Cops has been cancelled by its current home, Paramount Network, one day after it was supposed to premiere its 33rd season, and 31 years since it first premiered on Fox.
But you can still watch Cops all day, every day thanks to the same company that owns Paramount Network, and reruns continue to be broadcast elsewhere.
ViacomCBS also owns Paramount Network, which used to be known as Spike, and which picked up Cops in 2013. While Paramount Network has tried to rebrand itself as about premium content, it continued to air Spike’s reality TV, including Cops, Ink Master, and Bar Rescue (the network has 38 hours of Bar Rescue scheduled between now and early Monday morning).
The show originally premiered in 1989 on Fox, when the network was young and needed cheap content. It was created by John Langley and Malcolm Barbour, and continues to be produced by Langley and his son, Morgan Langley. It arrived three years before MTV’s The Real World premiered.
On its website, Cops describes itself as a “groundbreaking, raw and realistic series [that] is a window into the world of crime and punishment in America.” The site continues:
“Arguably the first so-called ‘reality’ show, and to this day the most authentic, COPS follows police officers, constables, and sheriff’s deputies during patrols and various police activities by embedding camera crews with their units. The show’s formula adheres to a classic cinema verite ethos. With no narration or scripted dialog, it depends entirely on the commentary of the officers and on the actions of the people with whom they come into contact. COPS is one of the longest-running television programs in the United States, with more than 30 seasons and over 1000 episodes on the air. Created by John Langley and Malcolm Barbour, it premiered on FOX Saturday, March 11, 1989.
COPS has followed officers in over 140 different cities in the United States, won the American Television Award in 1993, has earned four Emmy nominations and is well-known for its popular theme song, ‘Bad Boys,’ performed by reggae group Inner Circle.
But there is more to the Cops story. As University of Minnesota media studies scholar Laurie Ouellette wrote on Twitter, “Cops has naturalized police brutality, siphoned public funding (free talent, costumes, content) into private profit and exploited Black and poor people for years. It has shaped police work via its demand for violent action and ‘money shots.’ It has killed people.”
Paramount pulls the show, WGN America will stop reruns
In its statement to The Hollywood Reporter, the network did not actually use the word cancellation, even though they’d ordered a 33rd season, which means at least some of it had completed production.
“Cops is not on the Paramount Network and we don’t have any current or future plans for it to return,” the network said.
But ViacomCBS’s free streaming service PlutoTV has a 24/7 Cops channel that continues to broadcast the show.
And WGN America still has reruns of the show on its schedule as early as 2 a.m. ET tomorrow, though those repeats may end within weeks. The Hollywood Reporter‘s Rick Porter reported that “WGN America’s commitment to the show expires at the end of June and the cable network, owned by Nexstar, doesn’t plan to renew it.”
Dan Taberski—the host and producer of the podcast Running From Cops, which explores the show’s history, influence, and production techniques—wrote an op-ed last year for the New York Times that summarizes the podcast’s findings. For example:
Our data analysis of the show’s racial portrayals also revealed that “Cops” front-loads footage of alleged crimes by members of minorities. On the show, 46 percent of violent-crime arrests of African-Americans (and 50 percent of those arrests of Latinos) appear before the first commercial break, compared with only 29 percent of violent-crime arrests of white people before that first break.
“Cops” producers told us their strategy is simply to put the most action-packed scenes in that first segment of the show, so that viewers stick around through the commercials. And sure, that makes sense. But it doesn’t explain away the top-heavy racial disparity. Given the show’s primarily white viewership, it’s not a stretch to think “Cops” producers were confirming racial narratives of criminality in America that they think their viewers want to see.
Finally, it’s no small matter that “Cops” also consistently, and casually, presents textbook bad policing as good policing. In one disturbing segment, a white officer in Wichita, Kan., pries a black man’s mouth open with the butt end of his flashlight, leaving it inserted in his mouth while the officer searches for drugs. Another segment shows an officer in Arizona tasing a fleeing man in the back, in violation of his department’s use-of-force policy. The man was suspected merely of loitering. This type of behavior is never presented as either questionable or unconstitutional. Body-cam footage also recently captured that same officer in a separate incident tasing another suspect 10 times during a routine traffic stop, then pulling down the man’s shorts and tasing him an 11th time in the testicles.