‘Cops,’ Spike TV say they are happy match
By Lynn Elber
The documentary-style crime series has found the freedom to be edgier since moving to cable from its 25-year broadcast TV home on Fox.
And Spike, which decided it needed to grow beyond its young male target audience, has seen a hoped-for increase in female and older viewers that it attributes in part to “Cops” joining its schedule in September.
“Cops” will be on the beat for at least another season, with Spike ordering 22 more episodes from creator John Langley’s production company. It is among TV’s longest-running series, to Langley’s amazement — and perhaps to the dismay of those trying to shake its catchy “Bad Boys” theme song from their mental playlists.
“I’m as shocked as anyone. I had no idea that this show would endure as long as it has. I just wanted to do what I thought was a good show,” he said, one that was rejected by every network until Fox signed on.
When Langley and Fox decided by what he calls “mutual agreement” to end their long relationship and Spike President Kevin Kay approached him about moving there, Langley initially resisted.
“I said, ‘Listen, Kevin, I’m not ready to reinvent ‘Cops.’ If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and I don’t want some 30-year-old TV executive telling me how to do the show.”
“I want ‘Cops.’ I don’t want anything but ‘Cops,’” was Kay’s reply, according to Langley, along with a vow to keep lower-echelon network suits out of the picture.
The series hasn’t abandoned its bread-and-butter action format, videotaping law enforcement officers from around the country as they engage in car chases, drug busts, domestic disputes and whatever other trouble the day or night brings.
But the tone of “Cops” has changed somewhat since leaving the realm of federally restricted broadcasting, Langley said: Spike is more liberal about language, nudity and allowing brand names to be shown on-screen.
“This is purely a documentary series about real life. However, Fox had me blurring 7-Eleven stores because they viewed it as product placement,” he said.
Fox declined comment on Langley’s remarks. The practice of favoring sponsors is not unusual for commercial-based networks.
Spike does have its own standards to adhere to, Langley said, including a ban on certain expletives and the common TV exclusion of the use of “Jesus Christ” as an exclamation.
But the channel’s audience is accepting of a somewhat more raw “Cops” and the show has performed as anticipated, Kay said.
With it and other strong original series including “Bar Rescue” and “Ink Master,” Spike saw a 26 percent year-to-year growth in third-quarter prime-time viewership among adults 18 to 49. It was the biggest audience increase since 2009, the channel said.
“Cops” also brought along its more evenly split male-female viewership, compared with some Spike shows that have drawn a male audience exceeding 70 percent, Kay said, especially martial arts programming that “chased away the women.”
“Being in the young-male business is not all it’s cracked up to be” when it comes to revenue, he said. “But as we’ve broadened out, we haven’t lost the young male viewership but gained ratings.”
Over the years, “Cops” has drawn fire from critics who say it shows street crime without putting it in a broader context of contributing social conditions.
Langley doesn’t see it that way for the pioneering show that broke ground for reality TV, with all that genre’s real and staged incarnations.
“One of the things that truly gives me a kick is that 100 years from now I can envision somebody looking back at the video archive from the 20th and 21st century and saying, ‘Let’s study human psychology and crime and human behavior vis-a-vis this show called ‘Cops,’” he said.