in my day documentaries had this big stigma; they were perceived to be boring. There were about subjects that had nothing to do with your reality.”

A scene from ‘Cops.’ (20th Television.)

So, Langley put a unique twist on his version of the documentary. “I wanted to do something dramatic that affects everyone in the country. If you haven’t been a victim of a crime, you know someone who has. Everyone has had interaction with the police.”

But, coming up with the idea and convincing someone to put it on the air are two very different things. “Nobody wanted it. It’s a simple idea, but nobody could envision it,” reveals Langley. “Because the show has no host, no music, no actors, no re-enactments, no narrator, no scripts, I heard a thousand reasons why it couldn’t be done. Everyone said viewers wouldn’t go for it. I was the only one that believed you could do it.”

Then fate intervened a bit when the television writers went on strike. This made the hard sell a bit easier, “Suddenly a show with no script and no actors was the way to go. People started saying, ‘Hey, this just might work,” says Langley.

But it wasn’t just the timing that helped get the show on the air, it was the format that Langley created by taking the documentary style of filmmaking and packaging it into a palatable, marketable, relatable product specifically geared toward network TV.

Now three decades in, Cops is still going strong.

The elder Langley now works side-by-side with his son Morgan on the series.

“We’re really happy to keep this show going,” says Morgan. “It’s still a very distinct thing. There are others like it, but there really is only one Cops. I think we have a unique niche in the way that we make television and clearly people respond to it.”

But, unfortunately, both John and Morgan feel like there are some misconceptions out there about the show and are happy to have this opportunity to address them.

“People assume that we have some sort of agenda,” explains Morgan. “That couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s one of the most pure shows on TV. It’s really pure verte. We try not to edit at all.”

“We show everything in sequence with minimal cuts; a beginning, a middle and an end in about seven minutes,” clarifies John. “We don’t write anything. Everything unfolds as it happens in real time. That’s the least editorial as you can be. We’re filming real people doing real things. We’re not emphasizing anything over anything else, and we’re certainly not exploiting anything or anyone.”

Morgan jumps in to say, “There’s no political agenda. You can’t say it wasn’t real and true because you just saw it.”

“Now that’s not to say that you see everything,” admits John, “because a camera picks a point of view and you don’t see what’s not shown through that lens. But that’s like life itself. You don’t see everything, only the things from your point of view.”

What viewers do see is police officers working hard to enforce the law….and lots of shirtless criminals.

“Truthfully, that’s all a part of the strategy of the show,” says John, “We really do have to go where it’s hot, where it’s sultry and steamy, because that’s when crime takes place. All of those clichés about body heat and crime are absolutely true. If there’s a blizzard, how much street crime do you think is taking place?”

What viewers may not know is that each one of those offenders has to sign a release that gives the show permission to use their image on the air. While it might seem difficult to get that consent given some participants antics, John says that “The reality is people don’t always realize how their behavior comes across. They think, ‘oh, I was just being myself so, no problem, I’ll sign.’” He adds that “Cops has become such a phenomenon that many times, as they’re signing their name, people say ‘this is cool. I’m going to be on Cops.’ They sign and then ask when their episode is going to be on TV. I’d say that about 95% of them sign enthusiastically.”

Both men believe that the biggest benefit of the show is that their work has humanized law enforcement officers in the eye of the public.

“It’s given a face to the badge,” John says proudly, “It shows that they’re real human beings and not just authority figures to be feared. They’re subject to real flaws and foibles and experience courage and cowardess just like the rest of us.”

“And, the good news is that most of them are really trying to help people,” says Morgan. “It’s a really tough job, to the extent that people don’t understand or think about it really. When something bad is happening, they run to the action, not away from it, to try to stop whatever it is.”

“In every episode, we take people for an up-close ride-along. It’s raw and it’s real,” says John. “We’ve been doing it for 30 years and we’re going to keep doing it for as long as we can, as long as there’s crime, and unfortunately, there will always be crime. Clearly, people like to come along for the ride, so we’ll just keep going. I say, ‘just jump in and let’s go!”

‘Cops’ airs on Paramount Network and in syndication. For specific episode information and airtimes, please visit the Paramount Network website here, and check your local listings.

For more information about the show and to get behind-the-scenes features, please visit the ‘Cops’ website here.

To connect with other ‘Cops’ fans, the ‘Cops’ Facebook is located here.


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