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Unpredictability of ‘Live PD’ Delivers Real-Life Drama to A+E Networks

The drama on “Live PD,” which tracks actual cops in the course of duty, rivals that of any scripted drama set in a police squad.

One recent episode followed police as they pursued a suspect driving a car with a little girl on board. Viewers watched as the vehicle flipped over. Miraculously, the man and the girl emerged unhurt. But there was still more to come. The man used the child as a human shield. 

“It was really intense,” says “Live PD” host Dan Abrams. “Any time there are children involved, we all get that much more concerned, that much more apprehensive.”

Yet that is part of the allure of “Live PD.” The show has producers scanning 32 live feeds from across the nation, each one focused on a cop trying to do his or her job. Since the show’s launch on A&E in 2016, other networks have attempted to replicate its format, and A&E has created other series from some of its segments and concepts, including a program that follows firefighters. 

“As you watch the police officers do what they do, there’s an uncertainty that they have when they approach a vehicle — unlike a highlight-reel show that other police shows have done in the past,” Abrams says. “With this one, you don’t know what’s going to happen next.”

You could say “Live PD” was born out of necessity. Executives at Big Fish Entertainment, the production company behind it, realized that at a time when more TV viewers were moving to streaming services, a program that had to be watched live would be more compelling. The team noticed police departments across the U.S. “were providing these timely updates over the course of an evening” to local residents via Twitter, says Dan Cesareo, who formed Big Fish. “We found it fascinating.”

Getting things right took time — even after “Live PD” launched. Producers had to get access to police departments. Once they got on air, they had to learn to steel themselves against the temptation to jump from one feed to the next whenever a conflict or action appeared to be in the offing. “When you do something new that hasn’t been done before, there’s not a road map,” says Cesareo. “It took us four to six months, probably, just to get comfortable with our own setup.”

Abrams gives credit to A+E Networks chief Paul Buccieri for giving the producers time to find their way. In earlier broadcasts, he says, “the audience would feel they got invested in something, and we’d cut out for the big shiny object somewhere else.” Hosts and staffers needed to develop “the instinct for letting these stories play out more,” he says. “Let’s try to make sure the audience doesn’t feel ripped off.”

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