Top cop shows have ditched violent arrests, officers breaking into homes and dramatic police chases for woke storylines in the wake of George Floyd’s death.
Dramas such as Cops and Law & Order have turned to softer plots and even looked at community policing as the programs returned to screens.
Though some critics called for and predicted the death of the cop show genre – known colloquially as ‘copganda’ – during the racial reckoning in the aftermath of Floyd’s death, programs continue to dominate the airwaves two years later.
They have since returned to rejoin the ranks of at least 18 crime shows dominating primetime slots on major broadcast networks.
While three out of the five most viewed shows last season on networks were police shows, according to The New York Times, their content has taken on a distinctly new attitude.
In the latest Law & Order spinoff which premiered in 2021 Organized Crime, the character Detective Elliot Stabler – long known for his use of excessive force – is depicted learning to police with less aggressive tactics, and even learns some lessons from colleagues about the difficulties about being black, gay, and female.
On the new CBS show East New York, a former field officer turned commanding officer of a crime ridden Brooklyn neighborhood decides to employ unorthodox tactics like asking her officers to move into housing projects.
Even on the latest season of the comedy cop show Brooklyn 99, a character leaves the police force in the wake of George Floyd in order to better serve the community, leading to conflict between characters about the effectiveness of policing.
In the latest Law & Order spinoff which premiered in 2021, Organized Crime, the character Detective Elliot Stabler – long known for his use of excessive force – is depicted learning to police with less aggressive tactics
Left, a clip from the show Cops before George Floyd was murdered, right, a shot from the show after the murder
East New York co-creator William Finkelstein told The Times the idea for the show was directly born out of creating a cop show in the post George Floyd world.
‘Cop shows have been around since the Flood – it’s always been a part of television programming,’ said Finkelstein, who has also written for Law & Order and N.Y.P.D. Blue. ‘But in the wake of George Floyd and the enormous outrage that evoked, particularly as it was directed against cops and policing policy, the question was: ‘How do you do a cop show?”
Even on the reboot of Cops – which found a new home on Fox Nation after being dropped from Paramount Network – the tone is noticeably different.
In one episode from the latest season of the show, a team of white officers in Indianapolis are shown providing extensive assistance to a black man who was the victim of a shooting. At the end of that episode, another group of white officers chastise a 7-year-old white boy for locking his mother out of the house.
Cops has returned to the airwaves after being axed a month after George Floyd was murdered, but with many of the criminal shown being white instead of black
Critics of cop shows have long argued that the genre perpetuates stereotypes, with ride-along shows pushing an image of crisply uniformed white officers doing battle with perpetual criminal black people living in slums and poverty.
On dramatized shows, critics say improper policing – like illegal searches, interrogation techniques, and arrests – depicted for the ease of storytelling end up creating a perception in the public psyche about the kind of procedures that are normal in the line of duty.
‘The glorification of cops and their power isn’t just a side effect of the action and crime dramas movie and TV studios put out – it’s often the intent’ wrote critic Kelly Lawler in USA Today a month after Floyd was murdered, ‘Cop shows are created to valorize the police.’
Lawler even cited Fox producer Chris Long, who said his since-cancelled cop show Deputy was inspired by Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell’s request to ‘depict the department in a manner which is accurate and help him show young people that becoming a deputy is a good thing, and all the negative publicity around being a police officer or a sheriff’s deputy are those bad apples [that] don’t wreck the entire batch.’
In one episode of the latest season of Cops, a group of white officers chastise a 7-year-old white boy for locking his mother out of the house
In October 2020, the Hollywood Reporter polled 50 showrunners about how they would create a cop show in the current climate, and the overwhelming responses referenced community policing, police reeducation, and ideas slanted at depicting officers as violent brutes.
‘Show the successful transition to community ‘policing,’ which would hopefully make for a boring, uneventful show that would get canceled,’ said Issa Rae, the showrunner for Insecure.
‘Show how reorganizing, reeducating police could be the answer to the current problems within the institution of policing,’ wrote #BlackAF showrunner Kenya Barris.
‘Create a world where whenever a police officer kills someone, someone in that police officer’s family dies instantly. So whatever grief they inflict will also be inflicted on them. Maybe we could call it Eye for an Eye,’ said Lena Waithe, showrunner of Twenties.