Smile…You’re Under Arrest gets attention for “dangerous” “buffoon” sheriff Arpaio

There’s a shitty new reality series airing on Fox Reality, but what’s most surprising is not how much it sucks, but how much press it’s getting for being a show that Fox rejected. Fox Reality is airing Smile…You’re Under Arrest‘s three episodes on Saturdays at 7, with the third ep airing this weekend.

The series is like every other lame hidden camera series except the people being lured into situations are people who have outstanding warrants, and besides actors, many of the people in the scenes are undercover deputies. Fox passed on the Scott Satin-produced series, which should tell you something about its value, never mind that Fox Reality only picked up the three pilot episodes.

The show is making news because, as Fox Reality’s press release pointed out, its cases “involve the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department outside of Phoenix, AZ under the command of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who is known as ‘The Toughest Sheriff in America.'”

But a Phoenix lawyer says he’s just a “buffoon”: “We have 40,000 unserved felony warrants — murderers and rapists — and instead of serving those warrants, we have this buffoon who spends his time popping out from behind curtains for a reality television show. He continues to demean our community by chasing publicity and acting the buffoon,” Michael C. Manning told the New York Times, which says he “has sued the [sheriff’s] department on behalf of clients repeatedly and successfully in wrongful death suits.”

The Times’s story recounts his, which the paper’s editorial board sums up in a separate editorial that calls Arpaio “armed and dangerous. He is a genuine public menace with a long and well-documented trail of inmate abuses, unjustified arrests, racial profiling, brutal and inept policing and wasteful spending.”

The Phoenix New Times, which has reported frequently on Arpaio, noted in a blog post that “There are 40,000 felony warrants outstanding in the county, crime is up in the unincorporated areas, and the deputies our tax monies pay for are busy playing footsie with Hollywood phonies. All so Sheriff Joe can get his pale, wrinkled mug on cable TV.”

In the Fox Reality press release, though, Arpaio says, “Because we give higher priority to capturing murderers, robbers and other violent offenders, we don’t always have the resources to track down criminals with outstanding warrants for drug and alcohol-related cases. Employing the surprise sting operations featured in Smile… You’re Under Arrest!’ enabled us to capture multiple criminals all at once, with a lower cost to taxpayers.”

Fox executive Bob Boden told the New York Times that Arpaio “is not the face of our network nor do we necessarily support anything and everything he believes in terms of law enforcement. This is an entertainment vehicle and we take no position on any of the politics involving the sheriff.”

That it’s simply an “entertainment vehicle” and not something that aspires to actually explore its characters is unsurprising but too bad, because a series about the sheriff that explored his politics or all of the drama surrounding him might actually have been informative, interesting, and entertaining.

The Sting’s the Thing… [Fox Reality Channel press release]
A Star Turn for a Sheriff on Fox TV and America’s Worst Sheriff (Joe Arpaio) [New York Times]
Joe Arpaio’s New Reality Show: Smile, We’re Flushing Your Tax Dollars Down the Toilet [Phoenix New Times]

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.