John Langley, who created the widely influential reality series Cops, has died at age 78.
The producer died Saturday from an apparent heart attack while in Baja, Mexico, as he competed at the Coast to Coast Ensenada–San Felipe 250 off-road race.
Although Cops remained a popular series for decades, it was pulled off the air in 2020 amid concerns about its pro-police viewpoint after former Minneapolis Police Department officer Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd.
Influential producer: John Langley, who created the widely influential and controversial reality series Cops, died Saturday of an apparent heart attack in Baja California at age 78; seen in 2011 receiving his Hollywood Walk of Fame star
Langley came up with the idea for Cops with Malcolm Barbour in the 1980s, but it wasn’t until the aftermath of a 1988 Writers Guild strike that he was able to get it on the air.
Fox, then only a two-year-old fledgling network, picked up the series because it didn’t feature any union writers due to its documentary-like style trappings.
Cops went on to become one of the longest-running shows on Fox — until it was surpassed by The Simpsons — and it earned several Emmy nominations early on.
The series uses cinéma vérité documentary style, with few interviews or talking heads to break up the action, as it follows police officers responding to emergency calls and criminal complaints.
Perfect timing: Langley came up with the idea for Cops with Malcolm Barbour in the 1980s, but it wasn’t until the aftermath of a 1988 Writers Guild strike that he was able to get it on the air
Controversy: The series, which followed police responding to criminal complaints, was criticized for ignoring the privacy rights of the accused, presenting a pro-police viewpoint and showing an outsized number of non-white criminals
It became as well known for its more comic moments featuring clueless accused criminals, as well as more dramatic scenes, and the Bad Boys theme song by Inner Circle became so omnipresent that suspects filmed on the show would sometimes recite it.
The series ran for 32 seasons total. After being canceled at Fox in 2013, it moved over to Spike, which became Paramount Network, until it was canceled in 2020.
The series was criticized throughout its run, with many commenters arguing that it was too pro-police, or that it gave an unfair picture of people who commit crimes.
In 1999, Los Angeles Times television critic Howard Rosenberg criticized the show’s camera crews for invading private homes with the police.
Bad timing: The series was eventually canceled in 2020 in the wake of protests over murder of George Floyd by convicted killer and former police officer Derek Chauvin; seen in 2011
In the podcast Running From Cops, host Dan Taberski showed instances in which people featured on the series were coerced into signing releases allowing them to be showing on TV.
The podcast also reported that police were given the right to edit out sections of the broadcast that might have painted them in a negative light.
Cops has also been accused of airing significantly more segments of Black and Hispanic criminals than the national averages indicate, and The Marshall Project reported in 2018 that for every one minute used in the show, 100 minutes were left on the cutting room floor.
The series was eventually canceled in 2020 in the wake of protests over murder of George Floyd by convicted killer and former police officer Derek Chauvin, due to its seemingly pro-police viewpoint.
However, the show continues to be produced for international markets, and in October 2020 it resumed filming in Spokane County, Washington, so Cops may once again return to the air.
Something different: One of his rare forays into fiction was to produce director Antoine Fuqua’s crime drama Brooklyn’s Finest; Ethan Hawke seen in Brooklyn’s Finest (2010)
Langley was born in Oklahoma City and initially joined the Army to work in intelligence early in the 1960s.
Later, he graduated from Cal State Dominguez Hills and went on to complete a graduate program at UC Irvine.
Prior to making Cops, Langley and his co-creator Barbour co-directed the 1983 documentary Cocaine Blues, which featured footage of drug raids, along with segments featuring anti-drug celebrities.
Langley warmed up before cops with the 1986 reality special American Vice: The Doping of a Nation, which featured live drug raids.
His later police-themed reality shows included TruTV’s Inside American Jail and Las Vegas Jailhouse. He collaborated on both with his son Morgan.
He was also involved with Street Patrol, Road Warriors, Vegas Strip and and Undercover Stings.
One of his rare forays into fiction was to produce director Antoine Fuqua’s crime drama Brooklyn’s Finest.
Langley is survived by his wife Maggie and his son Morgan, who is an EP on Cops.
He also has a son Zak and daughters Sarah Langley Dews and Jennifer Blair, along with seven grandchildren.
Leaving behind family: Langley is survived by his wife, and four children, including his son Morgan, who is an executive producer on Cops; seen in 2011