Brow Beat

Cops, America’s Longest-Running Reality Show, Has Been Canceled

The show has been criticized for glorifying the police for more than 30 years.

The logo for the TV show Cops, showing a patrol car's flashing lights.
They came for them. Langley Productions

The Paramount Network has canceled Cops, Variety reports. The long-running reality TV show, which would have launched its 33rd season on Monday, was removed from the Paramount Network’s schedule four days ago in the wake of massive worldwide protests against police brutality following the death of George Floyd. Now, the Paramount Network says Cops will not be returning to the air.

Or at least it won’t be returning to the air on the Paramount Network; this is not the first time Cops has been canceled. The show, an early harbinger of the age of reality television, debuted on Fox in 1989 and ran for 25 seasons before being quietly canceled in 2013. Langley Productions, the company behind Cops, found a new home for it at Spike TV, a Viacom channel targeted at male audiences, in a deal that included both the production of new seasons of Cops and the rights to rerun some of the Fox episodes. (Spike TV rebranded as the Paramount Network in 2018.)

Although the current public uproar over police brutality led to its cancellation, Cops has been controversial since the first moment it aired. In the New York Times review of the first season, which focused on the Broward County, Florida, police department, critic John J. O’Connor wrote about the show’s racist portrait of the war on drugs:

The dominant image is hammered home again and again: the overwhelmingly white troops of police are the good guys; the bad guys are overwhelmingly black. Little is said about the ultimate sources of the drugs, and nothing is mentioned about Florida’s periodic scandals in which the police themselves are found to be trafficking in drugs.

More recently, podcaster Dan Taberski took an extended look at the show’s troubled legacy and dubious ethical record last year in Running From Cops, a podcast critic Inkoo Kang praised for meticulously investigating and documenting “all the ways things can go wrong for the poor and the vulnerable” once a television crew arrives:

A former officer attests to dragging out a traffic stop, thus endangering both himself and the driver, because the producers needed to fill a seven-minute segment. Another ex-cop recalls that subordinates who used to arrest six to eight suspects a month started apprehending people in the hundreds in the same time period after Cops rolled into town. Law enforcement has helped producers intimidate arrestees into signing release forms, sometimes by repeat visits to their homes. A couple of interviewees who ended up on Cops or its most successful copycat series, Live PD, say they don’t recall signing those forms, or perhaps did so when they were in no state of mind to do so.

Cops was nominated for the Outstanding Informational Series Emmy four times: in 1989, 1990, 1993, and 1994.

For more on Cops, listen to Mike Pesca’s May 2019 interview with Dan Taberski, who made the podcast series Running From Cops, on The Gist.