Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do? Insiders confirm that the upcoming 25th season of Cops could be the last on Fox. But that doesn't mean the end of the show. Executive producer John Langley tells TV Guide Magazine that he will shop the long-running series elsewhere next spring should Fox decide not to pick up a 26th season.
Earlier this month, Fox Sports announced that it would take over Fox's Saturday night slot for most of the remainder of 2012, airing a mix of Major League Baseball, UFC matches and Pac 12 college football. That means Cops — which had already been pre-empted several weeks for Jennifer Lopez's Q'Viva (before that low-rated show was dumped into late night) — will be off primetime for much of the remainder of 2012. (That news was first revealed by Vulture.)
In his first interview since the scheduling move was revealed, Langley admits that "obviously I wish they weren't pre-empting it so much. We've owned Saturday night for 25 seasons. I have a proprietary interest in it." Cops is expected to return next January, and Fox will go back to airing a mix of original and repeat episodes. (Between 16 and 20 new episodes will be on tap for midseason 2013.)
"The good news is we're renewed for our 25th year," Langley says. "That's our silver anniversary, a rarity in TV. I don't expect too many shows to reach that landmark. If Fox doesn't re-order us after the 25th season, we'll find another home, I'm pretty certain. We've got an audience and will always have an audience no matter what happens. We've become an iconic program with guaranteed ratings. We usually win our time slot, so somebody will want us."
Fox is also talking to Langley about a two-hour Cops anniversary retrospective. "We're going to make it a big celebration of Cops, including fan favorites and a countdown of the 25 more impactful moments in Cops history."
A network insider says Cops remained a profitable show for Fox, but that it was becoming less so over time. That was the network's same issue with America's Most Wanted, which it canceled as a regular series last spring. (Fox aired a handful of specials, and AMW eventually moved to Lifetime.) Fox expects ratings to potentially rise with sports on Saturdays (particularly now that the Pac 12's USC is off probation.)
Cops first launched in 1989, and since then has profiled law enforcement in over 140 cities and has produced close to 900 episodes. (The show also regularly airs in repeats on G4 and TruTV.) The Cops-America's Most Wanted lineup stayed the same for 14 years, making it easily the most intact night of programming in TV history. As Fox's rivals slumped on Saturday nights, the gap between it and the other networks grew so wide that Fox insiders guess that Saturday probably added a tenth of a ratings point to the network's weekly average.
But many of Fox Sports' rights deals included a network component, and it got to the point where it was going to take up most Saturday nights. (ABC turned its fall Saturday nights over to ESPN college football coverage a few years ago.)
As Fox celebrates its 25th anniversary, Langley remembers how the show gave the network a needed shot of adrenaline. "Cops at one time was a linchpin for Fox, certainly," he says. "It was a network builder. I think we made a major contribution to the early history of Fox, along with America's Most Wanted, The Simpsons and some shows that followed. People forget that back in the day when Cops first aired, Fox was stumbling. They did a radical revamp of programming and allowed for things that were daring."
Langley notes that Cops was "in the vanguard of so-called reality TV, and I'm proud of that fact. Fox can be largely credited with that fact. They were experimenting with new kinds of programming." Shooting for Season 25 is underway — bad boys, you've been warned.