Reality TV Time: Why Live PD is the Wreck I Can’t Help But Watch

Don’t mind me. I’m not even here. I mean, I’m here, but I’m not supposed to be. I’ve got a couple of major projects gobbling up my time, a bunch of looming deadlines, and I’m waiting to jump on the phone with a potential new client, but I had to just stop by and ask a very, very important question……

Is anyone else obsessed with Live PD?

Live PD

Of course you are. According to Deadline Hollywood: “Since its premiere in October, Live PD has averaged 1.1 million total viewers a week in Live+7 and has outperformed A&E’s regular primetime average by 29% among total viewers.”

So, it’s doing pretty well.

This latest reality TV offering from the fine folks at the esteemed Arts & Entertainment network (that’s A&E, for those not in the know) is on for three hours (!) Friday and Saturday nights and, gentle reader, it is amazing. One of us (the one not named Poe) even DVRs it and watches it sporadically over the course of the weekend, in case a three hour commitment is just not in the cards.

(Also, yes, I know exactly what this implies about Friday and Saturday nights here at the Poe household and yes, those implications do indeed hold up. We’re pretty lame.)

The thing is: there’s nothing really new here. It’s basically like “Cops.” It plays on the idea that 1) criminals are crazy; 2) cops are not stupid; 3) we—the audience—like to think we’re smarter than both.

Hug Life
Well, I know I’m smarter than this probable pedophile/drug dealer who was wearing this shirt on a recent episode.

A&E describes the show as “a live look at police across the country as they work the night shift in real-time.”

There are, at least, a couple of debatable facts in that statement. For one thing, it’s mostly “live.” The producers also rely heavily on pre-taped call segments, but I’m not mad about it.

Listen, sometimes live police work isn’t very interesting. There’s a lot of driving around while the units wait for a call. Sometimes that call isn’t very interesting. And, of course, law enforcement institutions are incredibly bureaucratic, so it’s not unusual to have to wait around to get another officer to come and conduct a field sobriety test (although, at this point, after several weeks of viewing, I’m pretty sure I could administer a field sobriety test at this point.) Or bring a K-9 unit to sniff the car. Or any number of things that slow down the action.

The terms “real-time” and “night shift” are also a bit debatable. There have been numerous times where our good friend and host Dan Abrams insists a chase or call is taking place at this exact moment of 9 p.m. but it appears to be in full daylight. Even for calls in Calvert County, Maryland, which is maybe 50 miles from where I live.

abrams and moore

But putting all that aside for a second, the thing that’s truly addicting about Live PD is that you never know what people are going to do.

After a few weeks of watching, the “show” had started to get a bit formulaic to me:

  1. Car has a busted license plate light. Police officer pulls car over.
  2. When the driver rolls the window down, police officer exclaims he smells a strong detection of weed. Driver denies it, perhaps even gets offended.
  3. Police officer asks driver to get out of car. They discuss the driver’s lack of valid license/ID/ and/or other outstanding warrants.
  4. Police officer then has enough probable cause to search the driver (but not before asking if the driver has anything in his/her pockets that’s going to hurt the officer, a question which sometimes elicits some pretty comical responses), search the car, gets a K-9 to scratch up the exterior—all while the officer is pleading to the driver to just tell the truth and come clean, and the driver is insisting that he had done nothing wrong and didn’t even deserve to be pulled over in the first place.
  5.  Inevitably, no matter how sincere and impassioned the driver’s reasoning and entreaties sound to the audience at home (I have more than one time proclaimed that a driver was being harassed and really seems like he’s worked his way back to the straight path and shucks, can’t we just forget the stupid license plate light?) lo and behold, marijuana or other more hardcore drug paraphernalia is discovered and the perp is hauled off in handcuffs.

All over some stupid minor infraction like a busted license plate light.

My faith in humanity gets put through the wringer every damn time. I consider myself pretty street smart. I grew up surrounded by some questionable, if not downright shady, adult figures. I’ve been present during some instances of recreational drug use.

But I keep coming back to Live PD because they keep surprising me. For one thing, I am amazed at 1) how many people are out there doing drugs (apparently, everyone operating a motor vehicle – and sometimes bicycle. Yes, we’ve seen people pulled over on their bicycles on Live PD) 2) how much some people just flat out lie, even when evidence to the contrary is sitting right there on their car hood, and 3) how good some of them are at lying. And, also, how laughably bad some of them are at it.

Obama store
The now-famous Obama Convenience Store, where a lot of drug activity apparently takes place.

There are a few other questionable aspects to Live PD other than time jumping and sloppy continuity issues—for example, it’s interesting to see the efforts at privacy used in cases where the driver is wealthier and whiter (especially huffy white women who’ve had “just one glass of rose” or “an Irish coffee after dinner.” Those broads get away with some serious level smack talking). In those cases, faces and licenses plates will be blurred (although the memory of bad mom outfits will always be burned in my mind), and the camera guys will film from behind the driver.

fieldtest

Whereas, in the case of non-white drivers, license plates will be shown, faces will be shown, even in instances where they say they don’t want to be filmed (my favorite cop rejoinder when a driver asks about the cameras: “Those guys are here for me, not you.” I assure you, dear law enforcement person, viewers are definitely not here just for you.

Shows like this serve many, many important functions: deterring criminal activity, making cops seem more humane and approachable while highlighting the danger of their jobs, and, the most important, entertaining us. Live PD does all that.

And, if you are watching Live PD, may I suggest printing out some of these bingo cards?