Television reality shows have long found the police worth following. The first of these was, naturally, the now defunct COPS, “filmed on location with the men and women of law enforcement.” A personal favorite is the A&E Network’s The First 48, which has followed homicide investigators in two or more major American metro areas for the last 14 years, but there are also shows that follow game wardens, roll with K9 officers, or ride along with another kind of detectives — the cruelty investigators of major metro SPCAs. Given the success of some of these shows, a few new permutations can be expected each season. But Live-PD is a permutation we weren’t expecting.
In a way, it’s a throwback to the early days of live TV, melded with the unscripted nature of reality shows. By Hollywood standards, it’s a ten-toes-hangout risk, because what the show does is follow police patrol officer, like COPS, but as the name implies, Live. (There is a delay of about two minutes, mostly to let producers scrub, bleep or blur things to protect citizens’ privacy and conform to corporate standards). It airs Friday nights on A&E for two hours (9-11 EDT). They capitalize on it by rebroadcasting a streamlined version on subsequent days, called Live-TV Rap Sheet. The first of eight budgeted episodes of Live-TV aired on 28 October; five or six of the episodes have aired.
How do they guarantee that you’re going to be seeing some action, and not just cops cooping behind the Dunkin Donuts on a slow night? Well, one, they’re going on Friday night, usually the kickoff of the weekend’s dope dealing, robbing, shooting and other stuff that we want law dogs taking their fangs to. And two, they’re going with six departments simultaneously.
There’s a lot of money in this: there are 30 cameras deployed, and six on-site producers, plus a whole command room, plus a host (Dan Abrams) and a couple of retired cops to tell Dan, who is curious but not expert, what he’s showing the audience.
The first show was a bit rough around the edges, and they still lose signals sometimes and make production errors — but they’re so rare, and the action you’re seeing is so informative, that you’ll forgive them (and subsequent shows have been much tighter, presumably as the team starts to gel).
Acting and Production
There’s no acting, of course, except to the extent that the cops act differently when they know they’re on camera, and of course, the criminals loudly claiming they Dindu Nuffin.
Abrams seems to be learning all this police procedure along with the audience, and it seems to be making a police buff out of him. His enthusiasm for understanding what the cops are doing, and why, is infectious.
“Hey, that guy admitted he had seven beers instead of the usual ‘two beers’ — how often does that happen?” he’ll ask his retired-cop color commentators, and he still seems amazed — like a rookie cop, in fact — at the degree to which people throw transparent lies at the cops. The cop commentators, retired Dallas detectives Rich Emberlin and Kevin Jackson, are just right for the job: guys you’d trust, if they were on the stand and you were in the jury box.
(In the end, by the way, the cops had the drunk’s wife come get him, so they could get him off the roads, and return to anti-gang patrol instead of spend the evening writing him up. He was in good spirits, until she arrived, at which point he told her: “Violence is not the answer!”)
The producers and cameramen ride with the cops all week, not just Friday night, and this means that they build some rapport, and even more importantly, they can follow the action when Dan drops the feed to them, cutting from the Fort Walton Beach FL Sheriff’s Department to the Tulsa, Oklahoma gang unit. “Our producer there will fill us in,” Dan promises, and the downrange producer brings us up to speed before the audio cuts to, say, the cops doing a consent search of a stopped vehicle.
Having the cameras and producers running all week also means that they can get a lot of interviews and B-roll to edit into featurettes and interpose among the live scenes.
Key to the success of the format is the selection of participating PDs. They are:
Bridgeport, Connecticut PD — a metro department in a failing mill town
Fort Walton Beach FL Sheriff’s Department — large county with rural, urban and suburban areas
Richland County, SC — sheriff’s department, includes the state capital, Columbia SC.
Arizona Department of Public Safety — state police / highway patrol
Tulsa, OK PD — metro department gang unit
Utah Highway Patrol — state police / highway patrol
As you see, that gives them a good demographic, mission, and geographical reach.
Accuracy and Weapons
There seems to be a dispute about how “live” it is because of the incorporation of B-roll and featurettes. We don’t know any other way a show like this could have been done at all.
It makes you wonder if a show like this could be done with military embeds.
Live-PD is an excellent look into the everyday life of the police and those they interact with. You will probably develop your opinions… perhaps they won’t be changed, or even shaken, but you’ll definitely have an awareness of complexities and nuances you don’t know already.
The bottom line
We’d say watch it; less because it is great TV than because it is a daring experiment, and daring experiments ought to be rewarded. And it’s certainly good enough TV that rewarding this daring experiment is not donning a complete hair shirt.
For more information
These sites relate to this particular film.
DVDpage: (streaming page for the “rap sheet’ edited version).
- Show’s own home page:
- IMDB page:
- IMFDB page (none):
- Rotten Tomatoes review page (none):
- Infogalactic page (replaces Wikipedia): none (none on Wikipedia either).