John Langley with Las Vegas police officers
Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do? Keep making episodes of Cops
After two decades (yes, you read that right, 20 years), Cops celebrates its 20th season with the special hourlong episode "Cops: 20 Years Caught on Tape" on Sept. 29 at 8 pm/ET on Fox. The series is syndicated in a whopping 90 percent of the country, and in November the show will hit its 700th-episode mark. TV Guide talked to the show's creator/executive producer, John Langley, about the injuries, scuffles and arrests that keep viewers following the chase.
TV Guide: Did you ever expect the show to last this long?
John Langley: I had no idea Cops would continue for 20 years, although I had total faith that it was an interesting show with many layers of entertainment and information.
TV Guide: How has it continued to spark audiences' interest?
Langley: It's still on the air, in my opinion, because it offers the unpredictability of human behavior in extreme circumstances. It's like an existential variety show, with authentic decor, set against the backdrop of street crime. No scripts, no actors, no host, no narrator. As "real" as you can get! Existential TV!
TV Guide: Have you had to change how the show is shot over the course of the years?
Langley: Over the years, we've had to film much more for much less. The good news is, crime is trending downward; the bad news is, crime is democratic and can affect anyone at any time.
TV Guide: Have your camera people ever inadvertently gotten involved in scuffles?
Langley: Our rule to cameramen is to stay out of it! If you become the story, there is no story. But over the years some guys have jumped into a situation when asked by the officers in charge. For example, a soundman who was trained in CPR assisted an officer in Portland because he knew CPR better than the officer.
TV Guide: Has anyone been injured?
Langley: We've had a few broken bones, bloody noses and so forth from chasing after officers who are chasing after suspects, at which time cameramen have been "clotheslined" in the dark. One cameraman was hit with a two-by-four on a party-out-of-control call. Another crew was "T-boned" during a high-speed pursuit, etc. No major injuries, knock on wood.
TV Guide: Where have you shot the show?
Langley: As a road show, we've been all over the U.S. as well as overseas to Russia, South America, England and Hong Kong. There is no single place better than all others. It depends on the "luck of the draw" and whatever happens when you happen to be there. Having said that, bigger cities obviously mean more crime, which translates into more segments.
TV Guide: Do you still hear from the various officers you've worked with?
Langley: We stay in touch with many officers we've worked with over the years. Many have been promoted up through the ranks, like Bill Young of Las Vegas (former sheriff), or have moved into other high-visibility jobs, like John Bunnell (who hosted TV shows and appeared in movies).
TV Guide: How often have you actually been at shoots — any of the big, most memorable ones?
Langley: In earlier days I was personally present for many of the classic moments from Cops (like the driverless car spinning in circles). Nowadays, Jimmy Langley, our field producer, is on location.
TV Guide: How will you keep the show fresh?
Langley: As a road show, we keep moving — without any moss growing under our feet! Meanwhile, the variations on human behavior are endless, so that even if you are on a routine domestic call, you can [witness] surprises and twists you would never have expected. Cops tries to keep the viewer "in the moment," since we are a ride-along show, which means you will discover reality — or at least a slice of it — by peeking through a window into a world you seldom see. And you get to do it from the comfort of your couch!
Follow the chase with some clips of Cops in our Online Video Guide.
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