John Langley, a reality TV pioneer who created and executive produced Cops, died over the weekend when he suffered a heart attack during a road race in Baja, Mexico. Langley was 78.
He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in February 2011 for his contributions to television, even though Cops proved to be a hard sell to TV executives in the 1980s. Langley already had produced a primetime special in 1986 with Geraldo Rivera called American Vice: The Doping of a Nation, which broadcasted three live drug arrests.
Langley used the success of that special to pitch Cops. While most execs wanted the series to include a narrator and/or re-enactments, Langley held to his cinéma vérité concept. The WGA strike of 1988 opened the door to just such concepts, and Rupert Murdoch himself invited Cops onto FOX. As Langley recalled the session where FOX execs watched the pilot episode: “And this guy came in the room and sat in the corner. He looked like an accountant.. the guy in the corner says, ‘Order four of them. Try four.’ And I look over and (Barry) Diller says, ‘Ah, you hush, I’m talking right now.’ And I thought, ‘Well, who’s that guy, the accountant?’ Well, obviously, it turned out that he wasn’t the accountant. It was Rupert Murdoch, but nobody knew who Rupert Murdoch was or what he looked like.”
Cops went on to air more than 1,100 episodes from 1989 to 2020, was canceled by FOX in 2013 and picked up by SPIKE TV (now Paramount), and eventually pulled from Paramount and Paramount+ in June 2020, following the murder of George Floyd.
Among Langley’s other credits: Who Murdered JFK, Terrorism: Target U.S.A., Code 3, Anatomy of Crime, Video Justice, Cop Files, Jail, and Las Vegas Jailhouse.
But he also produced and directed a Dolph Lundgren workout video; co-created the 2008 sketch comedy series, The Tony Rock Project (which featured early turns by Whitney Cummings and Tiffany Haddish); produced Antoine Fuqua’s film, Brooklyn’s Finest; and created the “Big Red Car” for The Wiggles. He also named his car-racing team after his pioneering TV docuseries.
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