How ‘Cops’ Ran Down Bad Boys for Longer than Any Other TV Show

The TV Show Cops found a formula and stuck with it—longer than any other show. Lasting an amazing 30 years, Cops was a reality show that followed police officers as they went about their duties. Sounds simple enough, but why would a show like that stay on the air longer than any other show?

Cops started as a result of the Writers Guild Strike, which meant that networks were without content to air. They had to find a way to create new material without writers. Stephen Chao, a former executive for Fox, took a meeting with John Langley. In the meeting, Langley showed footage of a live drug bust, and he was sold.

Cops also had the benefit of a cheap production—no writers, no actors, and just hand-held cameras. And the entertainment value was through the roof, with plenty of action and drama.

Police also benefited from the show. They used Cops to build their relationship with the community, starting with Nick Navarro, the sheriff featured in the first episode of Cops. Police officers had final approval on the show, and used the show to counter the negative stories that the news showed.

After the riots in LA, the city allowed Cops to film. The positive coverage helped, and the show continued following that model throughout the country.

The show eventually moved to Spike TV, and it spawned other shows, like Live PD. The shows continue to allow the police to shape their image, good or bad.