Live PD being cancelled calls true crime TV into question

Live PD Host Dan Abrams, Guest Analyst Sean "Sticks" Larkin, and Analyst Tom Morris Jr. Photo Credit: Courtesy of A&E.
Live PD Host Dan Abrams, Guest Analyst Sean "Sticks" Larkin, and Analyst Tom Morris Jr. Photo Credit: Courtesy of A&E. /

Live PD’s cancellation casts doubt on all of true crime TV.

It’s been less than three weeks since Live PD was cancelled, and there’s still a debate, not only about the A&E show, but about what the future holds for the whole genre of true crime TV.

With current events putting incredible scrutiny on police, but also police portrayals on television, A&E decided to cancel Live PD—and since then, it’s been like the show never existed. Reruns were immediately pulled, the show’s timeslot has been filled by old episodes of Storage Wars, and aside from Live Rescue, the whole franchise has gone by the wayside.

Meanwhile, the network is still showing episodes of The First 48. And other networks, such as Oxygen and Investigation Discovery, continue to air all kinds of true crime programming.

So what does the future hold for true crime TV shows? And is there any hope that Live PD will make it back on the air?

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The Live PD controversy

Live PD was A&E’s top-rated show, a ratings hit for cable television, and a huge part of the network’s brand—it spawned four different spinoff series.

But it also faced challenges. There were cities that didn’t like their departments on the show, claiming that it showed their hometowns in a bad light. Most notably, Williamson County, Texas officials were in a heated battle with Sheriff Robert Chody over his bringing Live PD back to Williamson after the show had stopped filming there once before.

The production company’s policies around the use and retention of videotaped footage was also a hot topic—and it became controversial when the show filmed the interaction between Williamson County deputies and Javier Ambler that ended in Ambler’s death. You can read what Dan Abrams, Live PD host and one of the show’s producers, had to say about that incident here.

Given the volatile nature of current events, shows like Live PD and Cops were seen as uncomfortable to air. But will we ever see these shows, or others like them, again? And what about other series that are true crime-related?

Transparency in television

The cancellation of Live PD seems counter-intuitive, since the entire point of the show was to have greater transparency about what police officers do and what they go through. The series depicted almost every aspect of police work, from the mundane to the dangerous, and showed both officers’ flaws and their strengths.

It also detailed the work they did in their communities and alongside community members; one of the last episodes showed Richland County, South Carolina deputies collaborating with a number of citizens to rescue a dog trapped in a storm drain.

While it’s completely understandable not to give a platform to poor policing, Live PD showcased good policing—and it’s important to show that there’s a good side to law enforcement, and work on changing the negative perception of police.

And don’t forget the show’s “Missing” and “Crime of the Week” segments that helped find missing children, and bring criminals to justice respectively. What happens to that resource?

Live PD wasn’t perfect, and neither were the officers who appeared on it. The producers’ policies regarding video, as Abrams notes, need to be scrutinized. But as people across the country want more transparency in policing, is it the best course of action to get rid of a series that raised awareness of what police go through and who they really are, prompted discussion both on-air and amongst viewers, and educated about how the police operate?

What’s the future of true crime?

True crime is big business on television. There are entire networks devoted to crime shows, many of which feature the police in some way. Cops and Live PD are the two most well-known and have had the most headlines written about them, but what about the rest?

A&E has made no move to cancel The First 48, though that series focuses on detectives and not regular patrol officers. So are shows about other types of police officers fine—just not the ones we see on the street every day? Or will this scrutiny extend to any type of law enforcement on TV? Will it only apply to shows about recent cases, and not ones that are featuring old investigations, like the entire Oxygen lineup? The current TV climate is incredibly unclear.

One thing that is definitely clear is that there needs to be further discussion about the rules that exist between TV and law enforcement. It’s a large grey area right now; Cops has been under fire for years for some of its practices, and Live PD needs to look at its own policies. But they’re just one part of the equation, and everyone involved needs to be on the same page.

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Putting Live PD on hiatus would have been better than getting rid of it altogether. Instead of just shooting the messenger, perhaps we should have looked at how to improve the message—and how the show could be part of the solution to the issues that we’re all facing today.