Reality show to lure criminals out of hiding

After 20 years of “Cops,” Fox is looking for laughs with its latest police reality skein.

Net has pacted with producer Scott Satin (“Who Wants to Be a Superhero?”) for the tentatively titled “Smile! You’re Under Arrest.” Basic premise of the comedic project: Unaware criminal suspects with outstanding warrants are lured out of hiding with promises of riches and other rewards, only to discover that they’ve been duped by law-enforcement officials.

“Unlike ‘Punk’d,’ where things start out bad, this shows starts out being the best day of your life,” said Fox alternative prexy Mike Darnell. “Everything is fantastic. Then you find out you’re under arrest.”

Fox and Satin are working with Maricopa County, Ariz., sheriff Joe Arpaio, whose unconventional (and controversial) tactics have earned him the rep of “America’s Toughest Sheriff.” Arpaio’s officers are handling the mechanics of the sting and targeting which potential criminals to go after.

While Satin came up with the idea for the show, the sorts of sting operations at the center of the show have been conducted by numerous law-enforcement agencies across the country. Fresno police once lured suspects by telling them they’d won a $1,500 prize in the lottery.

Idea has even been played for comedy on Fox’s “The Simpsons.” A season-five episode had Homer Simpson tricked by Chief Wiggum, who used the offer of a free boat to catch parking-ticket scofflaws.

Satin’s concept will take the sting notion to a grander level, with the producer helping police stage elaborate operations. One scenario outlined by Darnell has fugitives tempted by the notion of earning money by being extras in a movie. The “victim” of the sting will then somehow end up being offered a leading role, furthering the embarrassment factor when it’s finally revealed that he’s actually being taken into custody.

“You’re Under Arrest” plays on some of the same themes that have made NBC’s “To Catch a Predator” segs of “Dateline” appealing to auds. The Fox show, however, will target relatively petty criminals and not violent types.

Much of the pilot has already been staged, and so far, Fox hasn’t had problems getting the alleged criminals to appear on camera. “Everyone’s signed a release,” Darnell said.

One reason the bandits may be happy: Fox isn’t completely stiffing the fugitives. “If we say you’re going to get $200 if you show up, we give it to you,” he said.

While Fox has only ordered a pilot for “You’re Under Arrest,” Darnell seems very high on the idea and said he expects to make a decision on additional episodes shortly. “This show is very Fox,” he said.

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