It is too early to know whether the past few weeks of mass protests will fundamentally change how people see such programming and, moreover, how networks approach their scheduling. The audiences are barely homogeneous, with an abundance of options that cater to all kinds of tastes and niches.
However, these scheduling movements felt a tacit admission that television had oversimplified police filming. While the effect of this can be discussed in relation to scripts, the designation “reality” borne by “police” and its likes carries a host of thorny problems.
Much like on television, the success of the “policemen” was a surprise to most of the stakeholders at the time – the confluence of events more than some master plan. The Fox broadcast network, still in its infancy, is still mainly stumbling on this genre, as networks have explored programming alternatives due to a prolonged strike by the Hollywood book.
Starting with local stations, Fox launched a law enforcement block that started with “America’s Most Wanted” in the final year of the Reagan administration, joined by Fox in 1989.
These offers solved a problem for programmers, offering a low-cost way to fill time on Saturday night, while becoming an unexpected winner in ratings.
The pro-law message coincides with the curvature of conservative Fox Mobol Robert Murdoch. However, the main driver behind “Cops” was its ability to provide visceral excitement with a limited budget, in the days before everyone became an amateur camera operator thanks to cell phones.
As noted, “policemen” are not the only ones to focus on the heroic aspects of the police. But unlike television and written films – including those that sympathetically portray officers – it came with the unfamiliar “reality”, despite editorial options and collaborative agreements with police departments that undoubtedly shaped and distorted the content.
A&E attributed the “Live PD” decision to “respect for the families of George Floyd and the others who lost their lives.” As for “Cops”, Paramount Network did not respond to a request to clarify its status, but the series is no longer present on its website.
Some critics have called for the purge of such offers, although this seems unlikely. Many cable networks contain groups heavily dedicated to real crime fare, and in practice, these shelves cannot be removed overnight. (The “Policemen” show, by the way, can still be seen at stations like WGN over the weekend.)
The next logical step is to take a realistic look at the transferred images and whether they are displayed responsibly. The famous song “Cops” asks, “What are you going to do?” At a minimum, networks seeking to demonstrate that they accommodate traffic must begin to do so.