13 Arresting Facts About Cops

20th Century Fox Television
20th Century Fox Television

To get an idea of how long producer John Langley has been assigning camera crews to film "on location with the men and women of law enforcement," think about this: When Cops premiered on Fox on March 11, 1989, The Simpsons was still eight months away from debuting, and Ronald Reagan had only been out of the White House for less than two months.

In the nearly 30 years since, Cops has barely skipped a beat. When Fox decided to cancel the show in 2013, Spike picked it up and continues to air new episodes every Saturday. If you can’t get enough foot chases, domestic incidents, and eye-darting suspects, check out these facts.

1. JOHN LANGLEY THOUGHT OF THE IDEA DURING A COCAINE BUST.

The producer was in charge of a crew covering a real-life drug raid for a 1983 documentary called Cocaine Blues when inspiration struck: He thought it would be a good idea to have a no-frills chronicle of the everyday experiences of police officers. While the concept (then titled Street Beat) was simple, no one shared Langley’s enthusiasm. He was repeatedly told no show without a narrator, music, or plot could succeed.

2. A WRITERS STRIKE GOT IT ON THE AIR.

Langley had been pushing the idea for most of the 1980s when he met with the new “fourth network,” Fox, in 1988. While executives were still cool to the premise, the 1988 Writers Guild of America strike made Langley’s lack of scripted elements appealing. “Suddenly, a show with no actors, host, script, or writers sounded pretty good,” he said in 2007. Fox didn't completely abandon the notion of star power, though: Burt Lancaster voiced a brief introduction for the pilot episode.

3. THE THEME SONG CAME FIRST.

“Bad Boys” might be one of the most recognizable credit themes of all time, but the group behind it wasn’t thinking about Langley or his show when they recorded it. Reggae musicians Inner Circle put the track on a 1987 album that was heard by a Cops crew member, who then played it for Langley. The rights were sold for $2500; while the show originally used the full version of the song for the pilot, it’s been whittled down to just the chorus for reruns.

4. EACH SHOW HAS A THREE-ACT STRUCTURE.

Discussing the show’s format in 2007, Langley offered that each episode typically begins with an action sequence (a car or foot chase; subduing an uncooperative suspect), a “slow-things-down” sequence (rational conversation; bats in chimneys), and finally a moral message of some sort (a cop lecturing someone to stay off of drugs).

5. THEY USED TO FOLLOW THE COPS HOME.

Langley’s original notion was to document both a police officer’s working shift and his domestic life. In the 1989 pilot, a captain in Florida's Broward County police department was seen arguing with his wife after a long shift. Critic Tom Ensign called it the “only phony aspect” of the show. It was dropped almost immediately. 

6. THE SUSPECTS NEED TO GIVE THEIR PERMISSION TO APPEAR ON THE SHOW.


20th Century Fox Television

Contrary to popular belief, being arrested doesn’t absolve anyone of his or her right to not be filmed for a national television show. Producers on Cops have to get releases signed by arrestees and suspects. If they’re already handcuffed, the crew can follow them to jail and get them to sign there. Langley has said that proper timing is key when it comes to getting their permission—during a fight is a problem—and estimated that 95 percent of everyone filmed signs a waiver to appear. According to Langley, they simply want to be on television.

7. SOME POLICE DEPARTMENTS SEE COPS AS A RECRUITING TOOL.

Citing their belief that police work is not meant to be an entertainment product, Chicago is among a handful of cities that have long refused to let Cops shoot in their territory. But for the dozens of other departments that have, the motivation is often to use the show as a recruiting tool for fellow officers. If a cop does something potentially embarrassing? Precincts almost always retain the right to screen footage before it’s aired.

8. THE CREW HAS HAD TO JUMP IN.

The official Cops crew policy is that camera and microphone operators are there only to observe: They’re not allowed to interfere with anything going on. The exception, Langley says, is if an officer’s life is in danger. In one instance, a suspect was about to secure an officer’s weapon when the sound man put down his gear and jumped in; another show staffer administered CPR to a woman in need. He was a paramedic; the officer didn’t know the technique.

9. THERE’S BEEN ONE FATALITY.

Despite some dangerous situations, Cops has had an excellent track record of crew safety: Any production member riding with police has to wear a bulletproof vest. The single instance of a civilian being mortally wounded came in 2014, when sound supervisor Bryce Dion was accidentally shot by police in Omaha during a confrontation with a man they believed had a firearm. According to CBS, Dion had been with the show seven years.

10. UNUSED FOOTAGE GETS TRASHED.


20th Century Fox Television

Langley’s crew can shoot 400 hours of footage to get a single 22-minute episode of Cops. While he originally tried archiving everything he didn’t use, the series has been around for so long that multiple storage formats have come and gone, rendering their continued existence impractical or expensive to convert. So unused footage is either taped over or thrown out.

11. THEY DID A VERY SPECIAL EPISODE.

Cops rarely breaks from its formula of depicting officers on patrol, planning raids, or executing sting operations. But a crew set up in Boynton Beach, Florida got a different perspective on things when they discovered that an undercover officer named Widy Jean had taped an admission from a woman looking for a hitman to kill her husband. When police set up a “crime scene” for the suspect, Dalia Dippolito, to come view, Cops filmed her reaction. According to ABC News, Dippolito was tried and convicted of solicitation to commit first-degree murder in 2011, but the verdict was thrown out due to improper jury selection. Dippolito says she did not want her husband dead and maintains she and her friends faked the criminal plan in order to post it on YouTube and garner fame. She's set to be retried in May.

12. IT’S A $500 MILLION BUSINESS.

Crime does indeed pay. In 2005, Broadcasting and Cable estimated that Cops had generated $500 million in 17 seasons, with syndication, licensing, and DVD sales reaping huge profits for the modestly-budgeted series.

13. NO, THEY DON’T PAY THE COPS.

Langley, who has been critical of much of the reality television that followed in his wake, has always had a firm no-compensation policy for anyone featured on the show, suspect or police officer. “We don’t pay people to be themselves,” he told Entertainment Weekly in 2011. “If you pay them, you’re affecting their behavior.”

12 Festive Facts About A Christmas Story

Warner Home Video
Warner Home Video

Which Oscar-winning star wanted to play Ralphie Parker's dad? Which actor went on to have a seedy career in the adult film industry? Can you really get your tongue stuck to a metal pole? On the 35th anniversary of A Christmas Story's debut, here are a few tidbits about the holiday classic to tide you over until TNT's 24-hour Christmas marathon.

1. JACK NICHOLSON WAS INTERESTED IN PLAYING RALPHIE'S DAD.

Though Jack Nicholson was reportedly offered the role of The Old Man Parker, and interested, casting—and paying—him would have meant doubling the budget. But director Bob Clark, who didn't know Nicholson was interested, said Darren McGavin was the perfect choice for the role.

2. IT OWES A DEBT TO PORKY'S.

What does Porky's—a raunchy 1980s teen sex comedy—have to do with a wholesome film like A Christmas Story? Bob Clark directed both: Porky's in 1982 and A Christmas Story in 1983. If Porky's hadn't given him the professional and financial success he needed, he wouldn't have been able to bring A Christmas Story to the big screen.

3. RALPHIE SAYS HE WANTS A RED RYDER BB GUN A LOT.

For anyone keeping count, Ralphie says he wants the Red Ryder BB Gun 28 times throughout the course of the movie. That's approximately once every three minutes and 20 seconds.

4. THESE DAYS, PETER BILLINGSLEY SPENDS HIS TIME BEHIND THE CAMERA.

Peter Billingsley, a.k.a. Ralphie, has been good friends with Vince Vaughn since they both appeared in a CBS Schoolbreak Special together in the early 1990s. He doesn't do much acting these days, though he has popped up in cameos (including one in Elf, another holiday classic). Instead, Billingsley prefers to spend his time behind the camera as a director and producer. He has done a lot of work with Vaughn and Jon Favreau, including serving as an executive producer on Iron Man (in which he also made a cameo).

5. YES, YOU CAN GET YOUR TONGUE STUCK ON A PIECE OF COLD METAL.

Mythbusters tested whether it was possible to get your tongue truly stuck on a piece of cold metal. Guess what? It is. So don't triple dog dare your best friend to try it.

6. ONE OF THE YOUNG ACTORS MOVED ON TO A CAREER IN ADULT FILMS.

Scott Schwartz, who played Flick (the kid who stuck his tongue to the frozen flagpole), spent several years working in the adult film industry. In 2000, he turned his attention back to mainstream films. His most recent role was as "Disco City Hot Dog Vendor" in the 2017 TV movie Vape Warz.

7. RALPHIE'S HOUSE IS NOW A MUSEUM.

Next time you're in Cleveland, you can visit the original house from the movie. It was sold on eBay in 2004 for $150,000. Collector Brian Jones bought the house and restored it to its movie glory and stocked it up with some of the original props from the film, including Randy's snowsuit.

8. THE IDEA FOR THE FILM CAME TO BOB CLARK WHILE HE WAS DRIVING TO PICK UP A DATE.

Peter Billingsley, Melinda Dillon, Darren McGavin, and Ian Petrella in A Christmas Story (1983)
Warner Home Video

Director Bob Clark got the idea for the movie when he was driving to pick up a date. He heard Jean Shepherd on the radio doing a reading of his short story collection, In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash, which included some bits that eventually ended up in A Christmas Story. Clark said he drove around the block for an hour until the program ended (which his date was not too happy about).

9. IT PARTLY INSPIRED THE WONDER YEARS.

The Wonder Years was inspired in part by A Christmas Story. In fact, toward the very end of the series, Peter Billingsley even played one of Kevin Arnold's roommates.

10. YOU CAN STILL BUY A RED RYDER BB GUN.

The real Red Ryder BB Gun was first made in 1938 and was named after a comic strip cowboy. You can still buy it today for the low, low price of $39.99. But the original wasn't quite the same as the one in the movie; it lacked the compass and sundial that both the Jean Shepherd story and the movie call for. Special versions had to be made just for A Christmas Story.

11. THE LEG LAMP CAN ALSO BE YOURS.

Peter Billingsley and Melinda Dillon in A Christmas Story (1983)
Warner Home Video

While we're talking shopping: you know you want the leg lamp. Put it in your window! Be the envy of your neighbors! It's a Major Award! You can buy it on Amazon (there's a 40-inch version, as well as a 20-inch replica). If you're not feeling quite so flamboyant, they also make a nightlight version.

12. IT SPAWNED A TRIO OF SEQUELS.

A Christmas Story led to two little-talked-about sequels. The first one was a 1988 made-for-TV movie, Ollie Hopnoodle's Haven of Bliss. Jerry O'Connell played 14-year-old Ralphie, who is excited about his first job—as a furniture mover. Of course, it ends up being awful, and it might make him miss the annual family vacation at Mr. Hopnoodle's lakeside cabins.

My Summer Story, a.k.a. It Runs in the Family, debuted on the big screen in 1994. Kieran Culkin plays Ralphie, Mary Steenburgen is his mom, and Charles Grodin is his dad.

And in 2012, the direct-to-video sequel A Christmas Story 2 picked up five years after the original movie left off, with Ralphie attempting to get his parents to buy him a car.

An earlier version of this story appeared in 2008.

10 Timeless Facts About The Land Before Time

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Five years before Jurassic Park roared into theaters, a gentler, more meditative dinosaur film endeared itself to audiences of all ages. Initially met with mixed reviews, The Land Before Time is now regarded as an animated classic. Here are 10 things you might not have known about the Steven Spielberg-produced film, which arrived in theaters 30 years ago.

1. IT WAS CONCEIVED AS A DIALOGUE-FREE MOVIE.

Gabriel Damon and Candace Hutson in The Land Before Time (1988)
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

In the mid-1980s, executive producer Steven Spielberg began toying with the idea of a Bambi-esque dinosaur film. “Basically,” he later said, “I wanted to do a soft picture … about five little dinosaurs and how they grow up and work together as a group.” Inspiration came from the “Rite of Spring” sequence from Disney’s Fantasia (1940)—a scene in which prehistoric beasts wordlessly go about their business. At first, Spielberg wanted his own dinosaur characters to follow suit and remain mum. Ultimately, however, it was feared that a non-verbal approach might bore or confuse the film’s intended audience. As such, the animals were given lines.

2. DIRECTOR DON BLUTH WAS AN EX-DISNEY EMPLOYEE.

Don Bluth grew up idolizing Disney’s work, and began working for the studio in 1955. Over the next two decades, he did various odd jobs until he was brought on as a full-time animator in 1971. Once on the inside, Bluth got to peek behind the magician’s curtain—and disliked what he found there. “I think [Walt Disney] would’ve seen that the pictures were losing their luster,” Bluth said. Frustrated by the studio’s cost-cutting measures, he resigned in 1979. Joining him were fellow animators Gary Goldman and John Pomeroy. Together the trio launched their own company, Sullivan Bluth Studios, and began working on The Land Before Time in 1986.

3. OVER 600 BACKGROUND PAINTINGS WERE MADE FOR THE FILM.

Most of these depicted beautiful but barren wastelands, which presented a real challenge for the creative team. As one studio press release put it, “The artists had to create a believable environment in which there was almost no foliage.” Whenever possible, Bluth’s illustrators emphasized vibrant colors. This kept their backdrops from looking too drab or monotonous—despite the desolate setting.

4. LITTLEFOOT’S ORIGINAL NAME WAS “THUNDERFOOT.”

This was changed when the filmmakers learned that there was a triceratops in a popular children’s book called Thunderfoot. Speaking of three-horned dinosaurs: Cera evolved from a pugnacious male character called Bambo.

5. THE FILMMAKERS HAD TO CUT ABOUT 10 MINUTES OF FOOTAGE.

“We compromised a lot with The Land Before Time,” Goldman admitted. Nowhere was this fact more apparent than on the cutting room floor. Spielberg and his fellow executive producer George Lucas deemed 19 individual scenes “too scary.” “We’ll have kids crying in the lobby, and angry parents,” Spielberg warned. “You don’t want that.”

6. “ROOTER” WAS INTRODUCED AT THE URGING OF CHILD PSYCHOLOGISTS.

In Bambi, the title character’s mom dies off-screen. The same cannot be said for Littlefoot’s mother, whose slow demise goes on for several agonizing minutes. Naturally, there was some concern about how children would react to this. “A lot of research went into the mother dying sequence,” Pomeroy said. “Psychologists were approached and shown the film. They gave their professional opinions of how the sequence could be depicted.” Thus, Rooter was born.

One scene after Littlefoot’s mom passes, the wise reptile consoles him, saying “You’ll always miss her, but she’ll always be with you as long as you remember the things she taught you.” Sharp-eared fans might recognize Rooter’s voice as that of Pat Hingle, who also narrates the movie.

7. JAMES HORNER DID THE SOUNDTRACK.

The late, Oscar-winning composer behind Braveheart (1995), Titanic (1997), and Avatar (2009) put together a soaring score. Along with lyricist Will Jennings, he also penned the original song “If We Hold On Together,” which Diana Ross sings as the end credits roll.

8. THE ACTRESS BEHIND DUCKY PASSED AWAY BEFORE THE MOVIE’S RELEASE.

Judith Barsi’s career was off to a great start. By age 10, this daughter of Hungarian immigrants had already appeared in 70 commercials and voiced the leading lady in Don Bluth’s All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989). For The Land Before Time, Barsi voiced the ever-optimistic Ducky, which was reportedly her favorite role. Then tragedy struck: In July of 1988, Barsi’s father József murdered both her and her mother before taking his own life.

9. IT HAD A RECORD-SETTING OPENING WEEKEND.

From the get-go, The Land Before Time had some stiff competition. Universal released it on November 18, 1988—the same day that Disney’s Oliver & Company hit theaters. Yet, for a solid month, Bluth gave Oliver a box office beating. The Land Before Time enjoyed the highest-grossing opening weekend that any animated film had ever seen, pulling in $7.5 million to Oliver & Company’s $4 million. Since then, of course, The Land Before Time has long been dethroned; today, Incredibles 2 (2018) holds this coveted distinction with a $182.7 million first-weekend showing.

10. THERE ONCE WAS TALK OF A LAND BEFORE TIME STAGE MUSICAL.

“The time has come for dinosaurs on Broadway,” the late theatrical producer Irving Welzer told The New York Times in 1997. Emboldened by the recent cinematic success of Spielberg’s The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1996), Welzer expressed an interest helping Littlefoot, Cera, Ducky, and the rest of the gang make their Big Apple debut. Soon, however, the idea faded.

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