BWW Exclusive: COPS Exec Producers John & Morgan Langley on the Show's Lasting Legacy and 25th Season
John and Morgan Langley, the father-son duo who serve as executive producers to the hit FOX reality show COPS, now entering its 25th season, have undoubtedly made a long-lasting mark on the television industry. John Langely, who created the show in 1988, received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Feb. 2011. He has also won the American Television Award and been nominated for four Emmys. In addition to COPS, he and his son, Morgan, currently produce several other reality series, including VEGAS STRIP, ROAD WARRIORS, STREET PATROL, and UNDERCOVER STINGS.
Morgan Langley, aside from producing COPS, serves as senior vice president of production and development for Langley Productions. He is largely credited for expanding the company's range of shows. In addition to COPS, his producing credits include CODE 3, ANATOMY OF CRIME, and VIDEO JUSTICE. Morgan also heralds Langley Films, in which he produced 2010's BROOKLYN'S FINEST, starring Don Cheadle and Ethan Hawke, as well as the indie films DOGWATCH, TIPTOES, and WILDSIDE.
The Langleys recently sat down with BWW TV World, sharing some of their favorite busts from seasons past, and what viewers can expect in the upcoming season premiere, airing tomorrow night, Dec. 15, on Fox.
First of all, congratulations on the 25th season. That's incredible. How does it feel to hit that milestone?
John: Thank you - it's very gratifying to say the least.
John, when you first pitched COPS to Fox in 1989, did you have any indication it would reach the level of success that it has?
John: When I first pitched it, I honestly had no idea. I just wanted to get the show on, I thought it was a great idea. I believed in it thoroughly and I was pretty fervent about it at the time.
Back in the Mid-80s, I did a bunch of 2-hour specials about crime. During that process, I got to know a lot of the law enforcement officers, and thought it would be a great continuation of what I started back in 1982. I did a show called COCAINE BLUES, and went for a ride along at the time. I thought, 'this would really be fascinating to do a show in the footsteps of police officers.' That was the original idea. And when I did the shows in the mid-80s, they just rekindled that whole idea. Then I took it to Fox with some examples with what it could look like.
Now that you've hit the 25th season, what exactly is it about COPS that you think has resonated so well with viewers?
Morgan: I think it has to be the raw, unpredictability of the show. The format has remained the same since 1989. But when you're on the street dealing with human behavior, and dealing with challenging professions in America, it's just a source of never-ending unpredictability. And that makes for entertainment, that makes for a show that never gets repetitive.
What's the process like for choosing which precinct or police department will be followed in an episode?
Morgan: Well, COPS is a road show, and we like to represent different areas of the country, and give the audience some regional flavor. So we typically try to get some geographical variety in there: a west coast venue, somebody from south, somebody from the east coast. There's a big difference in a big city department and what it's like to ride along there and a really small, rural department in the south. Those are some of the different flavors we like to juxtapose in the show.
Do specific departments reach out to you and the crew, or do you approach them?
Morgan: It happens both ways. We've been so many places, that we'll check back with people and see if they're interested in us coming back. Departments regularly contact us, though. A lot of police officers are fans of the show. So it really happens both ways, and we kind of plan the schedule around geography and weather. We go where it's warm, because, well, crime happens where it's warm.
How hands-on are you with the show now that it's been on the air for so long?
John: Morgan and I are still very much hands-on with the show. No episode airs that we have not seen, scrutinized, reviewed, changed, combined, and reformed. So yes, very much hands on. I think that's quality control at this stage of the game. I mean, neither of us go into the field that much anymore, but we're certainly heavily involved in all post production.
COPS seems to really reveal a lot about human nature, including the fight-or-flight instinct. Not to be too morbid, but which do you think makes for better entertainment?
John: [Laughs] They both have their places in the entertainment arena, I think. Actually, you get to see both on COPS. 'Flight' with high-speed chases who are fleeing the police officers, and you see 'Fight' with people confronting law enforcement officers, and hustling and hassling and wrestling with them...And I think you get a whole lot of human psychology [on COPS.] And a whole lot of views on our nation's laws: which ones are more enforceable, and which ones maybe should be changed. But again, law enforcement officers are enforcing the law, not making the law. So, we can think about these things when we watch what's going on, and in the meantime, we can be highly entertained.
Now that you've hit this milestone in the television industry, how do you personally view COPS' legacy?
Morgan: It's one of the first, if not the first, reality shows in primetime televsion to lead the way in terms of the whole 'reality phenomenon.' But at the same time, what differentiates us is that it truly is raw, real, the most real show on television and remains so to this day. Although we kind of trail blazed, and we were one of the first reality shows, cops is very, very different from some of the other programming that you see out there.
John: I agree. The integrity of the show has been maintained for 25 seasons, and I think that's exactly why it's been on for 25 seasons. We always try to be as pure as possible in showing what it means to be on the street, on the beat. I think we've succeeded in large measure. And that perhaps, may be our legacy. As the one, true, pure, reality show that's endured for 25 seasons.
Do you have any favorite busts out of the last 25 seasons - busts that have stuck with you as the height of COPS' entertainment?
John: Well, I mean, we run the gamut from the highly dramatic to the highly humorous. On the dramatic level, there was a piece we did in Seattle in which a police officer showed up on the scene, a woman took off in a car and ran into the officer. Then she jumped out of her car with a flashing butcher knife - that was about 10-inches long - and tried to stab the police officer. She was then tackled by an officer, and landed on the knife blade. It was all so shocking and sudden and unpredictable, that it's almost like an encapsulation of what makes COPS interesting.
Morgan: My personal favorites are the bizarre things that happen on the show. Those really stand out for me. There was the 'ghost driven' car in season 2, there was a car just driving itself backwards in circles. At a pretty high rate of speed, and the officer had to control the situation. It was just bizarre. You walk up, and there's a car driving itself backward in circles. Nobody knows how it got there. The cop had to make a run at it, and smash the window, dove in, and had to put his hand on the brake of the car. To me it's stuff like that: those really, truly bizarre moments - that's the thing that can only happen in reality. You can't script moments like that.
What can the audience expect for the upcoming premiere episode of COPS?
John: It's going to be a wild season. I urge everyone to tune in for the premiere episode this Saturday - because, among other things, you're going to see a zebra on the loose. It's our first zebra, but it's emblematic of the kind of surprises that are in store for the entire season.
About the 25th Season Premiere Episode of COPS, airing tomorrow night, Dec. 15:
In the milestone 25th season premiere of COPS, patrolmen from the Toledo Police Department in Ohio respond to a domestic disturbance call involving a woman and her boyfriend, whom she claims threatened her with a knife. Next, when a feral zebra is found running through city streets, the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department must work with an animal trainer to contain the zebra so it can be returned to safety. Finally, the Police Bureau in Portland, OR responds to a disturbance call involving a suspect carrying a large stick and a rock chasing another man on a highway overpass in the all-new "Odd Arrests #5" season premiere episode of COPS airing Saturday, Dec. 15 (8:00-8:30 PM ET/PT) on FOX.
Photos Courtesy of FOX