1989: Fox Introduces 'COPS'
Seen Paddy Chayefsky’s 1976 movie Network lately? The one about a struggling “fourth network” that rises in the ratings race because of its in-your-face “reality” programming? One of the programming innovations suggested by Faye Dunaway’s TV-executive character in that film was to befriend a radical group that perversely filmed its crimes while committing them, then edit that footage into a weekly TV series. Flip that concept and have the camera crews tagging along with the good guys, and presto: instead of Robbers, you’ve got COPS, which made its debut on this day in 1989. …
COPS, like all other shows of this type, owes a huge and direct debt to Alan and Susan Raymond, the documentary filmmakers whose body of work includes An American Family, the 1973 PBS series in which William and Pat Loud and family were filmed going about their daily life — a life that, on camera, included Pat asking her husband for a divorce, and son Lance revealing his homosexuality.
In 1977, the Raymonds created a similar stir with The Police Tapes, a ninety-minute documentary shot on videotape, without narration, following cops from the South Bronx’s 44th Precinct as they went about their daily, and nightly, business. The setting of The Police Tapes was only nine precinct houses away from the 53rd Precinct housing the fictional cops of Car 54, Where Are You?, but the Raymonds were focusing on real life, and The Police Tapes became the prototype for all of the subsequent series based on the unscripted exploits of police officers, firefighters, emergency technicians, and just about every on-call road crew this side of D.A.P.S. (which sounds like a TV series but will never be one: the organization’s initials stands for Dead Animal Pickup Squad).