The announcement came three months after the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, two black men who were shot and killed by police officers on back-to-back days. It was also shortly after San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick knelt for the first time during the national anthem to protest police brutality. A&E clearly knew the show would be polarizing (see: “provocative”), but host Dan Abrams insisted it wasn’t a rip-off of Fox’s “Cops,” which he called “salacious.”
“The way police do what they do is under the microscope,” Abrams told the Wrap before the show’s premiere. “You’ve got people on the one side saying, ‘We need to be holding our police accountable.’ And you’ve got a lot of people who support the police saying they’re being ‘unfairly vilified.’ ”
A&E may have wanted to appeal to both sides by promoting “Live PD” as a transparent look at law enforcement. But with the current national reckoning over the Black Lives Matter movement and police brutality, A&E decided that was no longer feasible. Wednesday night, the network announced the show was canceled — even though it was the channel’s highest-rated series, resulting in spinoffs and recently renewed for 160 more episodes. (“Cops” was also canceled this week after 32 seasons.)
“This is a critical time in our nation’s history and we have made the decision to cease production on ‘Live PD,’ ” A&E said in a statement. “Going forward, we will determine if there is a clear pathway to tell the stories of both the community and the police officers whose role it is to serve them. And with that, we will be meeting with community and civil rights leaders as well as police departments.”
Abrams, also the chief legal analyst for ABC News, was taken aback by the news; the previous day, he assured fans on Twitter that the show wasn’t going anywhere. “Shocked & beyond disappointed about this. To the loyal #LivePDNation please know I, we, did everything we could to fight for you, and for our continuing effort at transparency in policing,” he tweeted. “I was convinced the show would go on.”
Although “Live PD” accrued a huge fan base (Deadline reported it was the No. 1 cable show on Friday and Saturday nights in 2019), the show also had controversies over the years, including just this week. The cancellation comes as the Austin American-Statesman and Austin’s local ABC station recently reported that “Live PD” cameras captured the death of Javier Ambler, a black man who died in police custody after he was pulled over for not dimming his headlights to oncoming traffic.
A&E confirmed that the show was on the scene but had deleted the video. As people criticized this decision on Twitter, Abrams said the network was not asked for the tape by the police or the district attorney’s office, and that the show customarily deletes footage after a certain amount of time so that it doesn’t become “an arm of law enforcement” itself.
Last year, “Live PD” was named in a lawsuit by a black man in South Carolina who said he was racially profiled and arrested on camera for drug trafficking. The charges were later dropped for lack of evidence but the episode ran in repeats, which damaged his reputation, the complaint said, according to the Greenville News. Another time, a woman was furious when she found out her son died after seeing his body on-screen while she was watching the show.
And while multiple cities signed contracts with “Live PD,” thinking it would be a great PR opportunity for their police departments, several eventually backed out. One Ohio town ended its association with “Live PD” because the series showed it “in a negative light,” as the city council president told the Associated Press.
Although the show is called “Live PD,” it airs on a delay in case anything especially gruesome happens. Andy Dehnart of Reality Blurred published the show’s contract with police departments, which showed that officers are allowed to review footage and take things out, especially if it’s related to “confidential” matters. He noted that there were few references in the contract to citizens and people are who are inadvertently captured by cameras, and they have no control over how they are presented on air.
But even as the series long faced criticism for glorifying police activity for entertainment, A&E and the show’s producers repeatedly said that the “transparency” of “Live PD” was what made it valuable, because people can see how police really act on the job.
“I had thought the show would survive,” Abrams told Fox News on Thursday. “I had thought that we can both support the important protests and calls for change that are going on around this country and say that ‘Live PD’ and transparency amongst police officers and police departments can and should be a part of that. But in the end, the decision was made to end the show.”