The show, which was created by John Langley and Malcolm Barbour, was a pioneer in reality television. Crews with camcorders followed law enforcement officers on patrol, tracking down suspects and making arrests. The show was unscripted, which worked in Langley and Barbour’s favor when they pitched the original concept to Fox: At the time, there was a writers’ strike in Hollywood, and the network needed new programming that wouldn’t require writers.
In 1989, the debut episode of COPS featured the men and women of the Broward County Sheriff’s Department in Florida. The show has aired nearly 1,000 episodes and filmed in 140 U.S. cities, as well as international locations including London and Hong Kong. With its widely recognized theme song, “Bad Boys” by the reggae group Inner Circle, COPS had spawned numerous imitators in addition to parody shows.