John Langley

Producer


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

02:26

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About
About this interview

John Langley (1943-2021) says of his background: "I'm a kid of the '60s. I'm sort of anti-authoritarian by nature. If you told me I was going to do a show about cops, I would have said, 'What am I going to call it, Pigs?'" John Langley discusses producing a string of documentary specials in the 1980s, leading up to the series he's most associated with, the long-running reality series Cops

In his two-hour interview, John Langley talks about his early years in the armed forces and in a string of different jobs, including motion picture marketing and advertising. He chronicles the making and selling of the feature documentary Cocaine Blues and the creation of his company Barbour/Langley Productions. He recounts how his initial idea for Cops led to the documentary special American Vice: The Doping of a Nation, a program that featured live on-the-air drug busts. 

Langley lists his many subsequent specials, several of which were hosted by Geraldo Rivera. He discusses the subject matter of two other documentaries: Terrorism: Target USA (which predicted a terrorist attack on US soil) and Who Murdered JFK? (which suggested that Oswald was not the lone assassin of President Kennedy, a theory that Langley himself rejects, despite having produced the show). 

Langley then describes the process of selling Cops, eventually to the then-still-fledgling FOX network. He comments on the rawness of the pilot and the show's cinéma vérité style. Regarding the show's format, Langley defines the three-segment structure as following a pattern of an action piece, an emotional piece, and a thought piece. He speaks about the process of producing the show from working with the various police departments, getting releases signed, and training the crews. 

He then talks about how Cops has become a part of pop culture during its long run. Speaking on why the series has remained popular, Langley says: "it's immediate, it keeps you in the moment. It's unpredictable.... It's the only show I know of on television that has no music within the show itself, no narrator, no host, no reenactments, no script. Show me any other show like that. You know, there aren't a lot of them, if there are. You go along literally for a ride. You see a world you're not likely to see. And even though I think I've seen it all on Cops, I'm still surprised." Lastly, he touches on his feature film work and other TV series, including Jail and Street Patrol. Karen Herman conducted the interview on May 22, 2009 in North Hollywood, CA.

All views expressed by interviewees are theirs alone and not necessarily those of the Television Academy.

"Cops is an existential variety show, with a criminal accent, and real décor."

People Talking About ...
Highlights
John Langley on comparing Cops to game-based-type reality shows
01:32
John Langley on the Cops theme song
01:23
John Langley on times when Cops crew members had to help police officers in the line of duty
01:25
John Langley on the savvy of the crews of Cops
02:22
John Langley on advice he anyone aspiring to enter the entertainment field
02:15
John Langley on the concept of Cops and shopping it to the networks (ending up at FOX)
02:42
Full Interview

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Chapter 1

On his early life and influences; on his early interests; on his stint in the Army; on making the documentary "Cocaine Blues"
On the documentary special American Vice: The Doping of a Nation; on working with Geraldo Rivera and how American Vice: The Doping of a Nation; on the documentary special Terrorism: Target USA
On the documentary special Who Murdered JFK?; on how he was impacted by 9/11; on the concept of Cops and shopping it to the networks
On the rawness of the Cops pilot that he delivered to FOX executives; on what makes Cops compelling to the average viewer; on bringing FOX development executive Stephen Chao to the filming of an arrest while shooting Cops
On what made Cops different stylistically for TV; on the action/feeling/thought three act structure of a Cops episode; on the shooting ratio for Cops

Chapter 2

On working with police departments around the country on Cops; on the kinds of changes he's seen in police departments over the years producing Cops; on having had filmed with officers on Cops who later were killed in the line of duty, a reality of making the show
On the point-of-view of deciding the guilt versus innocence of suspects for viewers of Cops; on comparing Cops to game-based-type reality shows; on the crews of Cops
On the criticism of Cops as exploitation; on working to reverse negative stereotyping of people of color as criminal suspects (and hitting their demo) on Cops, by going against the grain of actual percentages; on the Cops theme song and cultural impact of the show; on how he's continually surprised by the footage he sees producing Cops
On his core team on Cops; on the series Street Patrol, as an extension of Cops; on the influence of Cops
Shows

America's Funniest Home Videos

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John Langley on getting rejections for ideas that would later become successful series including concepts suggesting Rescue 911 and an America's Funniest Home Videos
01:59

American Vice: The Doping of a Nation

View Show Page
John Langley on how his concept for Cops led to the TV documentary special American Vice: The Doping of a Nation
01:04
John Langley on doing drug busts on live TV (for documentary special American Vice: The Doping of a Nation)
02:57
John Langley on working with Geraldo Rivera and how American Vice: The Doping of a Nation was a comeback for him following the disappointment of The Mystery of Al Capone's Vault
01:48

Cops

View Show Page
John Langley on how his concept for Cops led to the 1986 TV documentary special American Vice: The Doping of a Nation
01:04
John Langley on the concept of Cops and shopping it to the networks (ending up at FOX)
02:41
John Langley on the process of selling the idea of Cops to development executive Stephen Chao and CEO Barry Diller
03:15
John Langley on the rawness of the Cops pilot that he delivered to FOX executives (and how Rupert Murdoch appeared at the meeting where it was presented)
02:39
John Langley on what makes Cops compelling to the average viewer
01:50
John Langley on bringing FOX development executive Stephen Chao to the filming of an arrest while shooting Cops
01:52
John Langley on what made Cops different stylistically for TV (and comparing it to the work of documentarian Frederick Wiseman)
01:51
John Langley on the action/feeling/thought three act structure of a Cops episode
06:18
John Langley on the shooting ratio for Cops
02:11
John Langley on getting in the door at police departments when he first started Cops
02:16
John Langley on police departments who haven't participated in Cops, and the benefits to the ones that do
02:04
John Langley on getting approval of segments from police departments, and the reasons why some are not approved for Cops
01:58
John Langley on the footage shown on Cops as the "truth" but only a "version" of reality
01:40
John Langley on the kinds of changes he's seen in police departments over the years producing Cops (and the change in his own perception of public service officials)
02:27
John Langley on the general acceptance of police departments and individual officers in being filmed for Cops
01:33
John Langley on having had filmed with officers on Cops who later were killed in the line of duty, a reality of making the show
00:40
John Langley on the point-of-view of deciding the guilt versus innocence of suspects for viewers of Cops
02:49
John Langley on how it became easier to get a release signed on Cops, after the show became a hit
01:09
John Langley on comparing Cops to game-based-type reality shows
01:32
John Langley on the savvy of the crews of Cops
02:23
John Langley on the criticism of Cops as exploitation
01:38
John Langley on working to reverse negative stereotyping of people of color as criminal suspects (and hitting their demo) on Cops, by going against the grain of actual percentages
02:12
John Langley on how infrequently Cops footage is subpoenaed
00:38
John Langley on the Cops theme song
01:24
John Langley on parodies of and references to Cops in feature films
01:47
John Langley on why he thinks Cops has remained popular
01:32
John Langley on how he's continually surprised by the footage he sees producing Cops
02:50
John Langley on his core team on Cops, including Douglas Waterman, his son Morgan Langley, and original partner Malcolm Barbour
03:57
John Langley on the series Street Patrol, as an extension of Cops
00:41
John Langley on the influence of Cops
01:50
John Langley on finding the right moment to get a release signed with filmed subjects of Cops
01:18
John Langley on times when Cops crew members had to help police officers in the line of duty
01:25
John Langley on the protective gear worn by the crew of Cops and how the violence has decreased over the years
02:56
John Langley on not changing the formula of Cops during its run
01:39

Jail

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John Langley on the series Jail, and the variety of people profiled
01:40

Mystery of Al Capone's Vaults, The

View Show Page
John Langley on working with Geraldo Rivera and how American Vice: The Doping of a Nation was a comeback for him following the disappointment of The Mystery of Al Capone's Vaults
01:48

Rescue 911

View Show Page
John Langley on getting rejections for ideas that would later become successful series including concepts suggesting Rescue 911 and an America's Funniest Home Videos
01:59

Street Patrol

View Show Page
John Langley on the series Street Patrol, as an extension of Cops
00:41

Terrorism: Target USA

View Show Page
John Langley on the documentary special Terrorism: Target USA
01:07
John Langley on the interviews he lined up for Terrorism: Target USA
01:20

Who Murdered JFK?

View Show Page
John Langley on the documentary special Who Murdered JFK?, executive produced by Haim Saban and hosted by columnist Jack Anderson (and Langley's disbelief in the show's theory)
03:25
Topics

9/11

View Topic
John Langley on how he was impacted by 9/11
02:25

Advice

View Topic
John Langley on what it takes to be a good producer
02:15

Historic Events and Social Change

View Topic
John Langley on how he was impacted by 9/11
02:25
John Langley on the documentary special Terrorism: Target USA
01:07
John Langley on the documentary special Who Murdered JFK?, executive produced by Haim Saban and hosted by columnist Jack Anderson (and Langley's disbelief in the show's theory)
03:25
John Langley on working to reverse negative stereotyping of people of color as criminal suspects (and hitting their demo) on Cops, by going against the grain of actual percentages
02:12

JFK Assassination and Funeral

View Topic
John Langley on the documentary special Who Murdered JFK?, executive produced by Haim Saban and hosted by columnist Jack Anderson (and Langley's disbelief in the show's theory)
03:25

New Media

View Topic
John Langley on the impact of new media on this shows
00:55

Representation on Television

View Topic
John Langley on working to reverse negative stereotyping of people of color as criminal suspects (and hitting their demo) on Cops, by going against the grain of actual percentages
02:12

Television Industry

View Topic
John Langley on the impact of new media on this shows
00:55
John Langley on what it takes to be a good producer
02:15
John Langley on how the industry has changed since he started
01:54

Underrepresented Voices

View Topic
John Langley on working to reverse negative stereotyping of people of color as criminal suspects (and hitting their demo) on Cops, by going against the grain of actual percentages
02:12

War on Terror

View Topic
John Langley on the documentary special Terrorism: Target USA
01:07
Professions

Producers

View Profession
John Langley on what it takes to be a good producer
02:15
Genres

News and Documentary

View Genre
John Langley on how his concept for Cops led to the TV documentary special American Vice: The Doping of a Nation
05:49
John Langley on the documentary special Terrorism: Target USA
01:07
John Langley on Cops
22:37

Reality TV

View Genre
John Langley on comparing Cops to game-based-type reality shows
01:32
John Langley on Cops
58:19
People

Roger Avary

View Person Page
John Langley on advice to anyone aspiring to enter the entertainment field (which he gave to Roger Avary and by extension Quentin Tarantino)
02:15

Malcolm Barbour

View Person Page
John Langley on his core team on Cops, including Douglas Waterman, his son Morgan Langley, and original partner Malcolm Barbour
03:10

Stephen Chao

View Person Page
John Langley on the process of selling the idea of Cops to FOX development executive Stephen Chao and CEO Barry Diller
03:14
John Langley on bringing FOX development executive Stephen Chao to the filming of an arrest while shooting Cops
01:52

Morgan Langley

View Person Page
John Langley on his core team on Cops, including Douglas Waterman, his son Morgan Langley, and original partner Malcolm Barbour
03:10

Rupert Murdoch

View Person Page
John Langley on the rawness of the Cops pilot that he delivered to FOX executives (and how Rupert Murdoch appeared at the meeting where it was presented)
02:39

Geraldo Rivera

View Interview Page
John Langley on working with Geraldo Rivera and how American Vice: The Doping of a Nation was a comeback for him following the disappointment of The Mystery of Al Capone's Vault
01:48

Quentin Tarantino

View Person Page
John Langley on advice to anyone aspiring to enter the entertainment field (which he gave to Roger Avary and by extension Quentin Tarantino)
02:15

Douglas Waterman

View Person Page
John Langley on his core team on Cops, including Douglas Waterman, his son Morgan Langley, and original partner Malcolm Barbour
03:10

Frederick Wiseman

View Person Page
John Langley on what made Cops different stylistically for TV (and comparing it to the work of documentarian Frederick Wiseman)
01:52

All Interviews

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