“Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do? Whatcha gonna do when they come for you?”
If you have watched television at all in the last three decades, you probably recognize those lyrics from the television show COPS. COPS is a reality show filmed, as they say in the opening credits, “on location with the men and women of law enforcement.”
As COPS celebrates its 30th anniversary, here are some facts you may not have known about this long-running series.
1. The idea came from the producer’s experience of going on a drug raid with police.
Writer/producer John Langley first got the idea for COPS when working on a television documentary called Cocaine Blues in 1982. As part of the research for that project, he accompanied police on several drug raids and realized that having cameras along to observe typical police in their work could make exciting television. He began to shop the show idea around the various networks. However, executives rejected him, fearing that police would not agree to be filmed, or that the network would end up being sued.
2. Fox greenlit the show because of a writer’s strike.
In 1989, Hollywood had a writer’s strike, and production on scripted series ground to a halt for nearly six months. The networks were scraping for any content that could be produced quickly, cheaply, and without requiring writers. At that time, Fox was a fledgling fourth network, aiming to compete with the original “Big Three” through shows that were different and edgy, and they seized on Langley’s proposal. The network ordered an initial season of 15 episodes, and the show quickly became a hit and was renewed. Later seasons range from 22 to over 40 episodes.
3. The first season had noticeable differences from later seasons.
The first season of COPS was filmed entirely in one location, following officers of the Broward County Police Department in Florida. In subsequent seasons, production would rotate through several different locations each year. The first season also featured a voiceover introduction by actor Burt Lancaster in the first episode, and occasional instrumental music scoring the action. You also see more blurred faces in the first season. As the show became popular, more of the people filmed signed releases and allowed their faces to be shown.
4. The crew has occasionally become involved in the action of the show.
While the crew who films COPS work hard to capture the action without becoming part of it, occasionally the camera operator or sound technician gets pulled into activity, usually when there is a fight or scuffle going on. On one memorable occasion, police and film crew arrived on a scene where an unconscious victim was not breathing, with paramedics still en route. The sound technician was a former EMT, and he jumped in front of the camera to assist the officer in performing CPR.
5. One crew member has been killed while filming.
Over more than thirty years, there have been surprisingly few injuries to the production team members, considering the potential danger inherent in their work. Most injuries have been minor and occurred as a result of falling while running. However, one crew member was tragically killed in Omaha, Nebraska in 2014. Police exchanged gunshots with an armed robbery suspect, and veteran crew member Bryce Dion was struck in the crossfire and died. Although the crew wears protective vests, the bullet entered Dion’s body at an uncovered area under his left arm.
6. The show’s theme songs, “Bad Boys,” became a hit single.
The song “Bad Boys” by reggae band One World was not written for the show. It had been released as a single in 1987 but had not performed well on the charts. However, one of the production staff of the show was a One World fan and suggested using the song for the opening credits. A 1993 re-release of the single charted around the world, rising into the Top Ten in the United States.
7. COPS has been hugely profitable.
Estimates are that COPS has made over $500 million in profit over the years. It is relatively inexpensive to produce, and its longevity in syndication means that it continues to rake in money. Beginning in the 1990s, releases of special DVD packages that focused on chases, fights, or uncensored editions sold well and got more mileage out of already-existing footage. There was even a 1995 computer game tie-in, and in 2016 a deal was made for a scripted feature film based on the show.
8. Fox canceled COPS after 25 seasons in 2013, but the show has kept going.
COPS was a Saturday night staple for 25 years, but in 2013 Fox decided to cancel the series. However, it was quickly picked up by Spike (now Paramount Network), and new episodes continue to be produced. Older COPS episodes are still in syndication, and the show airs in multiple countries around the world including Japan, India, the United Kingdom, and Brazil. COPS Reloaded is an additional syndicated version that repackages segments from older episodes while enhancing the video quality from the original standard definition.
As the law enforcement reality format has expanded to include shows like Animal Cops,Police Women of Broward, and Live PD, the original COPS is still going strong with its 32nd season set to begin in June 2019. Throw on your favorite ripped t-shirt, grab a 40-ounce bottle of beer, and thrill again to the adventures of “the men and women of law enforcement!”