Year
1989

COPS debuts on Fox

On this day in 1989, the hit reality-based television show COPS premieres on the Fox television network, and audiences hear the reggae beat of its distinctive theme song, Inner Circle’s “Bad Boys,” for the very first time.

Created by the producing team of John Langley and Malcolm Barbour, COPS placed cameras and production crews in the car with real patrol officers around the country as they went on raids and did whatever was necessary to catch the perpetrators of various drug-related crimes. The pilot episode, like the rest of that debut season, was based in Broward County, Florida, and followed members of the Broward County Sheriff’s Office. The actor Burt Lancaster provided the voice-over for the pilot episode, but the rest of the show, shot documentary-style, was not accompanied by any narration.

At the time, Fox was only a fledgling television network, having launched in October 1986. The network took a chance on COPS after other major networks passed on it, leaping on Langley and Barbour’s idea in the middle of a five-month-long strike by the Writers Guild of America (WGA) during the summer of 1988. A reality-based show was ideal for the network at the time, as it would require no writers and was relatively inexpensive to produce.

COPS surprised the industry by becoming a hit; it is now one of the longest-running TV shows in history, with more than 700 episodes airing between 1989 and 2008. Its success spawned an entire new genre of reality programming that would gain traction during the 1990s and become a major cultural phenomenon by the next decade. Like any touchstone of popular culture, COPS has inspired numerous imitators–including the John Langley-produced series Jail and Street Patrol–and has been parodied extensively, most notably by the Comedy Central series Reno 911!

In February 2008, producers released a special two-disc DVD set to celebrate the 20th anniversary of COPS.

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