Happy Birthday COPS!
The hit FOX show is celebrating its 20th anniversary this month. Yes, it's been twenty years of police from departments across the country dealing with drunks, hookers, robbers, drug dealers, wife-beaters wearing wife-beaters, crackheads and knuckleheads. That's nearly 700 episodes of high-speed chases, foot pursuits, and wrestling matches with unruly suspects, not to mention a fair share of daring and dramatic rescues, all of it caught on tape!
As one of the very first "reality TV shows," the program has transcended the ranks of a mere television program. It is a part of our culture, a part of the American fabric. It's been parodied on countless other shows, from South Park to MAD TV. Heck, Reno: 911 owes its entire existence to COPS.
And don't even try to pretend you don't know the theme song, "Bad Boys" by Inner Circle, or that it hasn't gotten stuck in your head for days at a time before.
So why has the show stuck around for 20 years? Sure, we all love the action and the drama of police doing one of the most dangerous jobs around. But it's not that simple. I mean, after all, not every episode features the arrest of a serial killer, or the rescue of nuns and orphans from a burning building. More times than not, the officers are responding to a drunk and
disorderly call, or taking a statement from a witness, or making a traffic stop. Not the most riveting television, you'd think. But you'd be wrong.
Reasons We're Hooked on COPS
1.) The "Look At That Idiot" Syndrome
How many times have you watched the show -- and admit it, you've watched plenty -- and thought, "Geez, what an idiot that guy (or girl) is..."? Over and over again, the camera catches suspects who lie, suspects who try to run, and suspects who try to fight. They'll say they don't have drugs which are tucked in their
pocket, or that they haven't been drinking while they hold a beer in their hand, or that they just felt like giving the prostitute $20 out of the kindness of their heart. It's hard enough to believe some of what they do, much less that they do it ON CAMERA.
Which leads to...
2.) The "I Can't Believe He Signed a Release" Effect
As a TV producer myself, I think one of my favorite parts of the show is knowing that just about every person who appears on COPS must sign a release giving their permission for the events to be shown on TV. Think about that next time you watch an episode. Some guy high on drugs will get caught trying to attack his girlfriend, try to run away, get caught a few blocks later, then lie about being high on drugs, lie about attacking his girlfriend, and lie about trying to run. And after it's all said and done, after he's arrested and driven away, at some point that guy actually signs a release form giving producers permission to show it all to you.
Which leads to...
3.) It's the Ultimate Reality Show
Bottom line, COPS is about the only real reality show left. Real police doing their real job. No scripts, no actors, no host. No groups of people forced to live together. No contrived dramas dreamt up by ambitious producers. No far-fetched challenges or puzzles to solve to win immunity. Executive
Producer John Langley doesn't even call it a "reality show" by today's standards, he prefers "existential variety show."
An hour-long special, COPS: 20 Years Caught on Tape," airs Saturday September 29 at 8 pm on FOX.
Ethan Morris: "Not always right, but never in doubt." Go ahead and write me.