As the debate swirls over the appropriateness of scripted depictions of law enforcement, the scrutiny has been more intense — even prior to the recent protests against police brutality — for reality shows like “Live PD” and “Cops.”
Ultimately, after Paramount Network canceled “Cops” and controversy swirled over the death of Javier Ambler in Austin, which was captured (and later erased) by the A&E show, network execs felt they had no choice but to pull “Live PD” off the air completely. Insiders said the cancellation was made completely internally by A+E Networks, led by president Paul Buccieri, although Disney/ABC Television Group and Hearst Communications — which own the company through a joint venture — were consulted about the decision.
All involved bristled at the notion of “Live PD” being lumped in with “Cops,” which they argued was a very different show. And the Austin situation also came with nuance, they said, as it was utilized as part of a contentious political campaign. But it was a perfect storm that they knew wouldn’t go away.
The decision also came a day after host Dan Abrams posted a statement on Twitter claiming that “Live PD” would continue. Abrams did that without consulting the network, and he followed up Wednesday’s cancellation announcement by going on a media blitz — including on-camera CNN and Fox News interviews — to express his disappointment. He also addressed the news on his own SiriusXM satellite radio show, and on his “Law & Crime” blog.
“There’s a real positive change in many ways going on in this country, but there’s also an overreaction going on. And I think that that’s what ‘Live PD’ suffered from,” he said on SirusXM’s “The Dan Abrams Show.”
On CNN, Abrams revealed that “Live PD” had actually filmed several deaths over the years, beyond just Ambler, and had erased them all. (Others clarified later that he didn’t necessarily mean at the hands of police, as police calls frequently involve people who have been shot, or suffered drug overdoses, for example.)
“Per A&E policy, we don’t show fatalities,” he told CNN. “I think one of the great things about ‘Live PD’ was the transparency aspect. Showing the good and the bad of policing. With that in mind, I think in retrospect we should have shown this [Ambler] incident, leading up to the fatality. It shows all sides of policing. There was a decision that was made simply based on A&E policy, about not showing a fatality. These are the sorts of things we were in the process of discussing. How do we move forward, how do we have discussions with people in various communities who aren’t happy with certain elements. Let’s talk about how we can make changes, how we can make this a better show.”
Indeed, network sources said the cancellation of “Live PD” doesn’t mean that at some point down the road, A&E might not try to find a way to re-create a live law enforcement show in a different way, and under different guidelines.
“This is a critical time in our nation’s history and we have made the decision to cease production on ‘Live PD,'” is how A&E’s statement read on Wednesday. “Going forward, we will determine if there is a clear pathway to tell the stories of both the community and the police officers whose role it is to serve them.” That hint of a potential future for the franchise has led some to speculate on social media whether “Live PD” is gone for good.
But whatever does eventually make it to air won’t be “Live PD,” the network said.
“We hope to one day be able to do a show that bridges community and policing in the vein of the justice genre that we’ve done so successfully for 35 years,” an A+E Networks spokesperson tells Variety.
For now, repeats of “Live Rescue,” which is produced by MGM’s Big Fish Entertainment — which was also behind “Live PD” — will fill those Friday and Saturday timeslots. “Live Rescue” follows the same format as “Live PD,” but instead of cops, focuses on firefighters, paramedics and EMTs as they go on emergency rescue calls across the country.
Because most of those calls are currently COVID-19 related, “Live Rescue” is currently not producing new episodes — but eventually when the show returns, it will likely hold on to that slot.
“Live PD” was a juggernaut for A&E, dominating cable ratings and spawning multiple spinoffs, including “Live PD: Wanted,” “Live PD: Police Patrol,” “Live PD Presents: PD Cam” and Lifetime’s “Live PD Presents: Women on Patrol.” For now, episodes of the main show and the others are still available to view on A&E’s website. With the “Live PD” franchise out of commission, A&E will also spread around more episodes of existing series such as “The First 48” and “Court Cam.”
Coincidentally, A+E Networks part-owner Disney made a similarly swift move in 2018 when it canceled its No. 1 show, “Roseanne,” following racist remarks star Roseanne Barr made on Twitter. And A&E is not new to controversy, having suspended “Duck Dynasty” star Phil Robertson (but later reversing that action) after he made homophobic remarks in GQ magazine. In 2016, the network halted plans to air a documentary series about former Ku Klux Klan members after it was revealed they were paid to appear in the show, against network guidelines.