The time has come to cancel ‘copaganda’ television, and it is long overdue
[Update: An hour after this piece’s publication, Live PD was cancelled.
The death of George Floyd has sparked nationwide protests. It has forced a conversation that was 400 years in the making, regarding systemic racism, and how we as a country can move beyond it. More than 70% of Americans believe that what happened to Floyd is not only wrong, but certainly not an isolated incident. It has caused a radicalization and a shift of the Overton Window that, within two weeks, has moved the idea of defunding the police from an anarchist only view to teetering on the mainstream.
Which is why we gotta stop with the fucking cop shows.
“Cops”, a show that ran for THIRTY-THREE YEARS, was cancelled today. The glorification of the police and the racial/classist dunking was long past its prime two decades ago. But today? Today is the day where everyone involved agreed: “This isn’t good and this isn’t helping.”
Good. Good good good.
Now I have to tell you about my white whale.
I have been trying to find a way to write this piece, to bring up this issue, for maybe three years now? Its destruction is something near and dear to my heart, but finding the proper context and/or outlet has always been elusive.
Today’s the day. Where I get to also say: “This isn’t good and this isn’t helping.”
We need to talk about Live PD.
Live PD is the number one show on cable in its timeslot. It has spawned an empire of spin-off shows. It accounts for something akin to 100 hours a week of content across various channels. It is a juggernaut of reality programming.
The thing is, even when talking to entertainment professionals in LA and NYC, none of my friends have ever heard of it. I have acquaintances that work for the host who have never heard of it. It exists in a dogwhistle bubble, wherein those who would challenge it simply cannot hear the frequency it broadcasts upon.
I am their Daywalker.
Live PD is the brainchild of Dan Abrams; a man in media who exists to be a man in media with no particular set of skills or talents beyond having previously also been a man in media. He sells himself as some type of justice guru and sure, we can all tell ourselves whatever we want. He pushes himself as a voice of reason and judicial clarity, but he’s just this rich guy who wants to point and laugh at criminals. Truly that’s not a crime. I think we all would love to be paid to laugh at idiots. He’s also the kind of guy who gets the cover story in Hamptons magazine for being so good at living in the Hamptons
Abrams seemingly astroturfed his own cult of personality, because of a decade of jumping amongst various crime-based TV segments and peddling books from ghostwriters. (Incidentally, I bought his most recent and it is quite good. From one ghostwriter to another: kudos.) Abrams also had a short-lived TV show (WITH A LIVE AUDIENCE FOR SOME REASON?) wherein he and Nancy Grace debated unsolved cold cases, with no new evidence, and basically just spit in each other’s mouths for an hour.
If you would like to see the absolute height of this show, please check out this clip that is hosted on a website Dan owns, called LawNewz. It’s just Grace screaming at him about a kayak. It absolutely rules.
Abrams has amassed this media empire that includes sites both left and right-leaning, as part of a fairly obvious ploy to become The Most Centrist Man In The World. That a fucking black hole of charisma like Connecticut Carl here could become the face of anything inspires both wonder and awe. The fact that the world bought it is the ultimate joke on us.
If you have never seen Live PD, the premise is simple. Each Friday and Saturday, cops from around the country are accompanied by camera crews. For THREE WHOLE HOURS PER NIGHT, Abrams and a team of co-hosts navigate stories across ten-ish cities. Despite being on a slight tape delay, the majority of this time is filled with absolute nothingness. And that nothingness… is infatuating.
Yes, here’s the part where I out myself as a goddamned boot-licker. I watch the show too much. I watch the show and all of the spin-offs. I watch the show because something deep inside of me is broken. I watch the show with my family on vacation, because they also watch the show every week. For Christmas, I got my mom a sweater with the faces of one of the featured K-9 units on it. I think it’s the happiest I’ve made her in most of a decade, while she watched her son fall apart on every other front.
There is a framed photo of Dan Abrams and the other hosts, signed in my parents house. It is funny to us because we all hate it equally. But we also participated in watching it because it was sheer blocks of content and the easiest thing in the history of broadcast to ignore and put in the background. That we ever helped with any kind of viewership number generally set in, and we long-ago agreed to set it aside. Somehow “Cops” never required us to take that (tiny) semi-principled stand. But without a word we knew that this did.
The show itself, as aforementioned, contains almost nothing. It is nearly French New-Wave in its dedication to show unscripted, unedited minutiae for no one. Some of my favorite moments on the show have just been cops trying to clear out a building whose security alarm probably went off by accident. Taking twenty minutes to clear a high school, room by room, while the tension of thinking a bad guy could be hiding behind every door… sure. Dunno why. It works on me.
This is to say that Live PD creates six hours of content every single weekend, alongside innumerable hours of other footage shot outside of the normal screening times, just in case they need spicier material to splice in. Hence, there are re-cap shows that edit down all the extra dead air. There are shows dedicated just to the footage from those other crews. There are shows where the cops involved come back on and narrate the situations they experienced while explaining the aftermath. There are Live PDs that are just “Top 10s” of various situations they’ve covered. An entire show is dedicated to events in courtrooms that went awry. One show is produced only by using bodycams. A spin-off was sold to the Lifestyle network that was just about lady cops and how hard it is to be a lady cop. Another show focuses just on ambulances and firefighters. A newer show just lists off suspected criminals that are at large. One Live PD show is just dedicated, I shit you not, to how weird it is to be a cop in Alaska and occasionally chase off bears.
(Actually, I kindly like the Alaska one, because they don’t have public intoxication laws? So people can just get goddamned RIPPED and no one can do anything about it. That and bears. I love bears.)
The Dan Abrams cop content empire produces thousands of hours of content per year. It is one of the largest media conglomerates in the world and a dude who wears terrible sweaters is the only man atop the throne.
Where does the harm enter here? I would not attack this for just being a show that documents police. Like the aforementioned “Cops” which was cancelled, that’s nothing new to our culture. But for Live PD, the intent, and the execution, are becoming increasingly ghastly.
The lie of Live PD is that, across its multiple police districts, what it is documenting is normal cops in normal situations. The intention as stated by Abrams was to show how cops are much better than people expect, and in the most important form, serve as a watchdog for police work.
Here’s where everything breaks down.
Seven to ten police units, knowingly being followed by an entire film crew, are not being watchdogged by the process. Police, just like absolutely any other human, act wildly different with multiple cameras trained on them, than if they were to not be documented. In the single interview Dan Abrams has ever done about the spirit and intention of the show, he flailed wildly when asked about this question and then never did interviews about Live PD again. You can hear excerpts from that here:
I mentioned that I watch too much of the show. It’s a hate-watch. It’s looking at the level of state-run propaganda you’d except from mid-80s Moscow. Just like “Cops”, it is of course filled with plenty of wacky characters and chases, and there’s an undeniable human endorphin rush when someone that’s dumb as rocks tries to run away and the police tackle him and interview him about why he made a meth’d up choice while on meth. Equally unironically funny whenever someone is patted down for drugs, drugs are found, and they attempt to explain that these are not actually their pants. Or bra.
It is a gross form of entertainment and I freely admit to sinking hundreds of hours into it because… whatever. 2020 is on fire, we’re all dying, watching the cops pursue a school bus piloted by a teenager on LSD as it careens across the highway is not that different from what I’m seeing on CNN.
Oh. That one’s real. Here. My grandmother brings it up to me all the time. She of course watches too.
The problem here is that Dan Abrams thinks what he’s doing is documenting the police. He’s not. He’s creating active propaganda on behalf of the police. Each pull-over stop involves cops being very cool and trying to say “If you’re honest with me, I’ll be better with you.” But even as a middle-aged white guy, there’s not a single one of these stops that reflects the lack of kindness and patience that have ever been displayed towards me, even for the most irrationally tiny infractions. When I see theses dudes being “Cool Cops” with a car full of black kids, I remember the time a cop pulled a gun on me because my windows were too tinted for Kansas law.
Without that camera crew there, no one in their situation was having the good ole down-home friendly fireside chat. I know that, and moreso, any person of color who has ever dealt with the police knows that.
COVID-19 did not stop the show from putting out new episodes. Camera crews were forced into vehicles with cops, while the hosts broadcast from their own living rooms. (As the weirdest aside, one of the co-hosts is a cop from Tulsa who is now dating singer Lana Del Rey. I regret to inform you that Lana Del Rey is a cop now, and must be summarily cancelled.)
But now we’ve got the protests. Now there are people that believe the time of police superiority in America has reached its endpoint. But Live PD, as a show and as an empire, soldiers on. What once was, at best, a stupid guilty pleasure for someone who knew just how problematic it was, has now become the most toxic thing imaginable. The show’s content didn’t get worse, and I can own up to watching so many hours of literal nothingness, but the idea of continuing forward in the wake of the radicalizing of the country is unfathomable.
But who will stop Dan Abrams’ cop content machine? Certainly not Dan Abrams.
The show has created this culture of police celebration that, for years, I’ve found wildly disturbing. Live PD watch parties are celebrated within Applebee’s-esque bars around the US, where throngs of white people seem to be cheering loudly in celebration of another Black man getting tasered. The cities where the show operates are often immediately greeted with buyer’s remorse; attempting to quit the show but facing viewer backlash that they cannot escape.
This isn’t All Lives Matter. This isn’t Blue Lives Matter. This is Christians vs. Lions, with the twist that we’re supposed to respect the lions for their courage and patience in the face of adversity.
There’s a tic-tac-toe board that the Live PD social media channels put out last year that has squares for various types of crimes, and excuses heard from those being arrested. You can’t claim to be an agency of police oversight and transparency while also gamifying the oppression of the population. Oh, I suppose in Abrams’ case, he’s been able to build a career off of it.
In 2017, a Richland county cop who was regularly featured on the show took his own life in his vehicle. The show never mentioned it, nor did it draw attention to the mental health issues and depression faced by police.
In 2018, a man was shot to death on the show. Even with the show’s built-in delay, due to confusion by the police over the situation, this was how his family learned of his death.
Today, it was revealed that footage shot by Live PD was destroyed, related to the death of a black man. Javier Ambler was pulled over due to a headlight issue, and was killed by police while saying the exact same thing George Floyd said: “I can’t breathe.” Dan Abrams has spent his day having a Twitter meltdown in defense of that.
For someone who banks thousands of hours of police footage per week, it seems odd that anyone in the Abrams team would go back to delete footage for literally any reason. Except to let cops who killed get away with it.
This is the statement from Live PD’s Twitter regarding the Black Lives Matter movement:
Holy shit. Fuck off into space. Shut it all down, Dan. It’s not the time, nor was it ever.
Second Update: Abrams is on a PR tour around the networks today, defending his show and its intentions, even in the wake of destroying evidence of police murder. As aforementioned, he’s only done one interview related to the show before, which you can listen to above. His defensiveness there is wildly eclipsed by the defensiveness here. Not to be wildly petty, though it is deserved, here is a clip from CNN where Sean Penn had to follow an Abrams interview that spun wildly off the rails. Here’s what Sean Penn had to say about Abrams.
Other other update. I hope the entirety of this post proves that this is a dumb take. I watched hundreds of hours of this. I know it’s a crime that the world is better without.