14 Facts About Cops

Langley Productions
Langley Productions

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 30 years since, Cops has barely skipped a beat. When Fox decided to cancel the show in 2013, Spike picked it up. In 2018, Spike became the Paramount Network, which 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 about the addictive reality series.

1. John Langley came up with the idea for the series during a cocaine bust.

Cops co-creator John Langley 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 Cops for most of the 1980s when he met with producers at Fox, the new “fourth network,” 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,” Langley 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 "Bad Boys" theme song came first.

“Bad Boys” might be one of the most recognizable television theme songs 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, which 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 episode has a three-act structure.

While 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 or her 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. making cops has taught langley to be less cynical about human nature.

In a 2010 interview with Forbes, Langley was asked what the most surprising thing making Cops has taught him about human behavior. "That more people are good than bad, and that criminal behavior is aberrant behavior—it isn't the norm," he said. "I think I give humanity far more credit, having witnessed it at its worst. Rather than make me a cynic, it's made me realize what a small percentage of the population actually commits crimes."

7. The suspects need to give their permission to appear on the show.

A scene from 'Cops'
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.

8. Some police department 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.

9. The crew has had to interfere occasionally.

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.

10. Unused footage gets trashed.

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. Most recently, in the summer of 2018, she petitioned the court for a fouth 

12. It's a $500 million business.


20th Century Fox Television

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.”

14. It ushered in the concept of "reality" television.

Though Langley prefers to think of Cops as a documentary series, he's fine taking credit for being a pioneer of the reality television craze—even if he isn't a fan of many of the shows that followed in Cops's wake. "If I am the father—or godfather—of reality TV, I don't want to take responsibility for all of the bastards that followed," Langley told Forbes. "I think some shows in the reality genre are great and some frankly deplorable."

When pushed for an example of the latter, Langley cited Steven Seagal: Lawman. "These celebrities sucking focus I find to be deplorable. [Steven] Seagal, for example, running around being a cop for some show on cable, give me a break."

'143,' Fred Rogers's Code for "I Love You," Gets Its Own Holiday in Pennsylvania

Family Communications Inc./Getty Images
Family Communications Inc./Getty Images

"It takes one letter to say I and four letters to say love and three letters to say you. One hundred and forty-three."

That quote from Fred Rogers has become a symbol of the children's entertainer's legacy. The number 143, his special code for "I love you," is used by a charity inspired by Rogers, and it was spotlighted in the recent documentary movie Won't You Be My Neighbor? Now, Mister Rogers's favorite number has its own holiday in Pennsylvania.

As Philly Voice reports, Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf declared May 23 to be 143 Day in the state. Rogers was born in Westmoreland County near Pittsburgh and he spent his whole life in the area. By honoring the famous Pennsylvanian with his own holiday, the organizers behind the statewide 143 Day campaign hope to inspire residents to be kind to their neighbors on May 23 and every day of the year.

The initiative encourages schools, businesses, and citizens to share their acts of kindness on social media with the hashtag #143DayinPA. A "kindness tracker" on the campaign's website keeps how many time the hashtag has been used, and so far, over a 6000 acts of kindness have been shared online. And if someone has trouble thinking of ways to honor the spirit of Mister Rogers, the campaign's "kindness generator" can come up with a suggestion for them.

One hundred and forty-three was more than just a fun saying for Fred Rogers: It was a lucky number he made part of his lifestyle. The television personality even went so far as to go swimming every day to maintain his weight at the number.

[h/t Philly Voice]

10 Bizarre Documentaries That Are Stranger Than Fiction

A still from Abducted in Plain Sight
A still from Abducted in Plain Sight
Top Knot Films

Documentaries have grown considerably more ambitious since Fred Ott’s Sneeze, an 1894 clip that documents the irritated sinus cavities of its subject in just five seconds. They can inspire, as in the case of 2019’s Academy Award-winning Free Solo, about bold mountain climber Alex Honnold. They can shine a light on cultural overachievers like Fred Rogers, the subject of 2018’s Won’t You Be My Neighbor? And they can parse political history, with films like 2003's The Fog of War shedding light on decisions that shaped the world.

Other documentaries set out to chronicle true stories that, were they presented as a fictitious, might be hard for people to believe. We’ve profiled such films in previous lists, which you can find here, here, and here. If you’ve already made your way through those tales of cannibals, tragic love affairs, and twist-laden true crime, here are 10 more that will have you staring at your television in disbelief.  

1. Abducted in Plain Sight (2017)

When Idaho native Jan Broberg was 12 years old in 1974, her neighbor began to take an unseemly and inappropriate interest in her. What begins as a disturbing portrait of predation quickly spirals into an unbelievable and audacious attempt to manipulate Jan’s entire family. Director Skye Borgman’s portrait of seemingly reasonable people who become ensnared in a monstrous plot to separate them from their daughter has drawn some shocking reactions since it began streaming on Netflix earlier this year.

2. The Wolfpack (2015)

Confined to their apartment in a Manhattan housing project for years by parents wary of the world outside their door, the seven Angulo siblings developed an understanding about life through movies. The Wolfpack depicts their attempts to cope with reality after finally emerging from their involuntary exile. Hulu subscribers can watch it now.

3. Three Identical Strangers (2018)

The highly marketable conceit of director Tim Wardle’s documentary is that triplets born in 1961 then separated spent the first 18 years of their lives totally ignorant of their siblings. When they reconnect, it’s a joy. But the movie quickly switches gears to explore the question of why they were separated at birth to begin with. It’s that investigation—and the chilling answer—that lends Three Identical Strangers its bittersweet, haunting atmosphere. It’s currently on Hulu.

4. Tickled (2016)

A ball of yarn bouncing down a flight of stairs is the best metaphor we can summon for the narrative of Tickled, which follows New Zealand journalist David Farrier on what appears at first glance to be a silly story about the world of “competitive endurance tickling.” In the course of reporting on this unusual subculture, Farrier crosses paths with people who would prefer their hobbies remain discreet. When he refuses to let the story go, things grow increasingly tense and dangerous. HBO subscribers can see the film, and it’s also available as a $3.99 rental on Amazon Prime.

5. Billboard Boys (2018)

In 1982, an Allentown, Pennsylvania radio station sponsored a contest in which three men agreed to live underneath a billboard. The last man remaining would win a brand-new motor home, a considerable incentive in the economically-struggling area. Three contestants went up, but things didn't go as planned. It's available for free to Amazon Prime members.

6. Hands on a Hardbody: The Documentary (1997)

How far would you be willing to go for a new pick-up truck? That’s the deceptively simple premise for this documentary chronicling an endurance contest in Longview, Texas, where participants agree to keep one hand on the vehicle at all times: The last person standing wins. What begins as a group seeking a prize evolves into a battle of attrition, with all the psychological games and mental fortitude that comes with it. The film can be hard to find, but you can watch the first nine minutes on YouTube for free (above) and then catch the rest for $9.99 on iTunes.

7. My Kid Could Paint That (2007)

At the age of 4, upstate New York resident Marla Olmstead began painting sprawling abstract art that her parents sold for premium prices. Later on, a 60 Minutes report called into question whether Marla had some assistance with her work. Was she a child prodigy, or simply a creative girl who had a little help? And if she did, should it matter? My Kid Could Paint That investigates Marla’s process, but it also sheds light on the world of abstract art and the question of who gets to decide whether a creative impulse is valid. You can rent the film for $3.99 on Amazon.

8. Beware the Slenderman (2016)

In 2014, two Wisconsin girls came to a disturbing decision: In order to appease the “Slenderman,” an internet-sourced boogeyman, they would attempt to murder a classmate. The victim survived, but three lives have been altered forever. Beware the Slenderman explores the intersection where mental illness, social media, and urban mythology collide to result in a horrific crime. It’s available to HBO viewers or as a rental on Amazon for $3.99.

9. The Iceman Tapes: Conversations with a Killer (1992)

For years, Richard Kuklinski satisfied his homicidal urges by taking on contract killings for organized crime families in New York and New Jersey. Following his arrest and conviction, he agreed to sit down and elaborate on his unusual methodologies for disposing of victims and how he balanced his violent tendencies with a seemingly normal domestic life that included marriage and children. (You can see an example of Kuklinski's chilling disposition in the clip above.) In addition to The Iceman Tapes, which originally aired on HBO, Kuklinski participated in two follow-ups: The Iceman Confesses: Secrets of a Mafia Hitman in 2001 and The Iceman and the Psychiatrist in 2003. See them on HBO or watch the original and both follow-ups for free on Amazon Prime.

10. Tabloid (2010)

Filmmaker Errol Morris (The Fog of War) details the unusual love affair between beauty queen Joyce McKinney and Kirk Anderson, who alleged McKinney kidnapped and assaulted him after believing he had been brainwashed by the Mormon church. That’s only the beginning of this twisty—and twisted—story, which illustrates how people can perceive the same event in completely different ways. It’s currently streaming on Hulu.

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