COPS is one of the longest-running television programs
and one of the earliest reality TV genre programs, which networks love
because they are not paying actors or writers. It is broadcast by the Fox
Network and documents the day-to-day activities of American police
officers and sheriff's deputies ("cops") while on-duty.
Originally created by John Langley and Malcolm Barbour, it premiered on
March 11, 1989 and has aired over 600 episodes. It won the American
Television Award in 1993, and has earned four Emmy nominations.
The show is made up of footage shot by film units who accompany
selected police officers while they execute their duties. As the show's
opening spiel mentions, "COPS is filmed on location with the men
and women of law enforcement...all suspects are innocent until proven
guilty in a court-of-law." The show has followed officers in 140
different cities in the United States and also has filmed in Hong Kong,
London, and the former Soviet Union.
Recently, several themed DVD's have been released, some of which
include profanity and sexually explicit footage cut from the network
version. They are entitled COPS:
Shots Fired, COPS:
Bad Girls, and COPS:
Caught in the Act.
The show is well known for its theme song, "Bad Boys",
sung by reggae group Inner Circle.
The show has been criticized for its predominant focus on the criminal
activities among the poor. Critics of this aspect of the show say it
unfairly presents the poor as responsible for most crime in society while
ignoring the white-collar crimes that are typical of the more wealthy.
Documentary film maker Michael Moore raises this very issue in an
interview with a former associate producer of COPS, who was on the program
for one season only although he was erroneously presented as a spokesman
for the program. Dick Herlin was included in Moore's film Bowling for
Columbine. One response to this allegation - also supplied by Hurlin in
response to Moore - is that television is primarily a visual medium,
requiring regular footage on a weekly basis to sustain a show, and police
officers "busting in" on some office where identity theft papers
are being created or other high-level crime rings are operating do not
happen very often, thus it is not likely to be filmed and thus not shown.
The low-level crime featured on the show happens every day, providing
large quantities of material suitable for filming. "COPS"
creator John Langley readily acknowledges that the program is about street
crime, not white- collar crime, and urges that it should be judged
COPS is a popular subject for parody, a testament to how deeply the
show has become embedded in American pop culture.
A common theme among parodies is incompetence displayed by law
enforcement at hand. For example, in a parody from the television series The
Simpsons, the police use a helicopter to watch a drive-in movie. Other
shows that have parodied COPS include the Comedy Central series Reno 911!,
the Ronnie Dobbs sketches on Mr. Show with Bob and David, Mad TV and
Saturday Night Live. The series was also the centerpiece of an episode of
The X-Files, called X-Cops.
COPS has also been frequently parodied in feature films such as There's
Something About Mary, in which the main character is arrested
"live" on the show as his friend watches to his dismay, and Shrek
2, which puts a spin on the parody with the medieval themed
In the sci-fi film Minority Report, fugitive protagonist John
Anderton appears on an episode, hinting that the show will still be around
in the late 21st Century. Another notable sci-fi example was Troops, a
parody that combines COPS and the popular Star
Wars movie franchise.
The comedian Bill Hicks has also used the show as subject matter for
his act, as well as comedians Paul Rodriguez, Larry the Cable Guy and
Shows influenced by COPS
- The late Paul Stojanovich, a former COPS producer, created the
syndicated documentary series World's Wildest Police Videos, showing
footage of police work from dashboard-mounted in-car cameras and from
news footage. That show's narrator, John Bunnell was a former
Multnomah County, Oregon sherriff's deputy who appeared on an early
episode of COPS conducting an undercover drug bust.
- The Montgomery, Alabama FOX affiliate, WCOV, also airs two
long-running locally-produced shows based on the COPS formula: M.P.D.
documents the Montgomery Police Department and County Law  covers
the Montgomery County Sherriffs Department. Both shows air following
COPS and AMW on Saturday nights.
- A Canadian syndicated series of the early 1990s, R.C.M.P. documented
the activities of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
- LAPD: Life On The Beat, a syndicated series focusing on the Los
Angeles Police Department. Unlike COPS, LAPD would run a small text
blurb at the end of each segment explaining what became of the
featured "suspect" ("He was charged with Disturbing The
Peace and released").
- True Stories Of The Highway Patrol, usually dealing with County
sheriffs and State Police.
- Bad Girls 1, 2, and 3 - All female perpetrators, plus
a few transvestites
- Naked Perps - All perpetrators were nude at the time
of arrest. (Aired censored on television.)
- Jersey Cop - The gruff bluster alternating with
tenderness of Cpl. Anthony Damiano of the Passaic County, New Jersey
Sherriff's Department proved so popular that he became the only police
officer to receive an entire 30 minute episode devoted to him.
- Mardi Gras - Annual episodes filmed with the New
Orleans, Louisiana police as they attempt to restrain the
alcohol-fueled revelry of Mardi Gras.
- Coco the Clown - An undercover officer with the Tampa
police department in full clown costume conducts a prostitution sting.
- Tased and Confused - All perpetrators were apprehended
with the use of a TASER (electronic stunning device) at the time of