John Langley

Producer


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

02:26

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About
About this interview

John Langley says of his background: "I'm a kid of the 60's.  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 Archive 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 Killed 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 in North Hollywood, CA on May 22, 2009.

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

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
Full Interview

Chapter 1

On his parents and background; on his early interests; on TV shows he watched as a child (in the early days of TV); on enlisting in the armed forces and serving with the Army Security Agency; on the frightening era of the Cuban Missile crisis; on leaving the Army; on his education and work as a teacher
On entering the entertainment industry and his work in motion picture marketing and advertising; on the creation of Barbour/Langley Productions; on making and selling the documentary Cocaine Blues; on shooting "Stop the Madness" at the White House with Nancy Reagan; shooting second unit on the film Volunteers
on how his concept for Cops led to the 1986 TV documentary special American Vice: The Doping of a Nation; on doing drug busts on live TV (for American Vice: The Doping of a Nation); on working with Geraldo Rivera; on the kinds of documentary specials he was doing in the mid-80s; on the documentary special Terrorism: Target USA; 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); on the interviews he lined up for Terrorism: Target USA; on his reaction to the 9/11 attacks (particularly in light of the fact that he had produced Terrorism: Target USA)
On the concept of Cops and shopping it to the networks (ending up at FOX); on the process of selling the idea of Cops to development executive Stephen Chao and CEO Barry Diller; 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); on what made Cops different stylistically in TV (and comparing it t the work of documentarian Frederick Wiseman); 
On what makes Cops compelling to the average viewer; on what made Cops different stylistically for TV (and comparing it to the work of documentarian Frederick Wiseman); on the action/feeling/thought three act structure of a Cops episode; on the shooting ratio for Cops

Chapter 2

On getting in the door at police departments when he first started Cops; on police departments who haven't participated in Cops, and the benefits to the ones that do; on getting approval of segments from police departments, and the reasons why some are not approved; on the footage shown on Cops as the "truth" but only a "version" of reality; 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)
On the general acceptance of police departments and individual officers in being filmed for 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 how it became easier to get a release signed on Cops, after the show became a hit; on comparing Cops to game-based-type reality shows
On finding the right moment to get a release signed with filmed subjects of Cops; on the savvy of the crews of Cops; on times when Cops crew members had to help police officers in the line of duty; on Cops crew wearing bullet-proof vests; on seeing less violence over the years; on viewership 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 having to throw out or erase unused Cops footage; on how infrequently Cops footage is subpoenaed; on the Cops theme song; on references to Cops in feature films; on why he thinks Cops has remained popular; on how he's continually surprised by the footage he sees producing Cops;  on his core team on Cops, including Douglas Waterman, his son Morgan Langley, and original partner Malcolm Barbour
On the series Jail, and the variety of people profiled; on the series Street Patrol, as an extension of Cops; on feature films he's producing; on advice to anyone aspiring to enter the entertainment field ; on the influence of Cops
Shows

America's Funniest Home Videos

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
01:58

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)
02:42
John Langley on the process of selling the idea of Cops to development executive Stephen Chao and CEO Barry Diller
03:13
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)
02:38
John Langley on what makes Cops compelling to the average viewer
01:51
John Langley on bringing FOX development executive Stephen Chao to the filming of an arrest while shooting Cops
01:50
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
04:21
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
02:14
John Langley on police departments who haven't participated in Cops, and the benefits to the ones that do
02:03
John Langley on getting approval of segments from police departments, and the reasons why some are not approved
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)
02:21
John Langley on the general acceptance of police departments and individual officers in being filmed for Cops
01:32
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
01:57
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
02:22
John Langley on the criticism of Cops as exploitation
01:37
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
01:23
John Langley on references to Cops in feature films
00:49
John Langley on why he thinks Cops has remained popular
01:29
John Langley on how he's continually surprised by the footage he sees producing Cops
01:14
John Langley on his core team on Cops, including Douglas Waterman, his son Morgan Langley, and original partner Malcolm Barbour
03:10
John Langley on the series Street Patrol, as an extension of Cops
00:41
John Langley on the influence of Cops
00:57
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

Jail

View Show Page
John Langley on the series Jail, and the variety of people profiled
01:39

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
01:58

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
00:52
John Langley on the interviews he lined up for Terrorism: Target USA
01:19

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

Minorities

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
Genres

Reality TV

View Genre
John Langley on comparing Cops to game-based-type reality shows
01:32
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
03:13
John Langley on bringing FOX development executive Stephen Chao to the filming of an arrest while shooting Cops
01:52

Barry Diller

View Person Page
John Langley on the process of selling the idea of Cops to FOX development executive Stephen Chao and CEO Barry Diller
03:13
John Langley on the rawness of the Cops pilot that he delivered, and Barry Diller's reaction to it
02:38

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)
02:38

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)
01:51

All Interviews

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