'Live PD's' Dan Abrams on Making a 'Cops' for the Black Lives Matter Age

The A&E docuseries has earned soaring ratings for its "transparency" amid the movement.
Courtesy of A&E
'Live PD'

No one was clamoring for another Cops. But in October 2016, three years into the Black Lives Matter movement, A&E's promise of "transparency" and "clarity" with Live PD, which follows police from across the country in real time, resonated. The docuseries' disturbing, sometimes dull but always authentic look at law enforcement (three-hour episodes air twice weekly) has scored, with ratings surging 136 percent since its debut, hitting 2.5 million viewers in July; the network has ordered 300 more hours. "I don't know that we expected it would be quite this successful," says host Dan Abrams, who spoke with THR ahead of the second cycle's Oct. 6 premiere.

Why has Live PD resonated with audiences?

With Cops, you're taping the greatest moments and creating a highlight reel. You know how it's going to end, to some degree. There's going to be some wild moment and a person's going to get arrested. What we're showing is real, real. It gives people a better sense of what police deal with on a more regular basis. It's the equivalent of a ride-along. A crude example is that a couple of times someone who's been detained or arrested has decided to urinate in the police car, and you know who ends up cleaning it? The police officer.

How do you decide what to air or not air?

We’re on a tape delay that varies from show to show. There are things that we thought we were going to put on the air which, thanks to the delay, we didn't. Examples would be if we realize that someone is mentally ill who is dealing with a police officer. If we realize that it is an incredibly sensitive domestic incident involving children, we won't air it. Or if an undercover officer ends up in a shot.

What role has social media played?

[People on social media] have actually helped with information. There have been times when we haven't seen something, the officers didn't see something, but people watching on TV have a different angle. They see someone has thrown drugs out and they tweet about it. The police department then sees the tweets and goes back and finds the drugs.

Looking at season one, is there a particular breakout moment that stands out?

There was one incident in particular that became national news. A deputy in Richland County named Chris Mastrianni had been chasing a vehicle and it turned into an extensive chase and the vehicle eventually flipped over. A guy gets out of the car and pulls his 2-year-old by the hair out of the car. Eventually, Mastrianni's able to separate the guy from his daughter and he tackles the guy and the guy gets arrested. But it was a really heart-wrenching moment because it involved this little girl. It was really emotional for us watching it and I know it was emotional for people at home. 

How have police officers reacted to the show?

They appreciate that this allows people to see a bigger picture of what police officers do. There are occasions when we will say something or something will be shown that the department isn't thrilled with, but that's part of transparency. And that's just part of what the show is. 

How has the show impacted the conversation around police brutality and Black Lives Matter?

Live PD is an extension, to some degree, of body cameras. There's an argument to be made that the public has a right to see how the people that they're paying to engage and lead law enforcement are doing their jobs. You have people who love law enforcement who are watching [the show] in one way, and people who distrust law enforcement potentially watching it in another way. But I think that's all a good thing. If body cameras and our cameras lead to better policing, that's great.

A version of this story first appeared in the Oct. 4 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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