“Bad Boys, bad boys….” Sing this little ditty and ask people on the street what it means to them. An exceptionally large percentage of them will reveal that they know this to be the theme song of the television show “Cops.”
With over 9000 produced episodes and a staggering 25 years on the air, this show is in a category all its own.
Recently, at an open air Italian restaurant (Locanda Portofino in Santa Monica, CA), not far from the production offices of the show, I had a chance to sit down with the man who started it all a quarter of a century ago and the man who will shepherd the show into the future.
“I watched Candid Camera, Dragnet, and Highway Patrol growing up and I’m sure all of those things filtered into my mind and I morphed that information into coming up with ‘Cops”, explained John Langley, creator of the show.
Elaborating, Langley went on to say, “I liked documentaries and I thought it was a perfect format to present something that’s exciting and full of energized action. But, in my day documentaries had this big stigma; they were perceived to be boring. There were about subjects that had nothing to do with your reality.” So Langley put a unique twist on his version of the documentary. “I wanted to do something dramatic that affects everyone in the country. If you haven’t been a victim of a crime, you know someone who has. Everyone has had interaction with the police.”
But coming up with the idea and convincing someone to put it on the air are two very different things. “Nobody wanted it. It’s a simple idea, but nobody could envision it,” revealed Langley. “Because the show has no host, no music, no actors, no re-enactments, no narrator, no scripts, I heard a thousand reasons why it couldn’t be done. Everyone said viewers wouldn’t go for it. I was the only one that believed you could do it.”
Then fate intervened a bit with a Writers Strike which made the hard sell a bit easier, “Suddenly a show with no script and no actors was the way to go. People started saying, ‘Hey, this just might work,” said Langley. But it wasn’t just the timing that helped get the show on the air, it was the format that Langley created by taking the documentary style of filmmaking and packaging it into a palatable, marketable, relatable product specifically geared toward network TV.
Now 25 years in, “Cops” moves from FOX to Spike TV where it will be married with Langley’s other show, “Jail.”
“Jail” is just what it sounds like - an unscripted look at life behind bars for casual offenders and hardened criminals in lockups across the country.
“Jail’ is the perfect companion piece to ‘Cops’, explains Morgan Langley, John’s son and the future of the brand. “People used to say, ‘why don’t you show what happens with people after they’re arrested?’ So we’re doing that with this show. And the response has been very positive.”
Morgan insists that “Cops,” despite the shift in networks, will stay true to form. “We know what we’re doing and we want to keep doing it at the level that we’ve achieved.”
And for those who see it as a Saturday night must watch show, the good news is that that’s exactly where it will stay.
“We’re really happy to be able to keep this going on Saturday nights,” expressed Morgan. “It’s still a very distinct show. There are others like it, but there really is only one ‘Cops.’ I think we have a unique niche in the way that we make television and clearly people respond to it.”
But unfortunately, both John and Morgan feel like there are some misconceptions out there about the show and were happy to have this opportunity to address them.
“People assume that we have some sort of agenda,” explained Morgan. “That couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s one of the most pure shows on TV. It’s really pure verte. We try not to edit at all.”
“We show everything in sequence with minimal cuts; a beginning, a middle and an end in about seven minutes,” John clarified. “We don’t write anything. Everything unfolds as it happens in real time. That’s the least editorial as you can be. We’re filming real people doing real things. We’re not emphasizing anything over anything else, and we’re certainly not exploiting anything or anyone.”
Morgan jumped in to say, “There’s no political agenda. You can’t say it wasn’t real and true because you just saw it.”
“Now that’s not so say that you see everything,” admitted John, “because a camera picks a point of view and you don’t see what’s not shown through that lens. But that’s like life itself. You don’t see everything, only the things from your point of view.”
What viewers do see is police officers working hard to enforce the law….and lots of shirtless criminals.
“Truthfully, that’s all a part of the strategy of the show,” says John, “We really do have to go where it’s hot, where it’s sultry and steamy, because that’s when crime takes place. All of those clichés about body heat and crime are absolutely true. If there’s a blizzard, how much street crime to you think is taking place?”
What viewers may not know is that each one of those offenders has to sign a release that gives the show permission to use their image on the air. While it might seem difficult to get that consent given some participants antics, John says that, “The reality is people don’t always realize how their behavior comes across. They think, ‘oh, I was just being myself. So I’ll sign.” He adds that, “Cops” has become such a phenomenon that many times, as they’re signing their name, people say ‘this is cool. I’m going to be on ‘Cops.’ They sign and then ask when their episode is going to be on TV. I’d say that about 95% of them sign enthusiastically.”
The biggest benefit of the show, as expressed by both John and Morgan, is that their work has humanized law enforcement officers in the eye of the public.
“It’s given a face to the badge,” John says proudly, “It shows that they’re real human beings and not just authority figures to be feared. They’re subject to real flaws and foibles and experience courage and cowardess just like the rest of us.”
“And the good news is that most of them are really pro social and proactively trying to help people” added Morgan. “It’s a really tough job, to the extent that people don’t understand or think about it really. When something bad is happening they run to the action, not away from it, to try to stop whatever it is.”
“In every episode, we take people for an up-close ride-along. It’s raw and it’s real,” says John. “We’ve been doing it for 25 years and we’re going to keep doing it for as long as we can, as long as there’s crime, and unfortunately, there will always be crime. Clearly, people like to come along for the ride, so we’ll just keep going. I say, ‘just jump in and let’s go!”
All new episodes of “Cops” air on Spike TV Saturday nights at 8e. Spike will also air reruns of the show. For specific episode information and airtimes, please visit Spike TV.
For more information about the show and to get behind-the-scenes features, please visit the "Cops" website here.
To connect with other "Cops" fans, the "Cops" Facebook page ( with over 1,000,000 likes) is located here.