As we slide deeper into the ring of hell that is reality television, it’s tough to ignore one of the pioneers of the form. Yep, it’s been more than 22 years since we all took our first ride-along with “COPS.”
“COPS” is the mack daddy of reality shows. There’s no sex appeal—unless, of course, you’re into mulletheads or orthodontically-challenged women in stretchpants. There’s no sleuthing, no black-and-white flashbacks retracing the culprit’s steps, no creepy sound cues.
The cops on “COPS” usually find their target tippin’ down the street, sometimes lugging someone else’s property, occasionally with both shoes on. Or he’s swiping a 40-ounce from the all-night mini-mart—like the three uniforms standing right outside don’t see him.
Then there’s the guy in shorts and sleeveless t-shirt—stained, of course—who isn’t the least bit surprised to find armed officers AND a cameraman in his trailer. Like his reality show brethren, Clem can’t help but play to the millions of viewers on the other side of the electronic eye.
But there are two problems here: We aren’t a jury of his peers, and he’s no thespian.Jerry DeMarco (Publisher/Editor)
“She hit me first” certainly isn’t going to win him any sympathy. So Clem is summarily yanked from his Lay-Z-Bubba and escorted to the cop shack, his 15 minutes of fame shrunk to an unsteady cameo, as you take a moment to thank your maker for handing you what only this morning had seemed a fairly miserable lot.
There have been some genuinely freaky moments on “COPS,” like the time a homeowner told police how he shot a burglar and, sure enough, the officers found the interloper—dead. And there’s no disputing the fact that Johnny Law has a thankless job that could never pay him enough. But a snapshot of crime in America?
What about the public official trading sewer contracts for fat envelopes? Or the popular dance teacher who’s Humberting a 15-year-old prodigy?
How about the drunken corporate exec who plows his Beamer into a tree—or, worse, into a group of pedestrians?
Having been a Law & Order editor more years than I care to remember—and a police reporter for many before that—I can tell you what else “COPS” doesn’t give you:
Those are the moments of pure fear that our guardians in blue often experience when they have to rush into a potentially fatal situation.
The producers can argue that the guy serpentining his pickup down the blacktop could be toting a sawed-off shotgun and a death wish. More likely, though, he’s got little more than a joint tucked behind his ear that he’s forgotten about.
No question, our personal sense of security has vanished since 9/11. But we still have the illusory comfort of “COPS,” a sublime, unspoken pleasure that comes not from witnessing true mayhem at a safe remove—but from eavesdropping on losers in much worse shape than you or I could ever be.
So whatcha’ gonna do? What else?
Pull on a clean tank top, crack open a 40, and sing along:
“Bad boys, bad boys…”
(LOGO: Courtesy of Langley Productions Inc.)
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