So long, Live PD -- and viewer choice

So long, Live PD -- and viewer choice

First they came for Gone with the Wind and I said nothing, mainly because Gone with the Wind is overrated and antiquated trash, but also because it hasn’t disappeared. No matter whether HBO Max decides to stream it, the film is still widely available to anyone who wants to waste four hours of their lives on it. Then they came for Live PD, which does nothing more than point cameras in real time at law enforcement, and I said … huh?

A&E canceled their top-rated show, practically their tentpole, because ratings must not matter much any more:

A&E has canceled its flagship series and one of the highest-rated shows on basic cable. A week after Live P.D. was pulled in the wake of George Floyd’s death, the reality series’ hiatus has been made permanent.

The decision was made jointly by A&E and MGM’s Big Fish Entertainment, which produces the series.

“This is a critical time in our nation’s history and we have made the decision to cease production on Live PD,” the network said in a statement to Deadline. “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.”

Full disclosure: I am, or rather was, a big fan of Live PD and its offshoots, Live PD Cam and Live PD Wanted. Not only did I find it entertaining, thanks to the hosts of the show — Dan Abrams and former law-enforcement officers Tom Morris Jr and Sean “Sticks” Larkin — I found it very educational as well. For instance, the unreasonableness of the force used against George Floyd is even more stark after watching other law-enforcement officers routinely deal with detainees, even those who resist arrest. The transparency the show provided on day-to-day law enforcement had a value beyond its ratings. And don’t forget about all the missing children that Live PD featured and helped find, too.

But let’s talk about the ratings too, which are the lifeblood of TV entertainment and income. Supposedly, the issue was that neither the channel nor the production company could see “any path forward” for doing a show that only had to point cameras in real time at police work that would take place with or without the cameras present, and which had a proven vast and loyal audience. Cops is a somewhat different case, in that it tapes the interactions and edits them later into episodes. Live PD‘s structure dispensed with narrative over immediacy and transparency. And people watched it in droves, creating a loyal fan base. It must have made A&E tons of money, and for a relatively moderate investment.

If the ratings and loyal viewer base disappeared because of the anger over the George Floyd homicide, then cancellation would be understandable. It’s still an open question as to whether people might lose their taste for the show after all of the unrest of the last couple of weeks. But why not wait to let the viewers make that decision on their own? If the ratings collapsed, then the “no way forward” conclusion might make sense.

The obvious conclusion is that ratings and viewers don’t actually matter to A&E. Or, perhaps more accurately, ratings and viewers matter less to A&E than pretensions to “wokeness.” And in this case, education and transparency regarding law enforcement will lose out to corporate virtue-signaling.

Abrams apparently got blindsided by the decision, and was understandably upset by it. After all, he delivered the ratings and the viewer loyalty that any network would desire:

Maybe another cable network might enjoy that viewer base and ratings. Don’t bet on it, though, because we’re in for a long season of our cultural elites dictating to us what we should watch, read, and believe.

Addendum: No really, Gone with the Wind is a terrible film with the most annoying protagonist in supposedly “classic” cinema, not to mention its “Lost Cause” sympathies and glossing over of slavery. Its source material, Margaret Mitchell’s novel, is even worse on all counts. But I’d fight for the right of anyone who wanted to watch/read them to have access to to both. Besides, I routinely rewatch Battlefield Earth as one of the better unintentional comedies of the last generation. Your tastes might vary, which is the point.

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