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5 Things You Didn't Know About COPS

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Bad boys, bad boys"¦whatcha gonna do? If the ratings can be taken as an indicator, TV viewers love to see drunken trailer park residents beat up on their relatives. This week our TVHolic looks at that weekly guilty pleasure, COPS.

1. It all started with a Documentary

Picture 421.pngPicture 38.pngCOPS is the brainchild of writer/producer John Langley. In 1983 Langley was working with Malcolm Barbour on a documentary called Cocaine Blues, which was a graphic depiction of the effect of the so-called upscale drug on the average American. While researching Cocaine Blues Langley was on the scene during several drug raids, and it occurred to him that the logistics, preparation and execution of such police work from the cop's point of view might make for an interesting television series.

2. Geraldo was an Influence (sort of)

Langley worked with Geraldo Rivera on a two-hour special entitled American Vice, which again focused on the War on Drugs and followed various law enforcement agencies on the job. Equipped with not only a concept but also a working knowledge of what would be involved (a physically fit camera crew that could keep up with police officers while carrying unwieldy equipment), he began pitching his new show idea to the networks. He was met with every reaction from disdain to outright incredulity. You can't have a TV show without at the very least a narrator, he was informed. No one will agree to appear on-camera, we'll get our (posteriors) sued from here "˜til doomsday, said several execs. It was all a matter of timing when Langley finally hit pay dirt in 1989. The Fox Network was in its infancy and was looking for unusual, "edgy" programming in order to set itself apart from the Big Three networks. Langley had done his homework and had figured out the necessary technology "“ the action could be filmed live using microwave technology and bouncing signals up to helicopters and back down to trucks. Fox was impressed by his pitch and ordered 45 episodes.

3. Will your city get picked?

Picture 411.pngThe COPS crew doesn't just show up at a random police precinct; they only film on location when they're invited by either a city's mayor, police chief or other official. Upon receiving such an invite, the producers of the show meet with the local law enforcement officials and then ride on patrol for several different shifts to see if the area meets the "production needs" of the show. (Translation: there must be some sort of criminal action worth filming. There have been several occasions when the crew spent three or four days riding with the local constables only to find that the biggest crimes in town were parking infractions.) Once an area is deemed suitable for filming, all the proper contracts are signed, and a two-man COPS crew rides in each police car. In one-person cars, the camera operator rides shotgun while the sound mixer sits in the back seat. In two-officer cars, both crew members sit in the back. They both wear ballistic resistant vests while on the job. Surprisingly, the only major injuries suffered by COPS crew members in 20 years of filming have been slipping and falling while running through back yards in the dark, and being hit by flying objects when filming an angry crowd.

4. Why There are Fewer Blurry Faces

Picture 40.pngIn the early days of the series, many of the perp's faces were blurred. Folks were unfamiliar with the show and were wary of appearing on camera. However, once COPS became a hit, over 90% of the arrestees signed release forms. Even though their initial reaction might have been "Get those cameras out of my face," once they found out that the footage was for COPS, they willingly agreed to be on TV. Producer Langley shrugs and figures it must have something to do with that "15 minutes of fame" thing. Interestingly enough, "blurring" is time consuming and expensive in post-production, so in later seasons of the show, a lot of perps who refuse to sign the waiver never get on camera.

5. When the Crew Gets Involved

Picture 39.pngOnce in a great while, members of the COPS crew break that fourth wall and get involved with the situation at hand. In one episode a victim was unconscious and not breathing, and paramedics hadn't yet arrived. The COPS sound mixer happened to be a former EMT and he assisted the attending police officer in providing CPR. On another occasion, the police officer that had been in foot pursuit of a suspect was injured, and the camera operator (who was a Las Vegas Reserve Police Officer) handed off his equipment to the sound mixer and assisted the officer in tackling the suspect.

I'd love to hear about your favorite COPS memories or moments. I'll wait a moment while you don your wife-beater undershirt and light up a Lucky Strike.

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The Time Douglas Adams Met Jim Henson
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On September 13, 1983, Jim Henson and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy author Douglas Adams had dinner for the first time. Henson, who was born on this day in 1936, noted the event in his "Red Book" journal, in characteristic short-form style: "Dinner with Douglas Adams – 1st met." Over the next few years the men discussed how they might work together—they shared interests in technology, entertainment, and education, and ended up collaborating on several projects (including a Labyrinth video game). They also came up with the idea for a "Muppet Institute of Technology" project, a computer literacy TV special that was never produced. Henson historians described the project as follows:

Adams had been working with the Henson team that year on the Muppet Institute of Technology project. Collaborating with Digital Productions (the computer animation people), Chris Cerf, Jon Stone, Joe Bailey, Mark Salzman and Douglas Adams, Jim’s goal was to raise awareness about the potential for personal computer use and dispel fears about their complexity. In a one-hour television special, the familiar Muppets would (according to the pitch material), “spark the public’s interest in computing,” in an entertaining fashion, highlighting all sorts of hardware and software being used in special effects, digital animation, and robotics. Viewers would get a tour of the fictional institute – a series of computer-generated rooms manipulated by the dean, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, and stumble on various characters taking advantage of computers’ capabilities. Fozzie, for example, would be hard at work in the “Department of Artificial Stupidity,” proving that computers are only as funny as the bears that program them. Hinting at what would come in The Jim Henson Hour, viewers, “…might even see Jim Henson himself using an input device called a ‘Waldo’ to manipulate a digitally-controlled puppet.”

While the show was never produced, the development process gave Jim and Douglas Adams a chance to get to know each other and explore a shared passion. It seems fitting that when production started on the 2005 film of Adams’s classic Hitchhiker’s Guide, Jim Henson’s Creature Shop would create animatronic creatures like the slovenly Vogons, the Babel Fish, and Marvin the robot, perhaps a relative of the robot designed by Michael Frith for the MIT project.

You can read a bit on the project more from Muppet Wiki, largely based on the same article.

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40 Fun Facts About Sesame Street
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Now in its 47th season, Sesame Street is one of television's most iconic programs—and it's not just for kids. We're big fans of the Street, and to prove it, here are some of our favorite Sesame facts from previous stories and our Amazing Fact Generator.

Sesame Workshop

1. Oscar the Grouch used to be orange. Jim Henson decided to make him green before season two.

2. How did Oscar explain the color change? He said he went on vacation to the very damp Swamp Mushy Muddy and turned green overnight.

3. During a 2004 episode, Cookie Monster said that before he started eating cookies, his name was Sid.

4. In 1980, C-3PO and R2-D2 visited Sesame Street. They played games, sang songs, and R2-D2 fell in love with a fire hydrant.

5. Mr. Snuffleupagus has a first name—Aloysius

6. Ralph Nader stopped by in 1988 and sang "a consumer advocate is a person in your neighborhood."

7. Caroll Spinney said he based Oscar's voice on a cab driver from the Bronx who brought him to the audition.

8. In 1970, Ernie reached #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 with the timeless hit "Rubber Duckie."

9. One of Count von Count's lady friends is Countess von Backwards, who's also obsessed with counting but likes to do it backwards.

10. Sesame Street made its Afghanistan debut in 2011 with Baghch-e-Simsim (Sesame Garden). Big Bird, Grover and Elmo are involved.

11. According to Muppet Wiki, Oscar the Grouch and Count von Count were minimized on Baghch-e-Simsim "due to cultural taboos against trash and vampirism."

12. Before Giancarlo Esposito was Breaking Bad's super intense Gus Fring, he played Big Bird's camp counselor Mickey in 1982.

13. Thankfully, those episodes are available on YouTube.

14. How big is Big Bird? 8'2". (Pictured with First Lady Pat Nixon.)

15. In 2002, the South African version (Takalani Sesame) added an HIV-positive Muppet named Kami.

16. Six Republicans on the House Commerce Committee wrote a letter to PBS president Pat Mitchell warning that Kami was not appropriate for American children, and reminded Mitchell that their committee controlled PBS' funding.

17. Sesame Street's resident game show host Guy Smiley was using a pseudonym. His real name was Bernie Liederkrantz.

18. Bert and Ernie have been getting questioned about their sexuality for years. Ernie himself, as performed by Steve Whitmere, has weighed in: “All that stuff about me and Bert? It’s not true. We’re both very happy, but we’re not gay,”

19. A few years later, Bert (as performed by Eric Jacobson) answered the same question by saying, “No, no. In fact, sometimes we are not even friends; he can be a pain in the neck.”

20. In the first season, both Superman and Batman appeared in short cartoons produced by Filmation. In one clip, Batman told Bert and Ernie to stop arguing and take turns choosing what’s on TV.

21. In another segment, Superman battled a giant chimp.

22. Telly was originally "Television Monster," a TV-obsessed Muppet whose eyes whirled around as he watched.

23. According to Sesame Workshop, Elmo is the only non-human to testify before Congress.

24. He lobbied for more funding for music education, so that "when Elmo goes to school, there will be the instruments to play."

25. In the early 1990s, soon after Jim Henson’s passing, a rumor circulated that Ernie would be killed off in order to teach children about death, as they'd done with Mr. Hooper.

26. According to Snopes, the rumor may have spread thanks to New Hampshire college student, Michael Tabor, who convinced his graduating class to wear “Save Ernie” beanies and sign a petition to persuade Sesame Workshop to let Ernie live.

27. By the time Tabor was corrected, the newspapers had already picked up the story.

28. Sesame Street’s Executive Producer Carol-Lynn Parente joined Sesame Workshop as a production assistant and has worked her way to the top.

29. Originally, Count von Count was more sinister. He could hypnotize and stun people.

30. According to Sesame Workshop, all Sesame Street's main Muppets have four fingers except Cookie Monster, who has five.

31. The episode with Mr. Hooper's funeral aired on Thanksgiving Day in 1983. That date was chosen because families were more likely to be together at that time, in case kids had questions or needed emotional support.

32. Mr. Hooper’s first name was Harold.

33. Big Bird sang "Bein' Green" at Jim Henson's memorial service.

34. As Chris Higgins put it, the performance was "devastating."

35. Oscar's Israeli counterpart is Moishe Oofnik, whose last name means “grouch” in Hebrew.

36. Nigeria's version of Cookie Monster eats yams. His catchphrase: "ME WANT YAM!"

37. Sesame's Roosevelt Franklin ran a school, where he spoke in scat and taught about Africa. Some parents hated him, so in 1975 he got the boot, only to inspire Gob Bluth’s racist puppet Franklin on Arrested Development 28 years later.

38. Our good friend and contributor Eddie Deezen was the voice of Donnie Dodo in the 1985 classic Follow That Bird.

39. Cookie Monster evolved from The Wheel-Stealer—a snack-pilfering puppet Jim Henson created to promote Wheels, Crowns and Flutes in the 1960s.

40. This puppet later was seen eating a computer in an IBM training film and on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Thanks to Stacy Conradt, Joe Hennes, Drew Toal, and Chris Higgins for their previous Sesame coverage!

An earlier version of this article appeared in 2012.


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